Mark Gillett

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London Cyclists – We Are Not There Yet

with 2 comments

I have now been cycling at some point each week in London for 18 months and my initial impressions are coming under a certain amount of questioning. Here is the first blog I posted about it.

I remember being impressed with the number of people I saw running with packs, running without, cycling or just generally being active. Cyclists seem to be everywhere and the lanes at certain times of day were packed. There is not much change in this and I am still impressed to a degree but having now seen the active commuting scene in London for over a year I have come to the conclusion that really not many people cycle to work.

I saw this article yesterday on the BBC website but didn’t yet read it. I generally don’t as I looked at the pictures, read the headline and pretty much new what it was about. However, it made me think about our “lacking” cycling scene and I have intended to post for a while about this. Referring back to the pictures on the BBC article; Where do you ever see this many bikes in London? You don’t. Where are the cargo bikes of parents taking their kids to school? There aren’t any. Where are the cyclists when it rains? Most are in buses, cars or on the already overcrowded tube which is such a shame. Even though we have access to the best waterproofing ever designed. And really rain is so beautiful once you are out in it.

I did actually see a cargo bike the other day pulling out onto the New Kings Road, but this was more a fashion statement and normal method of taking kids to school and the person riding it was having problems controlling the bike pulling out onto a busy main road and the kids were waiving proudly to their friends getting on the school bus shouting “look at us”. More a statement than worthwhile utility I think. However it was at least a start!

What I do see in London is that the Gym scene has moved from the exorbitant sweat filled treadmill factories to the roads. The cyclist I pass or pass me are all lycra clad and pumping like it what there last chance to ever ride a bike again. As soon as a hill appears – yes there are a few in London – up they get standing and pumping even harder. A corner approaches and the faster bikes weave in and out of the slower ones as if on an F1 Grand Prix track and pedestrians enter the track at their peril. Its sometimes fun to watch but overall I find it frustrating and tedious.

Compared to European cities we have not even scratched the surface of getting people on bikes. Cities like Copenhagen, Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, Warsaw and so on people ride everywhere. Bikes are given priority and cities are cleaner. You can buy bicycles for no more that €60 in Berlin if you cannot afford the latest Specialised and believe me, they ride pretty well. I have one and I adore it as much as my bike for London. People ride to work in their work clothes. Some still fast but most just leisurely and feeling the air brush on their faces slowly waking them up for the office without the need to shower when they get there.

Maybe one day we will see this shift and I hope it will be soon. If Boris is to lead the drive, it really should be a bit more radical. Our cycling is still more about penis size than convenience. Hard fitness rather than general health, and fashion over utility. Only when we can get our heads around the fact that cycling is a beautiful way to feel free, wake up, get around and not spend ridiculous amounts on fuel and parking and convenience, will we change. And only when there is a fundamental shift in our Government and city councils around the country away from huge diesel buses or expensive highways to cater to 4×4’s for the school run (which I also have) will our nation take to the pedals as so many European cities do with such authenticity.

Written by markgillett

October 15, 2014 at 8:46 am

Posted in Travel

2 Responses

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  1. Mark, the solution rides in culture! A type of culture, look to the cities in the two top bicycling cities in America, Portland and Minneapolis. Those two places, people ride in the rain and take their kids to school on a bike. London, like New York is a bit of a selfish cultural fast lane, a clash between fast lifestyle and fast work…You can feel this just by walking the streets of New York and London and getting run over by even walkers!

    Anthony Rodale

    October 15, 2014 at 11:08 am

    • Hi Anthony, yes I can see that. Cambridge is a working example here in the UK too.. I just find it frustrating to see when the roads are blocked by buses and taxis and its so easy to jump on a bike.


      October 15, 2014 at 11:26 am

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