GET on your bike used to be an insult; an alternative to something much more offensive that still got the message across: go away, be off with you.
Now, tens of thousands of us get on our bikes without needing to be told. Last year saw Scots make a record 35 million journeys on the National Cycle Network. A quarter of those journeys were work-related, while the greatest increase in cycling was among women aged between 16 and 24, who made a massive 65 per cent more trips by bike during 2011 than in the previous year.
Ian Aitken, chief executive of Cycling Scotland, says, “The number of miles cycled by Scots has gone up consistently over the last ten years and is at its highest point. Locally, there are pockets where there has been a significant increase in the number of people cycling. Glasgow, for example, has seen a 26 per cent increase in the number of cycles going into/out of the city centre from 2011 to 2012.”
Blame the Hoy effect, if you like. But Britain’s success in the Olympic velodrome last year is only part of the story. Our growing love affair with two wheels can be attributed to a combination of fun, finance and fitness. “There has been a huge surge in the general public being interested in cycling as a sport and also as a mode of transport,” says Aitken. “This has led to very successful grassroots campaigns such as Pedal on Parliament, attracting over 3,000 people to cycle to parliament last year to campaign for safer conditions for cyclists (and another is planned this year, on Tuesday).”
Consider also that one hour of cycling can help you burn more than 650 calories, toning your legs and bottom in the process. Ride up hills or off-road and you’ll also work your upper body. “Sixty three per cent of Scottish adults and 29 per cent of children do not meet the minimum recommended levels of physical activity,” says John Lauder, director of Sustrans Scotland, the charity behind the National Cycle Network. “As a result, levels of adult and childhood obesity are increasing. One of the most effective ways to expend energy to maintain a healthy weight in a busy day is to reduce reliance on motorised transport, changing our means of everyday travel to walking and cycling.”
Then there are the environmental benefits. “Transport is the second-largest single source of CO2 in Scotland. It contributes 23.5 per cent of the Scottish CO2 total” he says.
And, most importantly for many of us there’s the bottom line. And we’re not talking about what’s at the top of our legs this time. “The cost of running a car has been steadily increasing year after year,” says Lauder. “Recent research suggests the poorest 10 per cent of car-owning households in the UK are spending more than a quarter of their disposable income on buying and running a vehicle. It is clear that an alternative to the car is necessary and therefore cycling and walking will become ever more important.”
To top it all, Scotland is now set to become a world-class destination for cycling tourism. Add to the Mountain Bike World Cup that has been held in Fort William for the last 11 years events like Etape Caledonia in Perthshire, the Red Bull Hill Chasers – an uphill challenge that takes place in Edinburgh at the end of this month – and the series of Evans Cycles RideIt challenges and the year’s cycling calendar is already picking up speed.
“Cycling in Scotland enables you to take your time and experience truly being away from it all in some of the most remote areas in Europe,” says Lauder. “You will encounter many areas of natural beauty, from moorland to forests, lochs and glens, rivers and spectacular coastlines. There are also castles, standing stones and historic settlements to explore. And if you enjoy city life, the National Cycle Network takes you into the centre of all Scotland’s major cities.”
So what are you waiting for? Get on your bike.
23 and 24 March
Red Bull Hill Chasers, Grassmarket, Edinburgh
Tour ‘o the Borders, Peebles
Scottish Bike Show, Glasgow
Etape Caledonia, 81 miles in aid of Marie Curie
18 and 19 May
Bealach Beag, climb 2,053ft from sea level in just six miles, Perthshire
Mountain Bike World Cup, Nevis Range, Fort William
Cairngorm Classics, highest event on a UK public road
The Highwayman Challenge Audax, 100km oo 200km across the Ayrshire Alps
Ride the North, two-day cycle around the Grampians
Pedal For Scotland, Glasgow to Edinburgh
Lord of the Lochs, a circular course from Nevis Range, passing Glenfinnan and Loch Linnhe
• www.sustrans.org.uk; www.cyclingscotland.org