White Collar Cycling

In this article, Paul Graham from our Manchester studio looks at the office design implications that need to be considered when providing employees with cycling facilities. Much more than making an office BREEAM compliant, well thought-out office amenities play a key role in keeping employees engaged, fit, and healthy.

Having arrived at work on your bike, you feel invigorated. You carry your bike up the steps to the office entrance doors, accidentally clipping your pedal on the glass door as you wheel your bike through the reception. Leaving behind an oily wet wheel trail and a disapproving look from the building manager, you trundle your bike down a flight of stairs, being careful not to scratch the hardwood stair treads with the metal cleats on the bottom of your cycling shoes. The cycle racks are concealed underneath the stairs in the basement, and you are mindful not to knock your head again on the underside of the steel stringer whilst unlocking your bike chains, which are dangling with many others off the balustrade... Does this sound familiar to employees who cycle to work?

The number of people cycling to work continues to rise inextricably due to the well known health benefits of cycling, the rising cost of public transport, frustration from sitting in endless traffic jams and the dwindling number of affordable city centre car parks. Yet most offices are not designed with any consideration for bicycle facilities. In this short article, we will look at workplace design and how it can play a key role in keeping employees engaged, motivated, fit, and healthy. 

Location

Cycle stands located externally to a building in a bike shelter are not generally liked by employees, due to the risk of bike theft or malicious damage. Whilst it sounds obvious, we recommend to our clients that cycling facilities should be sited within the building at ground floor level with a separate access to the main building entrance/reception. This strategy avoids bikes being trailed through the reception space, which, to visiting clients, is their first impression of your organisation. The planning of ground floor plant rooms, refuse stores, service yards and compactor rooms should be scrutinised from an early design stage. Plant rooms, in particular, are typically oversized, and some plant installations, which could be accommodated on an upper mezzanine floor, could make way for a cycle store on the ground floor. Developers and employers should favour internal cycle stores over internal refuse stores. If needs be, refuse stores can be sited outside the building footprint. 

Security

Similar to a disabled pass door, a push-button automatic swing or sliding door will make life easier for cyclists entering a building to park their bike and it reduces the risk of damage to doors/door frames. In our opinion, there is no need to express/activate the bike store as part of the office façade design. A bike store could contain tens of thousands of pounds worth of ‘carbon’, and the more visible bikes are the more they will become a target. 

Cycles stores should also be secured with access control and/or CCTV. If employees don’t think their bike is safe, they will wheel their bike into the office environment via the lift or stairwell. Space should be allowed in the bike store for locking, folding bikes also to avoid cluttering the office itself.

Finish

Cycles stores do not need to be finished internally to a high standard. They can simply be well-lit spaces with unfinished blockwork walls and slip-resistant floors. Internal room heights can be as low as 2.2m, and, if space permits, a mezzanine floor can be provided for additional storage.

Number of cycle spaces 

The decision on how many spaces should be provided over and above the minimum 'required' amount is always a commercial decision. Here is some guidance...

Based on local Council guidance in the UK, a provision of one cycle space per 400 sq.m is required for new B1 office developments. Using a hypothetical office building with a floor area of 15,000 sq.m, 37 cycle spaces would be required for 'Planning purposes' as a minimum. Bearing in mind that this building could accommodate up to 1,875 people, there will certainly be a battle among bike users to secure a bike rack in the morning.  

BREEAM ‘Tra 03 Cyclist facilities’ states that one bike space per ten building occupants should be provided. Companies should also consider, at early planning stages, how their cycle store could be augmented if more employees in the future decide to cycle to work. 

Clothes storage lockers

The issue of storing wet clothes during the working day is also a problem. Most cycling garments are ‘fast wicking’, meaning they dry quickly. The provision of a small spin dryer in the bike store is cost-effective and reduces the need for drying rooms, which tend to be unpleasant spaces to occupy! A five minute spin cycle allows clothes to dry and be packed away. The provision of storage lockers reduces the need to carry heavy rucksacks each day, and allows clean/ironed ‘work gear’ and bike equipment to be stored away from the office workspace.


