Cycling to help the planet

We spoke to some of the Horniman staff’s most diligent cyclists to inspire everyone to get out and do their bit to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.

Charlotte Ridley­, Conservation Officer

A woman in a blue raincoat and bike helmet stands next to her folded bike

I learnt to ride a bike as a child and cycled sporadically over the past 30 years. In late May 2020 when I knew I had to be physically back onsite I began cycling to work. I wanted to cut out the Jubilee line part of my commute during the pandemic. It was to help my mental health and protect my physical health i.e. not having to worry about being in a cramped public transport during a public health crisis!

My partner and I tested out the cycle lanes (CS2 & 3) and cycled around East London so I could get used to possible routes and using a bike in London. I’m lucky that I literally have the CS2 (Cycle Superhighway 2) on my door step and that connects me to the area where the Overground runs through. Most of the journey is on a segregated cycle lane and I rarely have to share the road with cars.

I have a foldable Dahon bike, so I cycle to Shadwell (it’s a quieter station that Whitechapel) and then fold it up and take it on the Overground. Having a foldable bike lets me use public transport like the Overground at any time (there are restrictions for full sized bikes at peak hours).

When I began I had concerns about car traffic and whether I was physically fit enough to commute via cycling. I no longer see the traffic or my fitness as a barrier. I’d say my current barrier is tiredness at the end of the day… but I need to get home and don’t really want to take the underground so that makes me get on the bike!

Both my partner and I love using our bikes for local journeys, picking up small amounts of shopping and for meeting up with friends.

Top tips:

You do need to maintain a bike (cleaning, adjusting, greasing chain etc.), it’s a good idea to learn how to do this yourself.

And just like a car, it’s worth getting a yearly service and bits replaced (if necessary) at bike repair shop (if you don’t know how to do it yourself).

I don’t live close enough to the museum for it to be a money saver, but it has been really good for my fitness and for my mental health. I’m happy to continue cycling part way once the pandemic subsides.

Zooming past traffic on a sunny evening is a lot of fun (as is carefully freewheeling down the hill from the Museum to Forest Hill Station at the end of the day…)

Cookie Rameder, Visitor Experience Manager

A woman locks her bike up

I started cycling when I was little! I wouldn’t consider myself a proper cyclist, though… it’s just a way of getting from A to B, or to explore independently – and getting further than on foot.

I started cycling to work during lockdown, when the advice was very much against taking public transport. And, having discovered it as an option, I plan to continue! Not every day, but I work on Sundays, for example, when public transport can be very hit and miss – so cycling is much more reliable and stress-free then.

My partner – a keen and proper cyclist! – worked out the best route and cycled with me first time. I then followed that route religiously until I got more confident (and wanted a bit of variety). However I don’t cycle up hills! I get off and push.

I had a few barriers when I started. I normally start my working day as soon as I get on the bus – I find it easier to deal with tricky things in the morning rather than at night. So I thought I’d lose that precious hour where I’d look at things I’d rather put off.

But I found it takes me less time to cycle than to take public transport. So now I check my e-mails or read for 10-15 minutes before I leave the house and then spend the cycle ride thinking stuff through. I’m not sure whether that makes me less productive, but it’s actually less stressful!

Sometimes we have explored a new city by hiring a bike – you see things you wouldn’t see otherwise that way.

I love the independence, and frankly, as an introvert, the alone time.

Carole Destre, Climate and Ecology Coordinator

A woman sits on her bike in front of some double doors

I learnt to cycle when I was a child but only cycled during holidays.  When I started my job at the Horniman, I had not touched a bike for around 20 years with one exception.

I had attempted to commute by bike to my office in central London years ago, but only did it once. I was too frightened not only of cars but also of the other super cyclists, ready to pounce as soon as the light turned green whereas I had to push with difficulty on the pedal to finally be give my bike some momentum. I was not completely unfit but just intimidated.  I just gave up there and then.

I worked in a design agency at the time, I had to look smart and was doing up to 50/60 hours a week. I could not imagine myself riding back at 11pm by myself. Initially we did not have a shower and when we got one it was so small and not inviting that it put me off.  I did not want to come out of the shower and face my colleagues who were queuing.

I now live only 3.5km away from the office. I started my job during the pandemic, when the streets were quiet. I therefore decided to dig out my old bike and give it a go.

I cycle partly on main roads and residential streets.  I have learnt that I should not try to kiss the pavement in order to give more space to the cars…when doing so I fell on the pavement.  Furthermore I was taught by a cycling trainer that cyclists need to occupy the street and that the cars just need to be patient and overtake when they have space to do so.

I have cycled to work since September and for one month straight (across April and May). The rest of the time I walk some days and cycle the others.  It is interesting as each activity asks efforts from different muscles and I can say that my rear has definitely lifted since September!

After all these months, I now reach half way up the hill without getting off the bike. I have tried to find a lower gear than the lowest one, but there isn’t one. Therefore on my off-days, I give myself a break, get off and push the bike up the hill. Some of the residents give me some encouragements and I got to know some of them.

We also cycle as a family: I have a daughter and she cycles to school (with one of us), we cycle to her swimming lessons, and at weekends to explore further afield.

I am 53, so started late on I would say. But I am enjoying the benefits:

  • It is cheap
  • I have gained muscle
  • I am doing something to reduce my carbon footprint
  • I am an example to my daughter

Top tips:

  • Get a good quality bike, as light as you can. It helps in the hills, Mine is much too old and heavy.
  • Learn to the do the basics like repair a puncture, oil the chain. I have got stuck not knowing how to repair my tyre!
  • If you want to cycle in the rain, get a breathable jacket. It may be raining but you get warm when you cycle.
  • Get some lights to make you more visible.

Rich Church, Estates Services Technician

A man sits on his bike in front of some double doors

I started cycling sometime in the early eighties on a tiny red Spiderman bike with white tyres. Like everyone else in the 80s, I BMXed. In the early 90s I was only interested in MTB. I got my first road bike in 1998 to commute to University after crashing my motorcycle. I began riding fixed gear in 2008 with all the other East Londoners and have been fixed ever since. Like most men in their 40s, I’m now looking back to when I was young. I’m back on the single speed MTB. I’m not ruling out a BMX and possibly a modern day Spiderman bike!

I started work at the Horniman 3 years ago and have cycled since my first day. I haven’t done a confidence course as I suffer from cycle related ‘over confidence’.

I’ve had no barriers to cycling anywhere but I am privileged to have been given to opportunity to ride freely from an early age. Today’s world is different and I’d recommend experiencing the joy of self-propelled transport outside the city to really ignite a passion for cycling.

Top tips:

Find a bike you can LOVE. I mean it. I look back with great fondness at all of my bikes. There are some machines that I wish I still had. The only bike I used on the road between 2010-2020 was a fixed gear, bamboo framed delight.

Listen to your bike, a quiet bike is a happy bike.

Get to know your bike – if you don’t know where to start, talk to a cycling nerd. There are lots of us around.

Keep it simple – do you need more than one gear? Do you need a rack? Do you need a stand? You don’t need a suspension fork. A simple machine is more reliable, lighter, cheaper and more fun to ride.

This is the thing I struggle with most – leave yourself enough time to take a more quiet and more safe route to work. It’s tough to avoid those Red Routes but finding a good route to work might just be the key to regular cycle commuting.

Budget for decent lights and use them during the day.

Laugh at the rain.