I've been cycling in London for the past six years and like many Londoners I've lived all over the city: Brixton, Caledonian Road, Angel, Covent Garden, Richmond, Soho and Elephant and Castle. This means I've had the opportunity to travel around this city on my bike exploring many neighbourhoods.
Countryside or city?
I must admit, once you've cycled on the open roads of the countryside it requires a lot of patience to enjoy cycling in the city. They are polar opposites. In the countryside, when you pass a cyclist going the opposite way, there is an unwritten rule that you must greet each other either with a “hello” or a nod of the head. If you have a mechanical problem and pull over, cyclists will stop on their tracks and offer to help, even giving you spare inner tubes in emergencies.
Whereas in the city, cycling is full of rivalry. You race each other to red lights, seize each other’s bikes, look scornfully at those without lights at night or not wearing a helmet. It's not uncommon to see cyclists yelling aggressively at motorists when they’ve been put in danger, or flicking a finger, or even worse, banging against cars. Sadly this attitude is why other road users are resentful of cyclists. If we're to coexist we must change our approach.
I switched to riding with my single-speed bike around London. No clip on shoes, no lycra, just a fun helmet with the London skyline drawn at the back! I don’t ride fast anymore, I take my time, I let things slide. Occasionally, I take out my road bike to do laps around Regent’s Park, or head out of London, but I never use my roadie for commuting. My new approach makes riding in London more enjoyable and safer. Opportunities for aggressive, fast riding are limited and I feel much happier cycling in the City!
Riding laps around Regent's Park
My favourite place to ride in London is the Outer Circle of Regent’s Park. I go there to do laps on my road bike and try to go as fast as I can. There are only 4 traffic lights in the entire circuit and the light is often green so I can just keep going. Most cyclists ride the route counter-clockwise in order to minimise the number of intersections. Doing laps here is pretty safe, the biggest danger is cars parked on the side of the road - look out for doors opening!
A number of cycling clubs do laps here on different days of the week, including the London CTC, Rapha, Islington Cycling Club, and London Phoenix. In the warmer months, cycling in the Outer Circle in the evening can be a bit manic due to the sheer number of cyclists, many of whom don't know how to ride in a bunch and can cause chaos. My advice is to try and avoid weekday evenings and weekends during the summer. When you get it to yourself, Regent's Park is a wonderful place to cycle!
Making the most of cycle superhighways
Another ride that I enjoy is my commute to work. I live in Elephant and Castle and work in Battersea, and all along this route is one of London’s cycle superhighways. I join it on Kennington Park Road and continue all the way to Clapham Common, where I go through the park and out the other side into Battersea. This route is great fun on my single-speed bike because it's mostly flat, and relatively safe due to the blue paint indicating the cycle path that keeps cyclists separate from other motorists. Although not all motorists respect the cycle lane (especially motorbikes) the cycle superhighways nevertheless makes London safer for cyclists.
It’s been exciting to see London cycling change so much over the course of the past six years. Cyclists have definitely increased in numbers, successfully campaigning for safer roads and cycle friendly superhighways. As the infrastructure has improved, more people have been encouraged to cycle. Although much more work is needed, this is a trend that I hope will carry on building, transforming London into a leading city for cycle travel.