Surgeon bikes to work as two-mile drive could take an hour


Jen Graystone, a consultant surgeon at the John Radcliffe Hospital writes for campaign group Cyclox and looks at the advantage of completing her commute by bike instead of driving into work.

I moved to Oxford in 2011 to start a new job at the John Radcliffe Hospital as a consultant surgeon.

As a Consultant Surgeon, I work odd hours, sometimes finishing operations after midnight and I also have to be on-call.

I very quickly got into the habit of driving the 2.3 miles to work at the hospital on a daily basis.

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Before moving to Oxford, I had lived in Yorkshire where there seemed to be fewer cars on the road. I was amazed at how busy the roads were in Oxford.

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There were constant traffic jams and drivers seemed to be so cross with one another all the time, but I just thought – “well, this is how it is now”- and stuck with driving the short distance to and from work.

My husband works at Oxford University and his commute is 1.5 miles.

He immediately acquired a second hand bike for £50 and started cycling to work.

This was his normal method of commuting for many years, but I had never considered it: the late hours, having to be smartly dressed, my ‘image’ – all of these things meant I had to drive – didn’t I?

Sometimes my commute was 20 minutes. Never less. Sometimes, it took an hour. An hour to go 2.3 miles! I never knew how long it would take and was sometimes late for work.

One day, I thought: “maybe I should try and cycle?”.

I wasn’t doing much exercise and was pretty unfit, so I took some time to plan it all out: what would I wear?

Where could I get changed? Could I have a shower when I arrived?

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All of these things stressed me out, but fortunately, my husband was on hand to help and advise, ensuring my ancient second hand bike was roadworthy and that I had a good lock and good set of lights. (Oxford has loads of bike shops that can help and advise with these things.)

I got a rucksack and was sad to stop using my gorgeous leather ‘Consultant’s’ satchel.

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I started the commute. It was tough: uphill in the morning and – initially – I had to get off and walk, but it was amazing.

I got fresh air, and the cycle downhill on the way home blew all the cobwebs of a busy day away.

I particularly enjoyed the cycle home at 2am after I had been concentrating in the operating theatre all day. It meant that I could enjoy the fresh air whilst everyone else was sleeping and the roads were quiet.

And the best thing? My journey to work took the same amount of time every single day. I knew exactly when I would arrive at work and never got caught up due to busy traffic. It was great.

Eleven years later, I have given up my parking permit for work. My cycle to the JR takes 17 mins. I still own a car, but I very rarely drive in Oxford. It is so much quicker and predictable to cycle.

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I’ve invested in panniers, which means I don’t get a sweaty back and can carry a reasonable amount of stuff around with me.

And I’m fitter, and healthier. I now cycle in my normal work clothes (OK, I have to make sensible choices about work outfits, but it’s worth it).

As a regular part of my job, I now travel to places like Reading and London and I have invested in a second-hand folding bike, which I take on the train with me.

Life is good by bike!

Cycling campaign group Cyclox has a mission to get more people cycling, more often, and more safely.

Members of the group link up with key decision makers to put cycling on the public agenda.

Cyclox is a partner with active travel and low-carbon groups; and engages with the local community to inform, encourage, and support change.

The group is a member of Oxfordshire’s Coalition for Healthy Streets and Active Travel (CoHSAT).

For more information visit the website

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This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

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