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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

I want to ride my bicycle

Having just finished Richard Thaler’s Nudge (David Cameron, for one, waxes lyrical about this book), one of the government’s best ‘nudges’ of late has been the cycle-to-work initiative. Offering significant tax savings and an interest-free loan for those wanting to purchase a new bike, the programme is great encouragement for folk hoping to shun four wheels in favour of two.

My own personal tipping point was the daily grind of trying to read the Financial Times on the jam-packed Northern Line and so for the past few weeks I have been donning the lycra at least twice a week and heading out onto London’s roads. What I have noticed are the social structures and battles that take place on London’s roads every day. Even within the great tribe of cyclists, there are many factions. I belong to the group comprising the ‘overly keen’. We (somewhat unnecessarily) wear full lycra, have cleats (clip-in shoes) and will undoubtedly have all the necessary kit to cover any weather conditions, as well as numerous tools for fixing punctures and tightening brakes.

Other tribes include couriers on ‘fixies’ (one fixed gear, usually no brakes and no ability to coast). These cyclists tend to be much more aggressive riders and dress in a somewhat ‘cooler’ fashion (who seriously wants to cycle in baggy jeans?).

Then there are the Brompton riders whose bikes are the heavy collapsible kind with tiny wheels. Brompton’s design brief seems to have been: take the bikes that chimpanzees ride at dodgy circuses and make them fit for human purpose. Cycling one of these contraptions involves getting nowhere slowly while exerting maximum effort — why they wear work clothes while cycling, I will never know.

Being ‘dropped’ during your ride brings shame to your tribe. On one of my earlier journeys home, my brake pads were rubbing against my back wheel and I was overtaken by a guy on a Brompton — oh, the indignity!

Now, it is important to note that, despite the various factions of the great cycling community, we unite against a greater foe — buses and cars. This battle is particularly fearsome in bus lanes, with everyone wanting to get to where they are going in the shortest amount of time with no regard for others. This is perhaps not the most optimal of solutions (I do not think this is the Nash equilibrium) and creates some degree of tension. Special mention has to go to drivers who deem it appropriate to use the bus lane to edge out in order to see what is going on in the rest of the road.

Cycling in London is somewhat stressful and requires keen observation. However, my outlook is that the marginal cost of getting to work one or two minutes earlier more than outweighs the benefits of a cautious ride (hey, I am an actuary). With that in mind, cycling can be a lot of fun. I ride eight miles to work and the transition time from bed to desk is no greater than getting the tube, plus I am getting the benefits of a good cardio workout.

Cycling is a fun alternative to the tube, car or train but you also get to learn about a whole new social microcosm. I advise you all to give cycling a go. To bastardise George Orwell: four wheels bad, two wheels better.


Recommendation of the month
Transport for London’s cycle-to-work Fridays
If any readers want to start cycling to work but are somewhat perturbed by the capital’s roads, the TFL cycle-to-work Fridays may just be the thing for you. You can choose from six routes, all heading to central London. For further information visit www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/12293.aspx

Client entertaining
Mud Dock, Bristol
Sticking with our cycling theme, the Mud Dock is a cracking little place that combines both a bicycle shop and a great restaurant. The concept stems from the founder’s trips to Spain where the cycling and dining were both inspirational. Why not combine the things you love? True to form, the restaurant has a rustic Spanish theme, although this has mutated as chefs of differing nationalities — French, Italian, Portuguese and Brazilian — have each made their mark. Go enjoy! www.mud-dock.co.uk