Letter from London: cycling capital of the world?

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Each month Jane Egginton, brings us her letter from London. This month, the travel writer lets us in on why she believes that London can claim the title: cycling capital of the world

“I believe that the cyclised city is the civilised city”, declares ebullient Boris Johnson. Love him or hate him, London’s mayor is – not so quietly –revolutionising cycling in the capital.

More tourists than locals currently use Boris bikes – a hugely successful £140 million ‘pay as you pedal’ scheme launched in July 2010. Locals and visitors alike can just swipe a membership key, credit or debit card and get on their bike. The first 30 minutes are free and at the end of your journey, it is a simple case of just dropping the bike back to one of several locations in central London.

Amsterdam has traditionally been the world’s most cycle friendly city. From nannies to bankers and school kids to senior citizens, pretty much everyone in Amsterdam gets on their bike. From the 1960s onwards, Amsterdam transformed itself from a congested, traffic laden, commuter nightmare to a cyclist’s paradise. Statistics currently show the preferred mode of transport at 35 percent bicycle, 40 percent car and 25 percent public transport.

This may be impressive but some London boroughs boast cycling achievements that easily match the Dutch capital, despite London being one the most congested capitals in the world. Schemes such as ‘Move by Bike’ includes free check ups for cyclists and a chance to purchase lights and reflectors wholesale. The scheme offers free cycle training, promotes the health benefits of cycling and makes plans to improve security.

London is steering clear of Amsterdam’s biggest mistake: schemes that segregate cyclists and car drivers. Trevor Parsons, a leading light of the London Cycling Campaign (www.lcc.org.uk), believes that integration is the way forward. He says that “in the Netherlands people are compelled to ride on separate cycle tracks and paths where they exist and Dutch police shout at people for cycling on smooth, empty carriageways. We don’t want that over here. Our view is that the whole street network is the cyclists’ network.”

Jane gets on her bike

In just the last year, London has seen a massive 15 percent increase in cycling on the city streets, but the mayor is not resting on his laurels. He ambitiously aims to bring a 400 percent increase in cycling by 2026 and has just announced that London will host a two-day, world-class cycling festival in 2013 on 19–20 May. Named the ‘London Revolution’ (www.london-revolution.com) it will become an annual event as part of the Olympic legacy.

The cycling festival will be the first major event to make use of the Olympic Park in east London after it reopens in summer 2013. Day one will involve a family ride on traffic-free roads in central London, in which it is expected up to 70,000 cyclists will take part. A loop of roads – all closed to traffic – will lead North and then west from the Isle of Dogs to Royal Windsor, taking in landmarks such as Windsor Castle and Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge before arriving at an overnight lodge.

Day two will see an additional 35,000 amateur and professional riders – some of them world class cycling south and east for a further 80 miles. Beginning in the Olympic Park it will follow the route of the 2012 Games cycle road race, taking in some of Surrey’s prettiest countryside. before arriving at Tower Bridge at the finishing line. A lovely little extra touch is that the route will take in sites covered by cyclists at all of London’s Olympics: Windsor Great Park (1908), Herne Hill velodrome (1948) and Box Hill (2012). Booking is essential, with entrance costing £39 for a day, £78 for two days, and £169 for both days including the overnight camp.

The current cycling World Champion, Mark Cavendish MBE, suggested: “This is the ideal legacy not only for our world class team of cyclists and paracyclists, but also for thousands of amateur cyclists. This event will be a fantastic opportunity to show Britain at its best and to share our Olympic cycling heritage.” Brian Cookson OBE, President of British Cycling seems to agree that the event is nothing short of a quiet revolution, declaring: “This event will celebrate the new place of cycling in British culture, right in the heart of the capital.”

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