London mayor Ken Livingstone is trying to persuade people to undertake more cycle journeys, but how viable is it to rely on your bike in the capital? We challenged four readers to find out
Associate project manager, Davis Langdon
I ride a Brompton to work every day. Not because I want to – in fact, I hate it – but I have to use a folding bike when I commute by train to London. Cycling to work is encouraged at Davis Langdon. I’ve ridden to work for about three years and there has always been a bit of a hard-core group, including a number of partners, who do the same. The business has recently started a Bike to Work scheme, by expanding the number of secure parking spaces in the London office and providing showers and changing facilities.
Cycling to and from work each day is one thing, especially with the promise of a hot shower and change of clothes at each end, but the challenge Building set me was to ride to and from meetings for a couple of days.
Tuesday, 1.15pm: I couldn’t have had a better first trip – to the Davis Langdon staff conference, held in Old Billingsgate market. Riding there is easy, but I notice that in the middle of the day there are fewer bikes on the road so drivers, especially taxis, are even less attentive than they are normally.
Cycle lane provision in the City isn’t bad, but roadworks mean that, often, cycle paths are obstructed or aren’t reinstated once the work has been done. As a result, bikes and traffic mix more than they should. In terms of travelling time, I’m confident to say I beat both the “bendy bus” and the tube, although I’m not sure where I stood against taxis.
When I get to the venue, storing my bike isn’t a problem and I spot someone else with a Brompton, which encourages me. I’m hot and sweaty but, as it is a conference, it’s easy to blend into the background and freshen up before things really get started.
Wednesday, 8.20am: I head to one of my projects – the refurbishment of Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly. I thought I might get rained on, so had packed waterproof trousers and a top, but the summer weather holds and I have a dry journey. I also solve the bike/taxi/ tube debate. Two of my colleagues are going to the site, so I get one to take a cab and the other, the underground. I beat them without any real effort, but I still have to fold up and lock the bike and get presentable before meeting the client, whereas they are ready as soon as they arrive. Fluorescent yellow high-visibility jackets and vests are part of protective equipment on site but, judging by the looks I get in my yellow bike jacket, I guess they have to conform to a certain style.
4.15pm: My most relaxing journey is riding to Southwark to look at a potential site on Waterloo Road. I‘m not meeting anyone, so I don’t have to worry about time or my appearance.
Riding a bike is probably the quickest form of transport in London, as long as you don’t have too far to go. It’s certainly the greenest and, in good weather, probably the most enjoyable. Once you’ve bought your bike – and Bromptons don’t come cheap – it’s also economical, but there are a few downsides.
If you’re meeting a new client, I’d warn them first – if you’re not sure where you’re going, it’s easy to get lost or be in the wrong lane when you have to turn. Also, if you’ve got a lot to carry, it may not be appropriate. Finally, be prepared to get funny looks, especially on a Brompton.
Corporate responsibility manager, Mace
Despite parting shots of “see you at your funeral” from colleagues, I was looking forward to the challenge. I live in Balham, south-west London, and it normally takes me about 35 minutes to travel the eight miles to my offices in Camden by moped.
I can’t get the shower to work and have a very weird five minutes sitting in a tiny room washing myself with a wet towel
7.00am: I wake up to the sound of rain. Folding trousers and an ironed shirt into my backpack, I wonder if they’ll survive the trip.
7.30am: With the rain a mere drizzle, I set off. Almost immediately, I have my first run-in; a Golf with blacked-out windows passes me way too close for my liking. I’m used to the unofficial hierarchy of the road – bus, car, motorbike, cyclist, pedestrian – but I wasn’t expecting an encounter like this so soon.
7.45am: As I reach the main route toward Vauxhall, the bus lanes open up and I speed up. I’m not fast enough for a bus that wants to pass, though. I wobble as it steams past, only to stop in front of me at a bus stop.
