Some say London is a cycling utopia, criss-crossed with so many segmented cycle lanes that drivers are squeezed to a halt on a daily basis.
Others complain that provision for cyclists is woeful and that to pedal your way across the capital is to dice with the Grim Reaper’s scythe.
I’m the MailOnline Travel Editor and I’ve made a short video of my 20km (12-mile) cycling commute to and from the Mail’s headquarters in Kensington from my South London LTN home to show you the reality that we cyclists face every day, from the good to the bad to the ugly.
The journey, along parts of the 340km- (211-mile) long cycling network in London, takes me past some of Britain’s most famous landmarks, through one of its priciest postcodes, past one of its swankiest hotels and I take in one of its most renowned concert halls.
According to fitness app Strava, which I use each time, I’ve completed this commute over 700 times – yet there are some sections that still put me on edge. Having said that, there are some that are always a grin-inducing joy.
Ted Thornhill filmed his cycling commute to and from the Mail Kensington HQ. His journey begins at 7.10am at the Melbourne Grove LTN in East Dulwich (above)
At 7.10am in the morning, the road ahead is clear in East Dulwich
Over the years I’ve had a few notable moments – I’ve been knocked clean off my bike by a van that pulled out of a side road into me, I’ve had a dramatic fall on sheet ice at 20mph, I’ve waited at traffic lights as actor Hugh Grant walked in front of me, and I’ve seen just about every single type of road user jump red lights.
The journey I film begins at 7.10am one Thursday morning on my home road in Melbourne Grove, East Dulwich, which was recently made an LTN.
It gives me a few seconds of tranquillity before I’m thrown onto the main road.
I pant up Dog Kennel Hill – on this ride mercifully not being chased by double-decker buses – cruise down Camberwell Grove and then hit a left on to Camberwell Church St, where matters always liven up.
At around the 10-minute mark I’m cycling past The Oval, which used to be a cabbage patch but was transformed into a cricket ground in 1845, then, after 11 minutes, I hit the first segmented cycle lane.
My protection up until then? My wits, mainly. Plus the occasional painted lane and bike symbol.
Ted’s commute in features two segmented cycle lanes, including an epic one in Hyde Park (above)
Where are these fabled cycle lanes? It’s a question Ted asks as he battles along Chelsea Embankment (above)
Ted after his cycle to the Mail, explaining that the journey was trouble-free
The Oval cycle lane is always a bit of a thrill as it takes cyclists under Vauxhall Station Railway Bridge and past MI6, the spy headquarters that has featured in four James Bond films.
After five minutes, the segmented lane comes to an end for me and it’s up through Pimlico, past London Victoria railway station on a nervy three-lane road and then I hit super-posh Belgravia before I zip past the French Embassy and take a left onto the epic cycle lane in Hyde Park.
It’s one of only two segmented lanes on my commute in and built in one of the parts of the capital that was inherently safe for cycling in the first place – go figure.
One of the most pleasant parts of Ted’s commute home is along the blue cycle lane on Grosvenor Road (above)
Ted’s commute takes him past MI6, the spy headquarters (on the left) that has featured in four James Bond films
The segmented cycle lane next to The Oval cricket ground – a former cabbage patch that was transformed in the 19th century
THE BAD HABITS OF LONDON DRIVERS THAT CYCLISTS WILL BE ALL TOO AWARE OF
Many drivers don’t indicate – or indicate once they begin turning.
Close-passing cyclists is rife.
Drivers hurtle up to junction stops and often over-run into the road ahead.
Buses tend to just bully their way around the roads, slowly veering right and left with their indicators on and just waiting for cyclists to take emergency avoiding action.
Most drivers can’t bear to be behind a cyclist for more than a few seconds and will power past even if there’s a queue of cars just yards ahead.
Drivers don’t tend to hold back to allow cyclists to ride around stationary vehicles.
After despatching Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel – home to two-Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – and freewheeling past the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial, I arrive at the Mail’s Kensington headquarters relieved at the lack of on-road drama.
