I guess I am blessed, I only live 7 miles from work. Back in the days of working for large pharma I was never satisfied with my carbon footprint. We used to have a bus service from Bollington [Cheshire, UK] and would take that each day for two years, but with just 14 or so people a day was just not sustainable and the service was cancelled. However, a few of us pooled together, and we car shared for some 5 years. That was great fun, very social and a great feeling in its own right. It had some interesting moments; the day the exhaust dropped off my car, and then full breakdowns (of the car) and good and bad days at work (full breakdowns of the people!)…. What was said in the car, stays in the car…

Starting MedChemica, I worked at home for 2 years, that was 2012-2014, so homeworking during the pandemic was not new to me – thankfully. However, as we took on our first employees, we rented our first office, and I started driving in on my own! It was not long though before the new starters were up-to-speed and we stopped coming in every day – so a mixed model of working, during the pandemic, was not new to me.

I am acutely aware that High Performance Computing (HPC), in the cloud, means hot CPUs in data centres that need cooling. Data centres around the world now contribute as much carbon to the environment as the airline industry. I am starting to wonder if I should build a small cluster in my house, it could directly heat it, instead of burning more gas. On this point though, this is why when we find matched pairs (and importantly do not find pairs) we record the results in a database so we do not have to compute them again, thus we maximise the energy use involved. As a result of this additional carbon footprint in my life I felt I had to do more.

Surprisingly, having owned a bike for 10 years, I was not cycling in. On a lovely summers day what is the excuse not to? So, three years ago, still bothered about my carbon footprint, I started cycle commuting. Luckily there are lockers, showers and changing rooms in the office building. The first trick to cycle commuting is getting down to the minimum amount of material to commute with (Figure 1). In the locker I have shoes, trousers and spare shirt as well as towel and toiletries, and in the office a smart jacket. At my lightest I come in with underwear, shirt, keys, and security pass (and spare face mask). In my office I have a stash of breakfast materials, which I stock up on every two months or so.

Al and his bike

Figure 1 – A MAMIL, captured in its natural environment.

I claim that I win on several fronts:

  • Health – 3 commutes a week – 45 miles, plus the hills – keeps me fit
  • Economic – the fuel saved in my car
  • Environment – reduction in carbon footprint

What I did not expect was the impact on mental wellbeing. The feeling on stepping out of the changing room in the morning is amazing. Exercised, refreshed and feeling like I played my part in making the world a better place. It might surprise people that I cycle commute during the winter months, in the dark, in the damp, and I still get the same feeling. Another moment of wellbeing are the days of cycling, when dawn is coming, and there is mist across the fields and birds chirping. On the way home I get the setting sun and the golden hour of light. These you do not actually get in high summer. It also will surprise some of you that I do not get rained on that much – these days I can pick and choose my moments as weather forecasts are pretty good. As I mentioned I cycle two or three times a week, not all the time – the rest being working at home or the occasional day driving in.

There is but one problem. I need to be honest. Other road users. For the most part car drivers are careful and safe, but there are sufficient numbers of complete idiots. I do not mind getting soaked with rain on the way home, but I will not understand why some drivers overtake me on a blind corner and, hey surprise, there is a car coming the other way! The number of near-misses is high, every other bike ride there is something and every third a near miss. When these moments occur, I feel fortunate that the other driver, on the opposite side of the road, breaks hard, and I break hard, and the idiot driver ducks in, just making it. There are four bends where this happens. I have reduced the occurrences by taking more assertive action to deter people from doing this – the law has recently changed to support my actions. I have also thought of fixing cameras to my bike or changing my high-vis jacket to say ‘DOCTOR’ on the back. Despite the dangerous drivers it is still worth it. Usefully, I can tell you, we have not returned to pre-pandemic levels of traffic. There was one junction I would have to wait 5 mins to get through and these days I hardly wait at all.

The future though is eBikes. My current car is a hybrid, but I think if the previous car had lasted another year I don’t think I would have replaced it, instead I would have got an eBike. For those who have a longer commute, some hard hills on the way or do not want to break into a sweat, eBikes make a lot of sense. There is another cycle commuter that comes 21 kilometers using this eBike – impressive. I think their numbers will only grow.

So, I can recommend cycle commuting for all the benefits outlined. Our lease at Alderley Park Cheshire, is up for renewal, so we asked all the employees what they would like to do and they all asked for a better office with greener commuting options! So, let’s see what we can do?