7.50am: Vauxhall roundabout – carnage. For a while, I’m safe in the cycle lane, then it stops. It reappears later, but I’m thrown to the mercy of traffic again soon enough.
8.15am: I arrive at the office and leave my bike locked to a railing in the back alley. I bump into one of our operations directors on my way in, who says I “look a right state”.
8.20am: I can’t get the shower to work and have a very weird five minutes sitting in a tiny room washing myself with a wet towel.
8.30am: At my desk, ready to go. Not bad. An hour door-to-door – quicker than public transport and I’d stopped at every red light.
10.30am: I have a meeting in Covent Garden. It’s not raining, so I go out in my suit, but have to cycle slowly so I don’t get too sweaty. There are a few issues with carrying a laptop but nothing that is not insurmountable with a bit of thought and a good bag.
11.00am: I arrive in time for my meeting, safe and dry. My face is quite red, but no one comments. I had to leave my bike tied to a lamppost, as I couldn’t find a parking place. i hope it will still be there when I got back.
12.30pm: It is, so I head back to the office, which takes 20 minutes.
6.30pm: There are no mishaps on the way home, although it is getting dark and it’s a bit busier than in the morning. My wife breathes a sigh of relief as I walk in.
Cycling in London is not for the faint-hearted, but all it takes is to try it once and the benefits are obvious. It’s good for the environment and your health, it’s surprisingly quick to get around and it’s a lot cheaper than other forms of transport. I didn’t have to change any of my plans. All that was required was a bit of forethought. In future, I’m aiming to cycle at least once a week.
Associate, ORMS Architecture Design
There is much tooting from Aston Martin drivers stuck in the Mayfair gridlock. I negotiate the maelstrom with a smile
Sean is a committed Brompton user. We asked him to describe a typical day of cycling through the streets of London
7.30am: It’s a dark and misty October morning. Winter is approaching. The air smells good. I retrieve my bike from the garage, take a last glance at the tree-lined copse and my journey commences.
7.30am-7.45am: As I cycle along Basingstoke canal, the sun rises. The wheels of my bike struggle with the potholes, but the effort is worth it. Ducks quack good morning and autumn leaves line the path. The commuter battle at Woking station begins with a sea of people to negotiate. I decided to carry the bike unfolded. Running up the stairs is almost a form of fitness training.
7.50am: Bike folded, I scramble to find my half square metre of space on the train. I had intended to do some work, but instead catch up with fellow Brompton riders. We are always the only ones talking and enjoying the journey. I get the sense that bikers are South West Trains’ third-class citizens. Their integrated transport approach seems a myth.
8.25am: Waterloo is at its peak – everyone walks quicker, talks faster, smokes harder. I have a meeting in Mayfair and getting away from the concourse is a relief. I turn left towards Westminster and carefully negotiate Parliament Square. A series of cyclists buzz around dangerously – are they brave or foolish? Perhaps I’m getting old.
i cycle into St James’s Park, past the palace and on towards Hyde Park Corner – picture-postcard sites cluster within minutes of each other. I feel proud. The cycle lanes are clogged with high-visibility jackets and flashing lights.
I arrive at Deanery Street, next to The Dorchester hotel. The man getting out of his Rolls-Royce seems mystified by the fact that I’m even allowed to be here. I derobe, catch my breath and fold up the bike. It’s time to get to work.
11.30am: Meeting over. I rerobe and head towards Berkeley Square. I don’t hear a Nightingale, but there is much tooting and swearing from Aston Martin and Maserati drivers stuck in the Mayfair gridlock behind roadworks and two wedged lorries. I negotiate the maelstrom with a smile. They have money, I have freedom.
Oxford Street is surprisingly traffic-free, but a pedestrian walks out in front of me. I vent my anger and she is suitably shocked.
I forget people rely on hearing, as much as sight. Perhaps the new line of silent electric cars will encounter the same problems that cyclists experience. It could get messy.
