Riding my bike is one of my favourite things about living in London, and living in London is one of my favourite things because of riding my bike. Cycling gives so much freedom. I can get to pretty much everywhere I need to be pretty fast.
Everything about public transport in London is slow. It’s slow getting a bus. It’s slow getting in to the tube. If it’s rush hour, it’s slow to use the ticket machine. Buses are slow. The tube is unreliable. It’s EXPENSIVE! The whole thing is very time consuming, stressful and all together unenjoyable. Whenever I cave and get the tube or bus (because of the weather, having to carry stuff etc) I’d say about 80% of the time I regret it and wish I just rode my bike.
I love cycling. It’s fast, it’s free, it’s healthy, it’s fun. Before I rode my bike I got hardly any exercise… I’m not a sports person, and aimless running on treadmills or gym time isn’t really my bag either. I cycle almost all of my journeys, and I go out quite a lot… thus, I now get plenty of exercise. And it feels good! Not just on the body but also on the mind – I feel less guilty about doing no other exercise-centric activities. Physically, it feels good to get the blood pumping a little faster; I sleep better at night after a long cycle. The satisfaction from bike riding is so great.
When people grumble about cycling in London, it’s usually because they think it’s dangerous/scary/stressful. I can definitely understand why some people might not enjoy it, and I can definitely understand that it’s not for everyone – just the same way as football isn’t for everyone, snow isn’t for everyone, cheesecake isn’t for everyone etc etc. Everyone likes different things.
I’ve never felt scared while on my bike. As with all things, the more time you spend at it, the better you get. I’ve been biking around London since summer 2010, when I moved to Hackney. At first, I stuck to East London. I got my bike stolen immediately pretty much (I think it was 12 days after bringing it to London). I left it outside my flat locked to the railings with a cable lock. Rookie error. I got a D-lock and started taking my bike inside (I’ve not had a bike stolen since). In the beginning I mostly cycled to Shoreditch, and maybe to Islington. Towards the end of the summer I started biking into Soho and Southbank for the first times.
I had a rickety old bike that I bought from my Nan’s next-door neighbor for £15. Biking on that thing was HARD WORK! Also, from the previous 20 years of my life of no exercise, I was pretty unfit. I used to cycle up City Road and feel hot and bothered by the (tiny) incline. I was still reluctant to go very far, until I bought a new bike in May 2011.
It wasn’t a wildly expensive bike, I think I paid £300 for it. I tested it out in the shop and it was amazing – it was so much smoother to ride. Everything felt nicer. I bought it on a whim. And that marked the beginning of me pretty much bike riding on all my journeys.
I’d go further than I had been before, and I got better at riding. You know the routes better, you know the way drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists behave better. Everything becomes easier. There are junctions I don’t like, traffic lights where I have to pay extra attention, and main roads I’ll avoid; but I’ve never felt unsafe.
This summer I visited my friend in Vienna, we rode bikes around the city and then through the Austrian countryside for around 40 miles towards Bratislava. It was so lovely. It was only through cycling in Vienna that I really realised that London is definitely not designed for cyclists, and that certain things could be altered to make it easier. But honestly, London’s not that bad even in comparison to a much more ‘cycle friendly’ city.
Earlier today I had a cycling experience that was a little bit overwhelming. By accident I managed to cycle into Limehouse Link tunnel. There was a car behind me and you just sort of get funneled into the tunnel quite quickly. I wasn’t sure if cyclists were meant to enter (they’re not) but I figured the tunnel can’t be that long (it’s a 1.1 miles underground – oops) so I just went ahead. As you enter the tunnel you go down a fairly long hill. I was going pretty fast (I am guessing around 30mph) as I was keeping up with the car ahead. I thought it was good fun and I’d come out the other side pretty swiftly. Wrong! The hill leveled out and the cars around me were still going at the 30mph limit. I was going around 15mph now, so everything felt really fast. I felt a pressure to pedal fast as everything else was going fast too. It was loud in the tunnel. I was only in there for a three or four minutes; eventually I started the incline (which was tiring) to exit. The whole thing was a bit intense and weird, and I think it could have been a much scarier experience if I hadn’t had so much cycling experience in London (and generally I am pretty un-phased by cars anyway).
But all in all, cycling in London is exactly what you make of it. My favourite bike ride scenario is a summer ride, in the warm air at night. Biking home along the Thames, listening to my favourite night time cycle song fills me with happiness. I’ve had lots of beautiful moments while sat in the saddle, and I’ve seen many things I’d have never seen otherwise. I know the city better, and I love it more because I don’t have to deal with being squashed in a carriage and paying for the service.
To conclude: CYCLING RULES