The journey home isn’t quite as breezy.
My footage shows how it all begins relaxingly enough, amid some of Britain’s most expensive homes and the exceptional Launceston Place neighbourhood restaurant, but quickly becomes a stop-start battle through gridlocked traffic on the approach to Battersea Bridge and along Chelsea Embankment.
Where are all these fabled cycle lanes?
Nowhere to be seen as I edge alongside lorries and vans before the relief of the marked-off CS8 cycle lane that begins at Grosvenor Road.
I take a right at Vauxhall Bridge and then I’m retracing my steps (so to speak) all the way back home.
Above is Camberwell New Road, where a bus blocks oncoming traffic
Camberwell, above, is frequently congested, with cyclists sharing road space with swarms of buses
For most of Ted’s journey his ‘protection’ comes in the form of his wits – and painted bike symbols, like the one above in Camberwell
Ted with his bike in the Lake District, where traffic isn’t such an issue
Only now it’s much busier and my wits need to be even sharper.
Buses block my way forward at various points and commuter-racer cyclists buzz around me.
Arriving back at the Melbourne Grove LTN I’m filled, as I am every time, even after seven years of doing the trip, with a sense of relief.
That once again I’ve made it.
Should cycling in London in 2023 feel like an achievement? Like something that requires a bit of derring-do?
I don’t think it should – but I’ll be back in the saddle tomorrow. Along with over a million others…
Follow Ted on Strava at www.strava.com/athletes/16377946. You can find him on Twitter at twitter.com/tedthornhill.
CYCLING IS A GREAT WAY TO GET AROUND LONDON – HERE’S HOW TO DO IT SAFELY
Here are some top cycling tips from the London Cycling Campaign:
SORT YOUR KIT
Bike lights. At night it’s a legal requirement to have two bike lights (white on the front and red on the back).
Clothing – your everyday clothes will be fine for almost all London journeys! There are no laws about what you have to wear to cycle in the UK. A waterproof coat and gloves will be useful in the winter, and some people choose to wear high-vis. If you wear a helmet, check it fits properly.
Bike locks (if it is your own bike). Make sure your frame and both wheels are secured, and it’s also worth getting your bike security marked and registered.
PLAN A GOOD ROUTE
There’s an increasingly large network of safe and pleasant cycling routes in London using cycleways, bike lanes (many built thanks to LCC campaigning) and quiet back routes that keep you away from busy motor traffic.
If you haven’t cycled for a while then start with short journeys on quiet roads to grow your confidence. The free cycle training sessions available from London councils are a great idea for all riders, not just people new to cycling. And try London Cycling Campaign’s Cycle Buddies scheme, which pairs you with an experienced cyclist in your area.
Look‚ signal‚ manoeuvre – Before making any move on the road‚ look around and over your shoulder, then make a hand signal to let people know where you are going.
Eye contact – Look drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists in the eye‚ rather than just at their vehicle. That way, they will see you as a person too.
Keep away from the kerb – Ride at least one metre away from parked cars (to allow for doors opening), the gutter (which can be full of drainholes and broken glass) or any other edge of the road space.
Take the lane – the new Highway Code encourages you to ride in the middle of the road where needed. For example, if there’s not enough space for a vehicle to overtake you safely‚ or you’re approaching a side street, ride in the middle of the lane to prevent vehicles passing.
Be extra careful near lorries – most of the worst cycling collisions involve HGVs. Lorry drivers often can’t easily see to the left of or immediately in front of their cabs. They do not always indicate. They often swing right before turning left. The gap between the kerb and the lorry will decrease or disappear as it turns.
FOLLOW THE RULES
It’s a legal requirement to stop at red traffic lights and you should be familiar with the Highway Code. Riding your bike on the pavement is not allowed in the UK unless you see a sign allowing it. If you are cycling on a space shared with pedestrians‚ go slow and keep an eye out for others, particularly the young, old or disabled. In busy areas people may walk out into the road without looking, so again slow down and take care.
For more visit lcc.org.uk/advice/lcc-advice.