Find London's quiet side by bike

 

ETHICAL TRAVELLER:LONDON HAS finally caught up with Dublin and Paris and launched its own bike hire scheme, organised by Transport for London, locally known as TFL (tfl.gov.uk).

With 400 docking stations around the city centre, housing 6,000 bikes, this is a fairly ambitious attempt to keep up with the Joneses.

I had a quick preview run last Sunday, cycling up the (traffic-free) Mall to Buckingham Palace, down the South Bank, back over Westminster Bridge and around London’s green heartlands of St James’ Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and I loved it.

The London scheme is more expensive than many other urban bike hires, hopefully only coincidental given that it is sponsored by Barclays Bank. This has become controversial, and has opened up all sorts of opportunities for the bikes’ potential for dodgy nicknames. Another dodgy name is the “Boris Bike” after the Mayor who launched it – big and bulky (the bike weighs 23 kilos), and with a giant blue Barclays badge to show the huge financial backing it has from boys in the city, this may well be fair.

The first half hour of hire is free (well almost, you have to pay a daily access charge of £1), then £1 for an hour, going up to £35 for six hours. So they are not aimed at long-term hire, just for short trips across the city. But, according to TFL, you can dock it after half an hour, wait for five minutes and take another one for half an hour, and go free wheeling all day if you like: if you have the energy to plan that.

Planning your cycle route is made easier with the map on Transport for London’s website – web.barclayscyclehire.tfl.gov.uk/maps – which is an invaluable site for any visitors to London but especially cyclists. Go to the Journey Planner on the home page, and put in your chosen destination. Then go to Advanced options, scroll down to Cycle, and you will get a map of the best (and traffic-light) cycling route. You can also get a map of the docking stations on a new iPhone app due out in a few weeks (londoncycleapp.com). It is worth noting, however, that for the first four weeks of the scheme, only registered members can use them, and you need a UK address to do that. After this preliminary period, they will be available to non-residents.

If you are going to do some serious long-distance cycling in London, I would stand Boris up and hire a sportier, sleeker version from The London Bicycle Company at Gabriel’s Wharf on the South Bank (londonbicycle.com) from £3.50 an hour, or £20 a day. And unlike the bankers, they’ll give you a helmet and a lock. You could join one of its guided cycling tours of the city or, if you want to be more independent, buy The London Cycling Guide by Tom Bogdanowicz (New Holland, £10.99). It has maps, descriptions and low-traffic routes, as well as links to rail and underground stations.

I have two favourite cycle days out in London: first, put the bike on the train at Waterloo station (southwesttrains.co.uk) to Richmond, where you can take the Thames Path and cycle about 10km to Hampton Court Palace. There are a few lovely riverside pubs en route.

Or second, put your bike on the Thames Clipper ferry at one of many city centre moorings (thamesclippers.com), and sail to Greenwich. Then cycle up through the Royal Park of Greenwich to The Observatory, enjoy one of the city’s best views (sunset is superb here), and then cycle back into the city centre following the Thames Path and quiet backstreets. Towards the end of this journey you turn a corner and Tower Bridge is suddenly there, right in front of you. Loving those cycling in the city moments.

  • Ethicaltraveller.net, twitter.com/catherinemack