ON YER BIKE: Ditch the bus and buy yourself a posh new bike

First published in Columns

It AMAZES me that anyone uses the buses these days. Prices have jumped 10–20p for singles and 20–30p for a return, so it wouldn’t take many bus rides to make it cheaper to buy a new bike instead.

An annual bus pass for the city will set you back a whopping £390, so you can see you’d be riding a lovely fast bike if you were saving that much – per year.

Never mind the money, cycling’s loads quicker – you don’t have to wait for it to arrive – and a lot more fun. Obviously some people are too infirm to cycle, but for most of us walking and cycling beats the bus by miles.

I can see why everyone doesn’t walk everywhere. Contemplative and peaceful, yes, but few of us have time to walk for an hour when you can do the same journey in 15 minutes by bike.

I really can’t fathom why it is that cycling isn’t much more popular.

One thing that puts people off cycling is the traffic. Sure, you can cruise the main roads and share them with all the cars and buses, but there are dozens of car-free routes across town that even cyclists are unaware of.

I’m talking about the cool back routes that whisk you quickly and quietly along traffic-free paths.

Many routes are poorly signed, but you can find all you need to know at www.transportparadise.co.uk/maps/. My favourites include Barracks Lane, the river and canal towpaths, and the crème de la crème: Marston Cycle Path. Cyclists travelling from East Oxford into the centre have two options. The quick, direct way is the vile Cowley Road–Plain–Magdalen Bridge corridor.

However, a small detour from Cowley Road (no detour at all from Headington) takes you along the bottom of South Park (via Union Street and Morrell Avenue) to Marston Road.

Turn left at the Somerset pub, go down Ferry Road and turn left again at the bottom. The cycle path leads over two small meadows which are variously filled with reeds, grazing bulls, or floodwater.

It’s a rural idyll in the very heart of the city, and an extremely pleasant way to get to South Parks Road.

For routes out of town, few people think of cycling, and while some communities such as Eynsham and Witney have a bit of a cycling bug, most don’t.

I’m staying in Garsington for a month while we have work done on our house. Even though it’s just a mile or two beyond the ring road, it has very much a rural feel and the car is king. The bus is worth getting actually, it’s quite quick and cheap for the mileage and the drivers are friendly, but what amazes me is how fast it is by bike. With traffic queues at peak times, cycling to my office in Cowley Road is quicker than the car or the bus.

That’s one of the great things about a bike, the journey time reliability. Like motorbikes, bicycles can filter along the median white lines to get to the head of traffic waiting at lights and roundabouts. Garsington to Cowley Road is 15 minutes day and night, and beyond the ring road a real pleasure.

They say this dry weather – perfect for cycling – is going to last until Christmas. Do yourself a favour. Save your petrol money or bus fares for when you’re feeling underpar or there’s a gale howling or you have to take the baby. Use the cash you’ll be saving to buy a bike. You’ll be quids in and you won’t look back.

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