Whether you want to commute by bike or simply cycle around London for pleasure, this expert guide from Cyclescheme can help you get started.
If you’re based in the capital and want to get into cycling, you may have heard many horror stories about cycling in Central London. There is a risk of injury any time you cycle on the road and it is true that in London, that risk is greater than in many parts of the country – but in real terms, cycling in London is statistically very safe.
Although the risk of an incident may be higher, the vast majority of Central London has a speed limit of 20mph, and collisions at that speed have a very low fatality rate. Riding a bike in London simply requires you to be that bit more vigilant.
Cycling to work in London is a great way to save money and avoid the crowded, sweaty Tube. Better yet, it not only increases your cardiovascular fitness, but has a whole host of health benefits – it’s even proven to improve your mental health.
What’s more, London is a pretty flat city, so it’s relatively easy to get around by bike, regardless of your fitness levels. London is also catering more and more to cyclists, thanks to the creation of new lanes and segregated routes.
Cycling in London: Rules & Tips
When it comes to cycling through London, you simply have to have your wits about you and you’ll be fine. That said, there are some general rules that apply which will help you cycle safely in London (although they apply when cycling in any city).
- Wear a helmet. London can be chaotic – especially if you’re cycling to work in rush hour. Not much more to say on this other than to wheel out the old adage of ‘better safe than sorry’.
- Don’t cycle on the pavement unless it’s clearly marked for use by cyclists. If you’re cycling on the pavement and you have an incident with a pedestrian, you are at fault for being on the pavement. It doesn’t matter if they weren’t looking or were responsible; if you weren’t supposed to be on the pavement, you are liable. This is also one of the reasons all cyclists should have cycle insurance.
- Learn to signal correctly. Vehicles have to use their Bearindicators on the road and so do you. Make sure you use clear hand signals.
- Leave plenty of room for lorries and parked cars. Lorry drivers have larger blind spots and may not be able to see you. You also have to assume that people in parked cars aren’t looking out for you when they open the door.
Want to consider your fellow cyclists when in a car? Practice the ‘Dutch reach’ when getting out of it. This is where you open the door using the hand furthest away from it. This forces you to turn your body and see what’s behind you.
- Wear bright clothing and invest in lights for your bike. This is almost as important as wearing a helmet. Riding a bike in dark clothes, at night, with no lights, is a very bad idea – period.
- Stay focused. There’s a lot going on in London and things can change in an instant. Do not use a phone and try not to take your eyes off the road. You should also try to make eye contact with drivers, especially those pulling out of junctions, to ensure they have seen you.
- Stay calm. It’s an unfortunate fact of cycling in general that you will draw the ire of motorists simply for existing. Don’t rise to any attempts to intimidate you and don’t stoke the fire. It might be hard, and you may want to prove a point, but it’s not worth getting injured over road rage.
Do bear in mind however why cyclists are often treated with disdain – it’s not unusual for cyclists to put themselves and others in danger by flouting road rules and making risky moves like running red lights. Don’t be one of those cyclists!
- Invest in cameras. And make sure that they can be seen clearly. If motorists can see you are filming them, they will be much less likely to take risks with you.
- Plan your route. Always know where you are going; if you’re hesitating because you’re not sure which way to turn, you won’t be devoting your full attention to the road. Admittedly it can be hard to memorise a route in London, particularly if you’re new to the city. Apps like Google Maps can help. Type in where you want to go, put some headphones in, and the app will direct you.
What About Bikes on Public Transport in London?
London public transport has certain restrictions on when you can bring bikes onto vehicles. Folded bicycles are welcome at any time, so if you are thinking of breaking up your commute with some cycling, choose a fold-up bike. If not, make yourself familiar with the rules, which can be found here.
The Best Places to Cycle in London
Ignore the naysayers - cycling in London is great fun.
It’s not only the most effective way to get around, but it’s also really enjoyable if you know some of the best places to cycle in London for pleasure. Here’s our pick of the five best bike rides around London.
- Limehouse Basin to London Fields - This 6km route runs along a quiet part of Regent’s Canal. There are fewer people to dodge and it passes through three parks: Mile End Park, Victoria Park and London Fields. This is a good ride for beginners as it’s a real stress-buster of a route.
- Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace – An excellent route to escape the concrete jungle and smog of the city. Another easy-going route, that’s also 6km, and flat. Quiet, leafy paths based on an old, disused railway mean you won’t have any black cabs, cars or lorries to deal with, and the view you get from Alexandra Palace at the end is totally worth it.
- The Tower of London to Big Ben – If you want to take in some of London’s most iconic sights, whilst also enjoying a relaxing bike ride along the river, this 5km ride is for you. The route consists entirely of a single cycle lane, which means there are no cars to worry about, and you’ll take in the sights of the Tower of London, The Shard, the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the London Eye, and Somerset House, finishing at Big Ben and the Palaces of Westminster. It’s arguably the best way to see the sights without paying a small fortune to sit on a crammed open-top bus.
- Battersea to Kew Gardens – This route starts in front of Big Ben, so if you’re up to it, you can complete this immediately after the route above. You’ll head out west, passing Tate Britain, Battersea Power Station, and its nearby park. Shortly after the park you’ll have to dismount and travel on foot for a brief stretch. After this, you’ll see Fulham Palace and cycle on to Kew Gardens (which are a great place to spend the rest of the day and unwind).
- King’s Cross to Notting Hill – Another mainly flat route, this 10km ride runs alongside Regent’s Canal. You’ll take in sights like the Trellick Tower, Camden Lock, Regent’s Park and Little Venice. It culminates in Notting Hill which is a great place to explore thanks to its world-famous restaurants, vibrant colours, and of course the renowned Portobello Market.
Free cycling route e-book
The London Cyclist blog recently made their unique e-book on cycling in London free (previously £9.99). It's full of a variety of rides from easy 5 mile runs all the way up to tougher 113 mile London cycle routes.
Don’t be intimidated by cycling in London. You will need some extra patience cycling here, but then again, this is the case for any major city. The cycle routes we’ve listed above are all calm, enjoyable rides that can be appreciated by any level of cyclist. Remember to be vigilant, stay focused, wear protection, and you’ll be fine. Once you start, you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing it the whole time.
To get your hands on the latest and best cycling gear, sign up to our salary sacrifice scheme. Cycling to work in London is cost-effective, efficient, and really, really good for you. Find out more about our cycle to work scheme here.