Chris Boardman MBE is an Olympic Gold medalist, former World Cycling Champion, and BBC Commentator. He is Chair of Sport England, and in 2021, he became England’s first Active Travel Commissioner. Read about Chris’s inspiring 2-wheeled journey and the surprising things he learned along the way.

I breathed a sigh of relief, locked the car, and tried to get a grip on my mood before walking up the steps to my front door. As ever, the journey home from work had been a mixture of boredom, interspersed with flashes of annoyance at the frustration-fuelled aggression on the M56.

However, hanging the keys on the hook didn’t signify the end of a journey, but the start of a new one. It would be five years until I picked them up again.

The path to change

In 2017, I took a call from the new Great Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham. He’d followed my advocacy antics over the years and had decided I was the right person to help bring his transport vision to life. You don’t get the chance to change an entire city region often, so I accepted the challenge.

The role required me to spend three days a week in the region’s capital, 50 miles from my Wirral home. Almost all motorway, I set off each morning assuming I’d be behind the wheel for about an hour. My estimate almost always turned out to be more of an aspiration, especially if it rained, with round trips regularly sucking up four hours or more. The alternative looked even worse, getting to a station five miles away and then taking two trains.

The transition to two wheels

Given my job was Active Travel Commissioner, I eventually conceded I should at least try practicing what I was preaching. So, in late 2018, I walked out of the house, put the car in the garage, got on my bike, and peddled off to the station.

Despite my role, it was a journey I wouldn’t have contemplated without the unassuming path that passed close to my home. Running down the spine of the peninsula after which it’s named, The Wirral Way is a former railway line repurposed in 1973 as a cycling and walking trail. Over the last 50 years, I have crunched over the gravel as a child, furiously peddled the path as an athlete, and taught some of my kids to ride on it. More recently It’s been a way to explore with my grandchildren.

I doubt there are many on the peninsula without a Wirral Way based tale to tell. That frosty winter morning it was playing a new role proving a safe, traffic-free route to West Kirby, from where I could connect with Metropolis of Manchester. I crunched over frozen leaves, breathed in the chill air, and watched the tide begin its daily march up the Dee estuary towards Chester.

Twenty-five minutes later, I locked up my bike and hopped on the train. It had been a pleasant and uneventful little ride, I’m not sure why I thought it might be otherwise and the return trip went much the same. The next day was also no-fuss and so was the day after that. The decision to try something different quickly became the new normal. After two months of this, I decided this really could be the new normal and sold my car.

Investing in the right gear

Tweaks were made as I adapted to the two-wheeled regime. I wanted to be able to make the journey in ‘normal clothes’ whatever the weather, so my steed was fitted with mudguards and waterproofs were purchased, so damp days posed no problem (turns out Billy Connolly was right!)

I acquired some good bike lights for the early starts and late finishes and inner tubes were replaced with tyre sealant to ensure I’d never be delayed with a puncture. And that was it, a simple tale but with some significant consequences when I considered what changes this travel choice had brought. Rather than losing convenience and time, as I originally perceived it, I was making gains across the board.

Increased productivity

Exercise was not something I did separately during the week. Now, it was built into the start and end of each day. I even let the gym membership go. Most of my journey was by train, and although it took an hour more, it was no longer dead time. Outbound trips were used to prep for the day ahead and the homeward leg let me catch up on emails and texts. Even though driving was faster, I was still getting an extra 200 hours or 8.5 days of productivity back each year by not doing it. More importantly, when I walked through the front door each night, my time was truly my own.

Financial savings

Materially, even before I consider the cost of fuel for 13,500 miles and parking (a burden that usually fell to my employer), without car financing, maintenance, tax, and insurance, I was saving over £11,000 a year. This might all sound a little evangelical, I know not everyone can make the same choices I did, and thanks to the vagaries of the British weather, not every early morning was a treat either. But I did come to realise, neither was driving. That same weather I peddled through for 25 minutes also guaranteed a shunt on the motorway leading to a longer and more torturous trip home than the one I was making.

Finding the balance

I’m a big fan of cars – they are often part of the solution. These days, I’m happy to get behind the wheel when I need to – I regularly drive up to Scotland to explore the wilds on a gravel or MTB bike. The key is striking a balance, ensuring we have an attractive choice for all our journeys, especially the local ones.

However, there’s clearly still a way to go in the masses adopting more of a balanced approach when it comes to travel. When people learn of the change I made, they often make comments like “aren’t you good” and “oh wow” – simply travelling without a car is considered an achievement.

Just 200 miles away from Westminster, 70% of young people get to schools, shops, and friends’ houses, under their own steam. It’s no coincidence that whilst they have the same love of fast food, Holland has almost half of our obesity rate and a 20% higher productivity rate. It’s not hyperbole to say the simple bicycle can bring a lot to our lives if we make space for it.

If you’ve been inspired to get back out on two wheels, Halfords are here to help! For bikes that have been sitting at the back of the shed for some time, get peace of mind that everything is in working order with our range of cycling service packages. Our packages range from bronze to platinum and contain essential checks and adjustments to ensure your bike is working at its best. 

There are also initiatives that can help save you money on a new bike and accessories. The Cycle2Work scheme is a fantastic way of getting access to a brand-new bike and accessories at an affordable price. For full information, please visit our website.