On drinking and cycling

Drinking and cycling - how much is too much?

Drinking and cycling – how much is too much?

It’s 5pm on a Friday afternoon. I’m just shutting down my computer and washing up my mug when a colleague wanders through.

“A few of us are going for a quick drink. D’you fancy coming with us?” she asks.

I pause for…oh, about a nanosecond to consider my response before accepting the invitation.

I grab my helmet and keys, then hoist my Ortlieb bag on my shoulder. “You’re going to take your bike to the pub? Will you be alright cycling home?” my colleague asks, concern in her voice.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” I reply. “As long as I stay in the pub until after 7pm, I can just take it home on the Overground with me.”

There are few advantages to working where I do, up in Cricklewood – we are, after all, much closer to the end of the M1 than the Thames – but being able to go for a drink after work without worrying whether I’ll be able to get home safely is definitely one of them.

For those whose weeks regularly end – and possibly even start – in the pub, this may not seem like that much of a big deal. But then I’d hazard a guess that most of those who, on a Friday evening, head straight from the office to the pub have never had to weigh up the risks of braving the journey home after a few pints, versus the likelihood of their bike still being there the next day if they decide to leave it overnight.

A few weeks back, I met up with a friend for a coffee on a Saturday afternoon, which then turned into an impromptu visit to my favourite pub. When I’d left home earlier in the day I’d had no intention of staying out into the evening, so I hadn’t thought to take my lights with me. When the time came to decide whether to head home before it got dark or to stay for another cider, I chose the latter – the company was congenial, the cider enticing, and after two pints of it already I was feeling distinctly mellow and in no hurry to head home to my empty flat.

This was, as I discovered the next day, the wrong decision. At some point – either while I was supping my cider in the pub, or later on, when I was at home, sleeping it off – some light-fingered bastard ran off with my saddle and seatpost. While I admit it could’ve been worse, it still cost me £50 to replace both, making that last pint of cider easily the most expensive drink I’ve ever had.

That got me thinking about whether I should’ve just cycled home the night before, cider or no cider.

From a legal point of view, I may well have got away with it. The drink-cycling rules are different from the drink-driving rules. The Road Traffic Act says that it’s an offence to ride a bike while ‘under the influence of a drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle.’

In other words, it doesn’t matter how much I’ve had to drink – as long as I could maintain proper control of my bike I’d probably escape the long arm of the law.

But cycling home after a few drinks is probably not the most sensible thing to be doing. Being of a fairly cautious nature, I usually have a pretty strict two drinks rule – which makes for a cheap, if slightly boring, night out. Every now and again I’ve gone over that and lived to tell the tale, but it’s not something I do very often. The times when I have done it, I’m always relieved to make it back home in one piece.

So from that point of view, I’m extremely grateful to London Overground for making it possible for me to go for a drink without having to choose between missing out on the fun or getting home safely.

I’m not sure what I’ll do, if and when I move on from this job and I have to contend with bike unfriendly buses and Tubes. I wonder – how do people who can’t take their bike home on the train manage? Would you cycle home after a few drinks?

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13 thoughts on “On drinking and cycling

    • If there isn’t much traffic, then the ‘pedal in a straight line’ rule is a good one. A colleague of mine told me he used to live somewhere that had a segregated cycle path that went from the centre of the town to near where he lived. Most Friday evenings at pub chucking out time, he said, the path would be filled with people like him, wobbling their way back home after a few drinks 🙂

  1. I work in central London and generally commute by bike. I’ve cycled home once after having more than two drinks and was fine but the next day I realised that it was really stupid. I remember that the cycle home was a bit of a blur and I definitely took more risks than I would if I was sober. Totally not worth the risk-the crazy traffic is dangerous enough!
    So now I either stick to soft drinks or leave my bike locked up at work overnight and take the tube home. Luckily my work has secure bike storage.

    • Exactly. The times I’ve cycled home after one too many, I’ve always made it home safely – which can make me think it’s less of a risk than it really is. I’m meeting up with some friends later today for dinner and drinks, and I’ve been debating whether to cycle there. Though I’d prefer to take my bike, the sensible part of me is saying it’ll be much safer to get the bus. Just because I’ve never had any problems cycling after a few drinks, doesn’t mean I never will do. I’d rather not chance it!

  2. In London I quite often cycle to the pub by Boris bike. If I drink too much and can’t cycle I can go home by bus or train not having to worry about the bike!

  3. I always wondered who ends up buying the seats and seat posts–they have to know they are stolen, no? As for riding while a bit inebriated–I have done it, but like Tony said, only when I can do it in a straight line….

  4. I really feel for you. I am lucky in that I have a Brompton that I use daily so if I do stay out late or have had some drinks, I can fold it up and put it on the tube to get home. I don’t know what I’d do if I was taking around my big upright Electra Townie…

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