Storage systems

When specifying cycle stands, there is a vast array to choose from, but, in our opinion, there are few which are well designed. Sheffield stands often damage/scuff frames and double-hoop/‘butterfly’ stands can twist and damage wheels/gears/spokes when people move bikes abruptly to get access to their bike. The spacing between cycle stands is always restricted, and it is never easy to actually get to your bike to unlock it! In the same way that you wouldn’t park your car too close to another car, cyclists are precious about their two-wheel mode of transport. Securing bikes vertically at 1.2m centres against a wall with associated locking hooks helps to improve space efficiency, reduces the overall room area needed and facilitates easy access to your bike. This configuration also makes it easier for the spaces between bikes to be cleaned. Well-designed racking/cycle storage systems are now coming on to the market from companies such as Cycle Pods (www.cyclepods.co.uk). The design of cycle store rooms should be closely coordinated with the design of these systems. Provide a dedicated bike lock rail. This avoids locks being strewn on any available feature in the building. A communal air pump fixed to a wall/floor is a useful addition to any bike store, and space should be designed for cyclists to perform minor maintenance work on their bike.

Shower rooms

Cyclists should be deterred from using the lifts and stairs, particularly if they are dripping wet. They should also be discouraged from loitering on the upper floors of a building whilst they wait for a shower room to become available. All too often, the decision to include cycling facilities is driven by BREEAM and typically is not well thought through. BREEAM CN3 ‘Compliant showers’ states one shower per ten cycle spaces. If those ten cyclists all arrive between 8 am and 9 am, there will be queues and delays to the working day. Shower facilities for cyclists should not be confused with disabled w.c.s/shower rooms. In large offices, the increasing number of cyclists needing to use a shower room at peak times (early morning/evening) will deprive wheelchair users from using the dedicated disabled facilities. Shower facilities for cyclists should be located next to the cycle store, with a direct means of access to the primary lift/stair, core lobby and preferably a naturally ventilated space.  

Electric e-bikes

For those employees who want to keep fit and like the idea of ‘saving the planet’, the option of an electric e-bike is rapidly growing in popularity. This is due to advances in battery technology, improvements in bike design and cost. Electric bikes can effortlessly glide you to work without you breaking into a sweat. Capable of reaching speeds over 30mph, and with a range of over 50 miles, you can travel back and forth to work without the need for a road licence. Employers should consider providing dedicated charging points for bikes, as for a two-wheel commuter travelling 20 miles a day (4,000 miles over the course of a year), the reduction in CO2 emissions amounts to 1,500 kilograms by leaving the gas guzzler at home.

Love them or loathe them, the roads are becoming increasingly busy with cyclists as more white-collar workers get on their bike and pedal to work. A recent media article predicts that, in London, there will be more cyclists on the roads than car users by 2020. The facts and figures regarding fewer sick days, reduced stress and improved mental well-being (thereby improving staff morale and motivation) are widely documented on the internet, and in technical publications, including the British Council for Offices (BCO) publications. For many employees, a big determining factor in where and who they choose to work for is driven by what cycling facilities are available to them at that particular workplace. As such, at Chapman Taylor we take employee cycle facilities very seriously, and provide expert design advice to our office clients on appropriate strategies to help them keep employees engaged, motivated, fit, and healthy at work.

About the Author

Paul Graham (BA (Hons) BArch RIBA)

Associate Director, Manchester

Paul joined Chapman Taylor in 2001 and became an Associate Director in 2007. Based in the Manchester studio, he works extensively at the early concept and detailed planning stages of projects.

He has approaching 20 years’ design experience having successfully completed a number of award-winning major projects across a range of sectors.

Areas  of expertise:

Office / Retail / Mixed-use / Concept Design / Planning

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