13. April 2015

Cycling in London

On the topic of cycling in London: much has been written, and more will be written. That is because it is a complicated matter. This is a brief and incomplete view on the upsides, the downsides, and the quirky aspects of cycling in London.

The very first question in London about cycling is storage. In a city like London, where space is an expensive and rare commodity, finding a place to store it safely and conveniently is a challenge. I managed to find a safe place, but it is everything else than convenient. I succeeded in the former but failed in the latter aspect. In order to steal my bike, you’ll need to carry it over two stairs, through three doors, and an additional gate. Needless to say that retrieving my bicycle from storage is no more inviting. No wonder, the Boris bikes and folding bikes are so popular.

The very next question in London about cycling is how to stay alive once you manage to get your bicycle out of storage. The folk wisdom is to stay away from red buses and black cabs, and given the size of a red bus and the brisk driving of the black cabs, this might be good advice. The statistics show that the lorries are involved in most of the lethal accidents. According to numbers from this Wikipedia article, there were 14 road kills in London and over 200 million bike trips in 2012. Given that, throwing numbers around, the odds to stay alive may be around 15 million against one. However, staying alive probably depends on the route, cycling behaviour, and a bit of luck. Good ways to increase your chances are to avoid the rush hour. And to avoid unpleasant encounters, watch out for sleepwalking pedestrians mindlessly meandering on the road under the most unexpected circumstances.

There is good news as well. When drawing from my very limited experience of cycling in and around London, I find that in the Greater London are and beyond the M25, car drivers become much more patient and relaxed. Also the number of pedestrians that stray on the roads is significantly reduced. Small country roads are fine to cycle on and some of the larger roads even feature a bicycle strip. Here, cycling becomes much more comfortable and much less of a struggle for survival. Particularly if you a have a buddy who picks the best available routes.

So the two big questions on storage and survival covered, what else is there to say about cycling in London? Well, there are definitely efforts going on to making London more bicycle-friendly. It is odd though that bicycle lanes along streets are called bicycle superhighway. They are not even separated. How would you call a street that is open for bicycles only (if there is such a street), maybe this will then be a bicycle megahighway? Anyway, mocking aside, I welcome the efforts to replace as much car traffic by bicycle traffic even though I am admittably reluctant to participate in these efforts by voting with my bicycle on an everyday basis.

On weekends, with less traffic on many roads and the freedom to pick the route, there are wonderful routes to cycle on. Recently, I was shown a route through Richmond Park via Hampton Court up Box Hill and down to Reigate, from which we took a train back. There is no extra fare to be paid for the train – no ticket needed, no questions asked. There are restrictions for bicycles on trains and the tube, depending on time and location but nevertheless, allowing bikes on trains is a great move.