2020, On your bike

In our part of the world, if someone tells you to “get on your bike” or “sling your hook”, they don’t want you to hang around. Many of us feel this way about 2020. People have lost loved ones to the pandemic and everyone has been affected in some way.

My colleagues and I, like many people, had their pay cut and freedoms restricted. But there is good news, too. In less than a year, humanity has developed effective vaccines and there is a new focus on a green economic recovery. Let’s hope we do “build back better.”

Global carbon emissions have dropped by 7% compared with 2019, and the UK has led the way with a 13% fall. But the UK’s emissions success reflects our failure to contain COVID-19 without severely restricting personal mobility. No doubt emissions will bounce back, but there will also be major investments intended to drive a green recovery.

My mobility has not been curtailed. The days when we flew to far-off countries to meet people disappeared a decade ago. We are used to writing from Internet interviews. But I’m not sitting at home. I’m on my bike.

Home working for me means dealing with kids exploding with energy, the whirring of the washing machine and aches from working at the kitchen table. So, while most of my colleague work from home, I’ve been cycling to a largely empty office where I write about the energy transition, among other things.

And what a year it has been for cycling! So far, we’ve had two lockdowns, with the first taken more seriously by society. My commute is 12 km each way along country lanes. It’s December now and my ride is dark, wet, dirty and dazzling (I won’t rant here about drivers not dipping their headlights), but it sets me up for the day. It provides a work–life buffer and keeps me physically and mentally fit. Back in the spring, during the first lockdown, it was light, dry, clean (except where the cows cross) and virtually car-free.

On a typical summer commute, I meet one or two cyclists and perhaps 50 cars, vans and trucks. During the first lockdown, the roads were so empty that I took to counting vehicles. There were typically only 30 cars and 10 bikes. One afternoon, I passed 20 motor vehicles and nodded or waved to the same number of cyclists.

Bike sales boomed. If you want a new low- to mid-tier bike, you’ll have to wait, as the entire stock sold out! And our village grew a bike shop. One of my friends, whose business was forced to cease by the restriction on international travel, got together with another friend and put their passion for cycling into starting www.kelsallcycles.com.

Will the situation continue? We all hope the vaccines will see the end of COVID-19 deaths and restrictions, but it is likely to be many months before we have herd immunity, and there is a communications battle to be won against the anti-vaccination, anti-science, conspiracy theorists. I think many of us will continue to work remotely for much of the time. The energy transition will gather pace and I look forward to continuing to write about the exciting potential of floating wind turbines and blue- and green-hydrogen technologies. Cars already rule the roads again and many of the bikes bought or rediscovered during lockdown will lie neglected; but some will not. That makes me happy.