By Jess Monson, Londoner born and bred, and LBTC blogger.
Geography has never been my strong point. I don’t mean the kind of geography you study in school, where enough common sense and adeptness with colouring pencils will get you as far as you need to go. I mean the geography of reading maps, locating yourself on said map without “getting into the map” and, even more importantly, putting two and two together when you are in Leicester Square and knowing how to get to about 10 different tube stops above ground, without using the tube. Many a time I have disappointed a tourist wanting directions from Oxford Street to Covent garden (or some other equally simplistic walking route linking 2 major tube stations).
I assumed such shoddy knowledge of London routes above ground was common for non-driving Londoners. But since cycling has become my main mode of transport it has revolutionised my knowledge of London’s roads, and indeed my life! And that is no understatement.
I have always enjoyed a good bike ride or a quick whizz to the shops, but after I replaced my clunky, rickety classic Raleigh bicycle for a zippier, snazzier(ish) roadbike, I am a fully fledged cycling convert.
Not only do I save vast amounts of money by not paying extortionate amounts to trundle along airless tunnels while bored commuters stare at their smartphones or the floor, but I have gotten to know London so much more intimately by riding its streets. While before I couldn’t navigate myself from Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square without asking multiple people for directions (or indeed jumping on the tube to avoid getting lost above ground), now I can get there in twice the speed, at zero cost, and enjoy the sights en route!
There is just no alternative for me. And it has spawned within me a newfound love of London. Nothing can compare to riding over Tower Bridge at night, lit up in all its splendid glory, or overtaking taxis along the imposingly wide, tree-lined Mall towards Buckingham Palace, or crossing London Bridge at sunset, looking out across the Thames and soaking up the skyline. Or passing through Green Park on a spring morning, blinded by the blazing yellows of thousands of newly bloomed daffodils.
Even better are the less well-trodden routes one comes across as a London Bicyclist taking the roads that cars can’t take. The canal paths in Hackney where you get brief glimpses of cosy houseboat dwellings or airy warehouse conversions boasting understated New York glamour. Or the Thames path from Deptford to Rotherhithe passing old dockyards, quirky pubs and a living, breathing farm with pigs and goats and all. Not to mention the plethora of lush green parks, commons, heaths, footpaths and cemeteries dotted around this vast metropolis that a bike wielding commuter can cut through to avoid fumes, red lights and traffic and for a brief moment feel like they are on the way to have a delightful picnic in a field in the south of France instead of hurtling headlong towards another mediocre day in the office.
It might not be Amsterdam or Copenhagen but London sure has a lot to offer for even the most fair-weathered of cyclists. Go and see your city from the seat of a bike and you won’t look back, believe me.