12.00pm: Back at the office in EC1. I place the Brompton in “Narnia”, the name of our unofficial office bicycle store. A squadron of Bromptons are lined up, ready for duty. They seem to be the architects’ new identification badge.
12.55pm: I leave with a director and a project architect for a site review in Aldgate. We share a cab, but I bring the Brompton as we’re leaving at different times. It fits snugly into cabs, but has the habit of toppling over – luckily, no feet were crushed. At the site, I leave the bike with a security guard.
4.00pm: Site review and project team meeting completed, I head back to the office. I pass Lloyd’s of London and marvel at the 20-year-old technological tour de force.
5.20pm: A client has invited me to join him at Stamford Bridge, to watch Chelsea play Barcelona, so I leave early. I contemplate cycling, but decide to take a cab with my Brompton. This is an opportunity to catch up with calls and emails. The King’s Road grinds to a halt – cabbies confer through open windows and I decide to jump out and use the Brompton for the last leg of the journey.
I leave the bike with security – they seem puzzled, so I explain it’s a designer thing.
The A-Z doesn’t always indicate which streets are one way, so I have to take detours. I don’t get lost, though
8.00pm: After the game, we head down to a local pub for a nightcap. I find a quiet corner for the Brompton and my bag, the football fans seem perplexed.
11.00pm: I take another shared cab to Clapham Junction. Once again, when I arrive at the train station, I receive strange looks and notice people commenting.
11.45pm: I arrive at Woking. It is quiet and the air still smells as fresh as it did in the morning. I cycle carefully and slowly home. Fatigue and the beer are kicking in. As I place my Brompton in the garage, I am amazed by the freedom, flexibility and enjoyment it gave me in one day. It is the perfect tool for a busy architect in a modern metropolis.
Health and safety adviser, Overbury
I’ve never cycled in central London before – I don’t even own a bicycle. Today, I made a detour on the way to my first meeting to pick up a hired bike from work and took to the roads. My main apprehension was the traffic – it always looks a bit frantic out there.
8.50am: I sort out a few things in the office and get myself organised. Then I’m off on the bike for my first site inspection in Fleet Street. I soon encounter one of the day’s main frustrations: one-way systems. The A-Z doesn’t always indicate which streets are one way, so I take detours from my planned route. I don’t get lost, though, and the traffic isn’t as frightening as I had expected.
9.00am: I thought I was going to be late, but I am astonished to hear the bells chime nine as I arrive. Walking, it’s about 30 minutes from the office, but today it took 10 minutes.
11.25am: There are more one-way streets on my next journey to a site near the office. When I arrive, I get a mixed reaction from colleagues. Some can’t believe I’ve signed up to do this; others think it’s a great idea. We discuss practicalities, such as finding a safe place to store the bike. I discover there are some keen weekend cyclists who don’t use their bikes during the week, because they can’t take them on the train or find anywhere to leave them during the day. I see their point – where possible, I’ve altered my plans, so I visit sites where I can easily store the bike.
1.00pm: I leave for my final destination – a meeting in Vauxhall with the planning supervisor of a new project. Even though I get caught in one-way systems, I find my way around and the journey is quick.
1.30pm: I arrive and, for the first time, need to locate somewhere to secure the bike. It takes some time, but I eventually find an underground car park with bike racks.
By this point, I’m not feeling exactly presentable. I have a poncho with me, as it was meant to rain, but it turns out to be really hot. My jacket is creased, so I have to take it off.
3.50pm: Returning to the office, I cycle around Piccadilly Circus, which is not a great idea. In the attempt to avoid a bus, I am forced to go in the wrong direction. I have to hop off and cross the road on foot, until I can go back the way I want.
I enjoyed the day, particularly the speed at which it was possible to travel, and the traffic wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Having the burden of a bike and all the kit required for it, however, was inconvenient at times. Also, I did not feel particularly presentable – some companies have showers and changing facilities, but we don’t at our office. I’m not saying never again but, for the time being, these boots are definitely made for walking.