You decided to cycle in London. Good choice! The benefits of commuting to the uni by bike are countless. Let me list just a few.
- You save money. Plenty of money! Assume, optimistically, that you live in zone 1 or 2 (i.e., in the centre or quite close). Then the monthly travelcard will cost you £126.80. For this amount of money you could buy a decent new bike, a second-hand one would be even cheaper. So the bike will pay off in just a month, maximum two, if you decide on a fancy one! Do I still need to persuade you that it’s worth it?
- You save time. It seems a bit counterintuitive at first, but let’s ask Google Maps. According to this omniscient website, a commute between my accommodation in Battersea and my office in South Kensington campus takes 31 min by train, 40 min by bus and only 21 min by bike. Even if you’re a slow cyclist (as I am), you’ll make it to your lecture faster than your friends suffering in a crowded bus!
- You avoid feeling like sardines in a can every day, twice a day, travelling by public transport in rush hours. It’s not only an unpleasant experience, but also a very efficient way of spreading germs. Yuck!
- You get your daily exercise. It’s quite hard for me to fit sports into my busy schedule (ok, I’m just lazy and don’t like the gym, don’t judge!), so cycling to work is a great way to get my 30-mins-a-day. I’d say that it’s also the exercise in the fresh air, but the air in London has nothing to do with freshness, so just forget this part.
- You don’t contribute to climate change. Since my PhD is in maths and climate science, I could go on and on about this, so instead I’ll just say: cycling can save the planet. Yay!
Ok, you have your bike, two working legs, so you’re ready to go, right? Not really. Cycling is one thing, cycling in London is a completely different story. There’s more to it than just pedalling. When I cycled in this city for the first time, I ended up shaking and almost crying – this is how scary it was! But don’t let it discourage you, it’s a skill one can acquire. Over the last couple of months I’ve learned a few things, maybe some of them will be useful to you.
- Get a helmet. I hope you’ll never need it, but wear it just in case. You don’t want to meet with a curb, another cyclist or anything else without any head protection. If you haven’t bought a helmet yet, get a fluorescent one, preferably with lights on it. They’re quite expensive, but you can’t compromise on your safety – I’ll ask for such a helmet for my birthday 🙂
- Make sure your lights are working. Don’t even try to cycle in darkness without them – it’s not only stupid, but also illegal. So in a best case scenario you’ll pay a fine.
- Become a Christmas tree. Seriously, the more visible you are, the safer you can feel. You want drivers to know that you’re there! Fluorescent vests, reflectors – the more sparkly and shiny, the better.
- Plan your route. Sometimes it’s better to take a longer, but quieter way. When I was looking for accommodation, I ordered cycling maps of London (available for free here), so that I could find a place with a nice commute to the campus. Citymapper is a great app, also for cycling: you can choose a quiet, balanced or a fast route. By the way, it’s pretty good also when you decide on public transport. Another useful website shows the quiet routes. And don’t hesitate to ask other cyclists for advice!
- Make sure you know the law, which might differ from the law in your country. The differences can be more subtle than switching to the left-hand traffic. This is essential if you want to avoid fines and stay safe.
- Consider a cycle training. Seriously! I was offered two 2-hour-long one-to-one sessions with a professional instructor, completely for free. I’m going to write a separate post about what I’ve learned. Now I can say that these sessions improved my safety a lot!
Summing up: cycling in London is great, as long as you stay safe. More specific tips soon!