Friday 19 January 2018

'I'm as healthy and as happy as I've ever been'

Ditching the car and cycling to work instead can transform your life, writes Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan cycles to work every day after ditching the car and embarking on this lifestyle change. Photo: David Conachy
Shane Phelan cycles to work every day after ditching the car and embarking on this lifestyle change. Photo: David Conachy

It's a Monday morning and traffic is bumper to bumper at Mount Argus on the approach to Harold's Cross.

Two and a half years ago, I would have been one of those motorists, foot pumping the clutch as I inched my way slowly towards Dublin city centre.

But today, I am gliding along in the bicycle lane oblivious to the growing bottleneck alongside me.

On mornings like these I know I will never willingly go back to commuting by car or even the bus.

Aside from the obvious health benefits and financial savings, riding a bike is fast becoming the most practical way of getting around our capital city. Even on the most gridlocked of days, my spin to work from just outside the M50 takes around 35 minutes.

During rush hour, the same journey by bus and foot can take an hour or more. By car, it can be even longer.

My initial decision to start cycling to and from work - a round trip of 25kms - was borne out of the realisation that as I entered my mid-30s, I was in the worst shape of my life.

I was at a crossroads and needed to do something.

After a decade of carousing, my waistline was bulging and I was tipping the scales at close to 100 kilos.

It had been years since I laced up a football boot in anger. I tried to take up jogging, but found it a joyless experience, as was going to the gym.

The bike I had was lying unused and unloved in the garden shed.

Eventually, I was spurred into action by a friend who was riding to work each day in the IFSC. "Give it a try for a while. I swear, you won't know yourself in a few weeks," he promised.

I can say, without exaggeration, it was one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received.

Today, the scales read a much more flattering 71 kilos and I feel as healthy and happy as I've ever done.

Thankfully, there were a few things in my favour which made the decision to take up cycling easier. It helped that my workplace had secure underground bike stands and shower facilities.

The routes available to me on my way to work all had long stretches of cycle lane. I also began my personal cycling odyssey as summer turned to autumn. The evenings were bright and it was perfect cycling weather.

Within days, I was hooked. For sure, the first few rides nearly killed me, I was so unfit. But gradually, the daily journey became easier and easier.

I was burning 500 calories each day I wouldn't ordinarily have, and soon, the weight began to fall off.

Aside from the physical health benefits, I also found my general mood was much improved.

By the time winter rolled around, I didn't even mind the change in the weather, and adopted the motto: "There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing."

My wardrobe now contains all manner of water resistant shorts, jerseys and lightweight jackets, as well as hats, ear, leg and arm warmers.

All of these help to keep me dry and toasty whatever the weather.

One of the first questions people ask when I tell them I cycle in the city is whether or not it's dangerous.

Twelve cyclists died on Irish roads last year, four of them in urban areas.

I've heard a few horror stories and had one near miss myself when a motorist reversed into my path without looking. Thankfully, it resulted in nothing more serious than a few cuts and bruises.

But generally speaking, I believe it's pretty safe to ride in the city, provided you obey the rules of the road, use your common sense and keep your wits about you.

Patience is important. Whizzing through a red light to get to work a few minutes earlier is a pretty dumb thing to do and a sure fire way to end up causing yourself or someone else an injury. It is also the height of lunacy to cycle at night without a good set of lights and high-vis clothing.

My advice now to anyone who is at the same crossroads I reached: just go ahead and try it out.

Late spring is a brilliant time to start as the milder weather means you'll be less likely to throw in the towel. If you don't already own a bike, the Cycle to Work scheme is a great way of getting on the road relatively cheaply.

I've travelled a long way since being bitten by the cycling bug.

A year after first taking to the road, I joined a club, Dundrum-based Orwell Wheelers, which has excellently run leisure rider and racing sections catering for cyclists of all ages and abilities.

The camaraderie is great and riding with the club I've gotten to know pretty much every stretch of road in south Dublin and Co Wicklow.

This summer, I'm planning to tackle Alpe d'Huez and other iconic French climbs, something I could never have imagined doing not so long ago.

Irish Independent

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