Staff cyclist: Lee Murphy

Lee Murphy is the Genetics Manager at the Edinburgh Clinical Research Facility where he leads a team providing support to projects investigating the role of genetics in disease and health.

I cycle. I have always cycled; apart from a short period in my teens when I thought it wasn’t cool, and back when silly things like that mattered to me.

I now have four bikes, a commuting bike, a mountain bike, a road bike and a winter hack. How many bikes do you need? The answer, as any cyclist will tell you, is n+1 where n = the number of bikes you currently have. My most used bike though is the commuter bike, bought through the cycle-to-work scheme in 2010. It has been a real work horse; last year we rode over 3,200Km together.

I love my commute; it doesn’t matter how bad the weather I always get to work feeling energised; and I get home feeling relaxed from the stresses of work. It is also a great way of building exercise in to your daily routine. A recent study by Professor Jill Pell and team looked at the role of active commuting (cycling & walking) Using data from 263,000 people in UK Biobank they were able to show that people who cycle to work reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and, importantly, death. (Walking to work was also quite good for avoiding cardiovascular disease but had no effect on overall death rates).

By choosing to cycle to work we are also helping the health of others. My boss, Professor Dave Newby, is a cardiologist and he has demonstrated the dangers of air pollution, and diesel engines in particular, in causing heart disease. The quality of the air in our city is increasingly being seen as a public health issue.

In their landmark 2008 paper Jill and Dave were able to show the positive effects of the 2006 Scottish smoking ban, including a 17% reduction in hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome. As the evidence mounts showing the health benefits of cycling, and the dangers of pollution in our cities, similar courageous public health interventions could become more politically acceptable. A traffic-free city centre, congestion charging or an increase in the number of roads included in the recent 20mph zones would all be beneficial for our health.

Picking up sheep samples from King’s Buildings

Over the last few years I have also started to use my bike for work use as well as for the commute. I run a core genetics lab where we process and analyse samples for researchers, many based in Edinburgh. When possible, I am happy to increase my commute and collect samples on the way in to the lab. This makes it easier for the researchers we work with and it also means I have an excuse to cycle for longer than my normal 9Km route. Over the years I have picked up many samples including sheep DNA from Kings Buildings, brain tissue from Little France and dog saliva from Roslin Institute.

The problem with riding your bike daily is the constant wear and tear of components, especially through the winter. It reminds me of the joke by Trigger in ‘Only fools and horses’ where he claims to have used the same sweeping brush for 20 years but had changed the head 17 times and the handle 14 times! In much the same way all the components on my bike have been worn out and replaced. The only constants have been the frame, handlebars and seat so it is now time to consider a replacement. The only thing better than riding your bike is planning to buy your n+1.

Lee rides a Cannondale Badboy and currently likes the look of the Canyon Urban. Tweet Lee at @LeeMurphyCRF (Science or cycling).