Suami Rocha, Cycle Instructor
Suami is a man of many talents and interests. He wears a professional hat (or helmet..) as a cycling instructor based in London. Alongside, he’s also involved in campaigning for better streets in Westminster through Westminster Healthy Streets, is part of the ‘Bamboo Bicycle Club’ and it’s rumoured that he’s a brilliant football player.
FM: What does cycling mean to you?
SR: The sense of freedom that it provides.
I can look after my own health & the health of everyone around me at the same time I’m getting somewhere. By choosing to cycle I’m not making bad choices for society. I am able to remain active & healthy while just getting to the shops. What’s more, it’s free & probably the quickest way.
FM: What’s the best thing about choosing to get on a bike over public transport or getting in a car ?
SR: You can choose your own route which also means you get to know where you live a lot more.
You also get to see things you wouldn’t otherwise in a car or public transport! Quite often quicker and the cheapest option as well!
In the end, if I’m choosing to bike, I’m leaving a space on the road for those who really need it the most which is especially important during this period.
FM: What would you admit is the worst thing about being on a bike?
SR: The weather!
When it’s pouring and freezing it’s not great, but that only happens on a very small number of days. It just happens to stick in people’s minds! If I can think ahead & prepare myself (e.g. waterproof gear & gloves & trousers and mudguards) I can still face whatever the weather and get anywhere without having to give up my bike.
I don’t use cycling specific clothes. I choose to ride in whatever I would wear normally so that shouldn’t be a barrier to people.
[When it comes to bad behaviour from other road users], People sometimes have a bad day. Of course, because you feel very vulnerable you take it more personally. The way I see it, there’s no point in getting angry, you’re just getting angry for nothing; just can choose to have a nice day and move on.
FM: How could new riders change their behaviour or thinking to have a good time out on a bike?
SR: As a cycling instructor, I see there are 4 core principles:
- Observation: constantly observe everywhere to know where you have space. You can see that you have space to be in the centre of the lane which means you can make any turns and stay away from pedestrians near the kerb. It’s important to decide the right position to take ahead of time, e.g. traffic islands or narrow roads. That’s where you should be assertive & be kind! You can look behind and thank anyone who’s waiting. Really, looking behind is one of the most important things you can do.
- Positioning: Always anticipate and think ahead. You can do this by looking ahead and looking behind.
- Communication: think about how you communicate. It’s not just about using your arms, but also looking around, making eye contact with everyone you can. If someone has returned your eye contact, they definitely have seen you.
- Priority: understand who goes first on the road.
It’s very basic, but you should know who goes first. For example, are you riding in a park? You don’t have priority, the little kids do! Feel confident in knowing the order of priority around you.
Finally, practice! Choose quiet roads to begin with. You can research the quietways network in London or backroads (some apps can help you do that).
SR: Once you’ve practiced, you become more confident and can maintain higher speeds to match speeds of traffic. Iin London for example that’s quite possible as most roads are 20mph. It’s important that you ride at a speed when you can anticipate and control the bike at.
And finally! Look for cycle training!. There should be a lot of cycle training in London (at the moment, though it’s suspended due to Covid-19). You can find local training in London from TfL or your local authority website. See more here.
FM: What would you say is the most important attitude to take when starting commuting to work?
SR: Set the right expectations! It might be a struggle to begin with, especially having been stuck in home for the past few months but you could try it once or twice a week to start with.
You could ride your route with a cycling instructor, or with friends, or over the weekend. Why don’t you ask people who already ride, what things that are important to them?
Ultimately, enjoy it! Every day that you ride into work, you’re never bound by the same route. You can get to know your local area much more if you’re going by bike because you’re not restricted to following a specific route.
So, take the time to find which routes work best for you. There are a lot of backroads that will take you the same way which means you don’t have to ride the main roads which means there are a lot more alternatives, you just need to look for them.
If you’re tired, it means you’re doing something very positive for your health. After 12 weeks (think about it as the length of lockdown!), you can see positive changes to your body. Think about it as a great way to get regular exercise without even thinking about it.
FM: What could employers do to make their employees feel safer?
SR: Incentivise active travel by allowing people the time that they need to commute. When most people are transitioning to cycling, it might take them longer. Having employers that are understanding is really important. Because, at the end of the day, a more active workforce is more productive.
Especially now, employers should tell themselves that I should be doing everything in my power to allow you to ride in safely.
One way to get employees into cycling is ensuring they only have to commute a few times a week which can make it less overwhelming: allow flexible working from home where possible to encourage better transport decisions.
If an employer can back their employees on the journey of slowly building up the physical stamina for cycling, it would be amazing. What we don’t want is people saying ‘cycling is not for me’ after one bad experience.
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