Cycling in London

The ultimate survival guide for those of you on two wheels in the capital.

Do you feel lucky? Week day mornings I wake up with the knowledge that I’m about to run that gauntlet again...

Like a jester running through medieval obstacles for the amusement of the crowd, only the swinging metal balls, burning stacks of hay and whizzing blades have been replaced by red London buses, taxi cabs and the tumultuous flow of walking feet. Well hey, it beats waiting twenty minutes for a bus to turn up only to make you sit on it for another half hour in some mind bendingly banal traffic jam, doesn’t it? Well, you might not think so initially but I say, get on your bike and pedal.

Cycling in London is a risky business, there’s no doubt about it, but with over a million bicycle owners (approximately 5% of those between the ages of 25-44 use their bikes five or more days a week) saddling their trusty two wheeled steeds and a London Mayor who has set himself the target of a 200% increase in cycling in London by 2020 (‘Creating a Chain Reaction’ The London cycling action plan, Feb 2004.) those pedals will keep spinning.

The Benefits

In an age where ecological issues and the nurturing of our own environment is at the forefront of peoples minds, the benefits of a more cycle friendly city are self-evident, reduced emission levels, release of pressure on the public transport system, cheap and independent travel not to mention the benefits to your health, both mental and physical.

You don’t need to be an urban planning expert to realise that London’s public transport system is stretched to say the least. When I see those folks crammed in to the buses, tubes and trains I always feel glad that I’m on my bike, plus I know I’ll get home quicker and more cheaply. I always beat the 59 to Russell square from Streatham, without fail.How cycle friendly is London?

So just how cycle friendly is this great Metropolis of ours? The London Cycle Network ( does provide a comprehensive map of available cycle routes which in theory looks great but in practice these routes are prone to the many disparities within the infrastructure.

Cycle Lanes and Cycle Routes

Cycle lanes vary from clearly defined areas where concrete bollards protect you from the traffic to lanes no more than a couple of feet across, leaving no viable escape route in case of emergency. On the plus side however there are many routes and areas around London which provide a safer and more relaxed atmosphere.

Cycle paths run through all four of the royal parks (St James, Hyde Park, Regents Park and Green Park).

There are also guides available to many other tempting trails of two wheeled exploration including the Thames path, London’s canals and waterways and even one for the Epicureans amongst you known as the Icecream route. Details and downloadable guides can be obtained from just click on cycles.

The Practicalties

Old canal bridleways and sensuous icecream routes are fine for the family and leisure. What about the everyday practicalties of riding your bike in London? A real fear for many would-be cyclists is the constant risk of theft. 15,000 bikes are reported stolen each year in London alone and the Metropolitan police believes the actual number closer to 60,000!

In order to combat such issues an increased development in the cycling infrastructure is imperative. There are currently over 10,000 free cycle parking spaces throughout London. However Transport for London (T.F.L) recognises that this number is still not sufficient. Some multi-storey car parks in the City provide free cycle parking which offers shelter and increased security.

The London boroughs of Islington, Tower Hamlets, Westminster and the City have detailed maps, available at the T.F.L website, showing the locations of free cycle parking spaces in these areas. T.F.L proposed guidelines set out in the ‘Cycle Parking Standards’ paper acknowledges the use of street furniture, public railings, lamposts etc as an unofficial alternative although this is slightly risky as certain restrictions apply in many areas, such as the Houses of Parliament for instance, and your bike may be removed. You may chose to hire a bike instead.

Prices start from as little as £5.00 per day and the London Cycling Campaign website ( provides a full list of reputable suppliers.The Way Forward

In an attempt to encourage the use of bicycles by children the Mayor, in conjunction with T.F.L launched in June 2003 a school cycle parking programme with a target of installing 5,000 cycle spaces in schools around London by the end of 2005.

A positive step forward but one that needs to be seen in conjunction with the continuing development of infrastructure. If the Mayor’s targets are to be reached children and adults alike must feel safe when riding. Money should not be wasted on cycle lanes that are only two feet across, forcing cyclists on to the pavements and running the risk of upsetting or even hurting pedestrians.


Prudence forbids me from failing to mention the issue of pollution. With the volume of traffic on our City’s roads becoming ever denser one may be forgiven for thinking that many of cycling’s expected health benefits become counteracted by the constant fight for space between smoky old buses and impatient taxi drivers (neither one of whom seem to pay any attention to cyclists). This is a problem that will not go away quickly.

However, if you chose not to cycle the likelyhood is that more carbon emitting combustion engines will line the paths of our streets and your journeys will become mere monotony.

Cycling is one of the most pro-active ways of dealing with pollution. We have an infrastructure in place that, providing the targets set by the London Mayor are met, will only get better. An increase in the number of cyclists using their bikes for journeys between home and work will necessarily mean a decrease in the number of cars on our roads.

London still lags behind many of its european counterparts, such as cities in the Netherlands and Denmark for example, where cycling is a more common part of everyday life and the infrastructures are well advanced. You don’t really want to sit on a bus for half an hour everyday do you? Cram yourself into another metal tube at 7.30 in the morning? Come on, I say get on your bike and pedal!

Author: Peter Reiling

Useful Links
- - TFL's cycling site
- Bike Shops in London - From our London Directory
- Mayor of London - Ken's site
- Friends of the Earth, West London
- Living Healthily in London - All In London magazine article

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