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Last Updated: Monday, 13 October, 2003, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Commuter swap: Changing car for bike
3 BBC News Online users try alternative ways into work
Mon: Steve Clarke by bike
Tues: Dave Hay by train
Weds: Janet Powell's car share

Everyone wants to cut congestion on Britain's roads, but how best to go about it? We challenged three commuters to try alternative ways into work. Could they stick it? Would they like it?

While his Vauxhall Vectra took a well-earned rest, Steve Clarke was working harder than ever just to get into the office.

For 18 months, Steve had been accustomed to making the 20-mile commute to and from work in his comfortable family hatchback.

Then, prompted by BBC News Online's transport challenge, he decided to ditch four wheels in favour of two - his push bike.

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A keen weekend cyclist, Steve, 44, used to pedal to work in his old job. But the 21-mile drive from his home in Fleet, Hampshire, to his new workplace, in Bracknell, was too far for him to contemplate doing under his own steam.

But a visit to the local library, to look at a map of local cycle paths, revealed the trip could be cut to 12 miles.

Part of the commute is eased by the abundance of dedicated cycle routes around Bracknell.

Explaining the ups and downs of cycling

And thanks to showers provided at work, he is able to change out of his cycling gear in the morning, freshen up and throw on a clean shirt which he brings in every day.

Father-of-one Steve's transport switch has also lifted the burden of having to find a space in the company car park every morning.

Cycling, though, has eaten into more of his time. On a normal day, the drive to work would take 30 minutes. On bicycle, it takes double that.

For the six miles that are non-cycle path, he also has to contend with traffic on busy A roads, and impatient motorists.

"I've had a bit of abuse from drivers. You get used to it, and for every one who gives me a hard time there are plenty who don't."

Would he like to see more people giving up their car for pedal power? Steve admits other drivers may not be as fortunate as him, but insists that making the switch is mostly about good organisation.

"You've got to think ahead, leave early, pack a towel, make sure your cycling kit is clean.

"It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I arrive at work on an endorphin-high," says Steve, who has pledged to stick with his bicycle. "We might even sell our second car."


Get up especially early to make final checks on the bike and avoid the horrendous Bracknell rush hour. It's dark and cold as I set off but a grinding pedal up a steep hill warms me up. Hearing the birdsong, I realise how I miss the beauty of the countryside when speeding through it in the car.

As I press on, a couple of cars overtake, cutting quite close in front of me. I'm on a bendy road, tree lined and quite narrow. Not a lot of room for cars to overtake. Fortunately, I don't encounter too many. I come across a woman walking dogs. We smile and exchange "good mornings".

On the way home, in Crowthorne, the traffic is busy. Car overtaking me along the High Street suddenly swerves left. I instinctively swerve too. He misses me by inches. I am dumbstruck; too shocked to react.

Steve Clarke
Commute by car: 21 miles each way; 30-minutes average; cost 30/week
Commute by bike: 12 miles each way; 60 minutes average; cost 2.30/week (estimated wear and tear)
I expect to suffer this morning but feel great. Having done the journey once already, today doesn't seem nearly as daunting. I don't miss the car at all although if this was February, I might be glad of the heater.

Returning home, Crowthorne is busy and by the school there are traffic islands preventing cars from swinging past me. Woman leans out of her window and yells "you should be on the cycle path". Hmm, there's me thinking I had a choice. Later, tiredness catches up with me. I hit the sack at around 2000, exhausted.

This morning, suffering perhaps from a surfeit of confidence, I manage to fall off. I attempted a complex "swerve around a gate" movement and keeled over. Only my hip and pride suffer as a result.

In the afternoon, I discover some motorists are polite and helpful to cyclists. When switching lanes I notice behind me is a large truck. I continue around the roundabout and the driver graciously keeps a safe distance. Up the road I pull over to let him past, signal my thanks with thumbs-up gesture. He waves back.

The belief cycle lanes are safer than roads is not always the case. This morning another bicycle swings across my path. I swerve to avoid contact but I don't think the other party even noticed.

On my way home, I occupy the middle of the lane while cycling down a steep and narrow hill. It should be the safest option but for a car hovering a foot from my rear wheel. I'm going about 25mph at the time. Stupid doesn't begin to describe it.

I feel energised this morning. I'm finding climbs easier and seem to be getting a good head of steam. I suspect I may have become accustomed to cycling 24 miles daily. On a cycle lane in Bracknell, I encounter a man standing in the middle of the lane, drinking a mug of tea. I swerve around him. He looks startled. Surely the most bizarre obstacle I've encountered so far.

The journey home is largely uneventful. I wonder if this is due to my familiarity with the route giving me greater confidence. As I emerge from the long downhill Minley Road, I notice a cyclist heading in the other direction. I wave. He grins and waves back. A suitably uplifting end to an amazing week.

Some of your comments so far:

I cycle the three miles to work in (supposedly) one of Britain's most cycle friendly cities - Cambridge. Much like Steve, I suffered a great deal of abuse from ignorant motorists (mostly bus drivers) who believe the roads are solely theirs
Dave M, UK

Back in June I gave up commuting to work by bus and by train for a 45-minute cycle. My fitness has improved and I've been stocking up on lights and warm clothing so I can keep cycling to work throughout the winter. I definitely do not want to go back to sitting glumly in a packed bus or train waiting for it to slowly drag me into work.
Chris, UK

This sounds very familiar! I ride to work across Southampton and back, and the only problem I ever encounter is lack of road-sense by inconsiderate car and van drivers. Buses and lorries are driven very considerately bar a few.
Justin Rowles, UK

The south of England is not typical in its weather. Try getting someone from Scotland to cycle - this morning's weather is 1 degree Celsius and raining, plus it's very much darker than the south!
Andrew Brawley, Scotland

I gave up my car three years ago and now use my bike and the train to get around, the only downside is the complete lack of capacity for bikes on the trains.
Tom, Berks

Unfortunately I would not be able to give up my car. I travel 54 miles each way to work. I would love to get the train but it would be a nightmare with at least two changes then a 15-minute walk to and from the train station at each end, not to mention the cost.
Trevellyon Newell, UK

On the occasions I have cycled to work in this country I have been spat at and remains of a drinks carton (including ice) thrown at me as well as the usual attempts (premeditated or not) to knock you off .
Ian, UK

Just like the "minister living on benefits" challenge, changing lifestyles usually involves too many variables that cannot be explored in a week. How do you shop? How do you get an old carpet to the tip? What happens when you crash and wreck the company laptop (because you will at some point)?
Mark, Milton Keynes, UK

Steve's touched on an interesting point about cycle lanes - sometimes they are cluttered, inconvenient sub-standard routes
Ben, UK

Couldn't give my car up! Driving is more than a way of getting from A to B, I actually enjoy it. I need my car to travel between sites sometimes with IT equipment.
Yan G, UK

This is just another pointless short-term exercise which proves for the umpteenth time 21st Century lives are built around the mobility that cars bring. How many people would really waste all that extra time both on a 30-minute longer journey and having to shower and change when you get there?
Steve Powell, UK

Every day I see cyclists ignoring red traffic lights, swerving on to the pavement to avoid obstacles, thereby endangering pedestrians. Many don't bother with lights as well. If cyclists want other road users to show more consideration for them, perhaps they should try observing the Highway Code.
David Gold, England

I would love to cycle to work but even though Leicester is classed as a city promoting pedal power why do lots of big employers not provide showering facilities to back this up?
Mark, Leicester, UK

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