The Big Ride – A Big Eye-Openner

Last Saturday myself and my eldest daughter, 11,  joined another 10,000 cyclists in London for a ride Hyde Park to Blackfriars Bridge to show our support for the LCC’s Go Dutch campaign – she even signed the petition at the start!

As a regular commuter battling through London’s often hostile roads and junctions has become second nature. I’ve adapted my riding style to “cope” with mixing with multiple lanes of fast moving traffic. The exact sort of traffic that had me rather worried about taking Iz along with me for the feeder ride. Getting to the start would have been fairly simple if I’d been on my own as I could use my normal routes but when you have an in-experienced younger rider with you suddenly these busy roads don’t seem like such a great idea! Luckily the meet-up point for our feeder ride (supported by the Lambeth CC) wasn’t too far away and I could make use of a few sections of LCN5 to avoid some of the busier sections. I think the short stretches I used go to show we still have a long way to go with providing safe and convenient cycle provisions for those who want to cycle around. Whilst our LCN route followed some backroads it also passed through a small segment of shared footpath that would be in-accessible if I was using anything asides from a standard bike. The cycle path is “blocked” at either end by a chicane formed by 2 metal barriers, using a bike with trailer I’d probably just make it through by dismounting completely and might just be able to pass the bike & trailer underneath as the bars are rather high but it’s hardly ideal and certainly not convenient. I may have some helmet cam footage of this, which I will add later if I do.

Once we meet up with the initial group we where lead on nice quiet backstreets at a rather different pace to what I’m typically used to travelling at. This had the effect of reminding me that I don’t remain as warm when I’m not riding at my usual speed! I started wishing I’d brought a warmer coat and gloves along but did realize it also goes to show that it’s possible to get around without going like a bat out of hell and that you can actually cycle at a good pace without getting sweaty! I think even at this pace we where still going faster then the average speed for motorised traffic during the rush hour 😉

Our route into town saw us going via Brixton Town Hall, Clapham Common and finally Battersea Park as we collected more riders. From out initial group of 10 or so I think we where about 50-60 strong by the time we left Battersea Park, it really was a great experience to be part of such a large cycling train. Once we left Battersea Park we headed over the Thames via the newly re-furbished Battersea Bridge, through Chelsea and then along Exhibition Road before crossing into Hyde Park to meet the rest of the riders and wait for the start of the ride. Much like my route that I used to get to the feeder meet-up point the route into town used a selection of LCN routes, some main roads and quiet backroads. This was rather interesting for me as my normal cycling routes follow along pretty much the same routes I’d drive along, mixing with the high volumes of often fast moving traffic.

My typical route into London normally follows CSH7, which runs from Colliers Wood to Southwark Bridge (I often turn off at Stockwell but do occasionally follow until SB). This should have been “ideal” for getting us most of the way there but the truth of the matter is this Cycle “Super”highway isn’t somewhere I’d consider taking my children. It’s little more then blue paint at the side of a rather busy road. Some sections are in bus lanes which provide a certain level of protection (during their hours of operation) however other sections are on the side of 2 LANES of general motor traffic with nothing to segregate/protect the rider then a bit of white paint! So much for them being part of a “cycling revolution”. We need infrastructure that feels safe for the 98% of people that don’t already cycle not some markings on the road to draw in the 2% that already do. I suspect much of the vaunted success of this pilot CSH route, which in all honesty couldn’t have failed given it’s on a decent east/west corridor, is from riders being drawn in from nearly parallel routes – I used to use the A23 but switched to the A24 as the extra distance was negligible and it’s a bit more sociable as I have on occasions bumped into a few friend along it or even meet new ones as people recognize me from Youtube 🙂

The day itself went rather well IMHO. Despite the rather damp weather the turnout was fantastic with all manner of bikes and riders coming along, of all different ages. From the “regular” London riders like myself on their commute machine to families and parents on recumbents and cargo bikes with various children seats and/or trailers attached it was truly a wonderful experience. I think the fact that I rarely see bikes that fall into the latter category in London UNLESS there are closed roads (the only other time you will typically see them is on the Skyride) is rather telling in just how much London is failing those who would like to cycle but currently don’t as it’s just so good damn unpleasant. The view down Piccadilly, which I can only describe as “bikes as far as the eye can see”, was truly inspiring and much nicer then the usual car park. I’d love to see a comparison of how much space that many riders would take up if in cars (single occupancy of course ;-)) It was rather weird riding the wrong way down Regent Street and I even had a brief chat with some tourists at Trafalgar Sq who asked what all the cyclists where protesting about 🙂 From there we had a lovely ride down Whitehall, where I showed Iz what it really meant to “make a break off the front” after her attempt to outrun me! We then passed Big Ben and head towards Blackfriars whilst overlooking the Thames and the Southbank opposite us.

Unfortunately by the time we got there hunger pangs had got the best of my ride buddy and we bailed onto the train to go back to one of our local train stations, seems 18 miles is just about as much as her legs can manage! I was incredibly proud of her and she was equally excited that she’d not only managed to ride all the way to London but had seen so many sights, including cool places like the Science Museum! We refuelled on the train before setting off the for short ride from the station to our house. This was also rather interesting as I found some rather nice examples of “filtered permeability” right on my doorstep! Ironically on roads I normally miss due to using the busier main roads 🙂 I will have to try and use them on the way home one evening so I can add some video of it. In the meantime some of it can be seen here:

What we have here is 2 linked one-way streets 🙂 A route that would be impossible in a car is made practical and usable on a bike. As these are residential roads they are much calmer and so much nicer to ride on. We have another here:

Again a dead-end for cars is turned into a usable route for cyclists. These made it a heck of a lot easier to explain the concept to her when we could actually see and use it in real life, restricting the flow of motor traffic to only those that NEED to use it, instead of providing rat-runs, does wonders for improving the area 😀 It’s something I’d like to see implemented more often as it really did “feel” safe riding along these roads when compared to the main roads that we used at other times.

For me the day showed me a whole other side of cycling. From the slow moving queue of cars heading the opposite way round Hyde Park as hundreds of riders passed them in the opposite direction and the queues elsewhere just go to show that despite their perceived speed private motor vehicles just aren’t practical for some journeys in major cities. Given that an 11 year old managed 18 miles why can’t some adults leave their cars at home for short (<5 mile) journeys? At the moment I suspect part of that answer is largely to do with the perceived danger of cycling, hence steps need to be taken to ensure people can make safe and convenient trips by bicycle in the same way they can do in their car. The Dutch seem to have managed it, however it took them 40 years to get to where they are today. My hope is that this *might* be the start of our proper cycling revolution, we just need some political leaders with the balls to stand up to the motoring lobby. For far too long the roads have been built with their convenience in mind, with cycle lanes and the various little bits of infrastructure we do get often implemented poorly and then used as an excuse to moan about spending when, surprise surprise, cyclists don’t use it as frankly it puts us in MORE danger! Weird when you consider the many millions billions of pounds that are spent on bypasses and motorway widening schemes (not to mention the forced eviction and compulsory purchases of people’s homes and businesses if they are in the proposed path of said bypass…) which serve little more then to offer a temporary reduction in traffic levels until they again increase to fill the newly available space as more people choose to drive as it’s so easy. What we need is some spending to actually remove people from their cars onto more space efficient modes of transport. This would have the effect of reducing overall journey times for everyone else and making it easier for those who truly have no alternative to motorised transport to get around.

This may make me sound anti-car but I prefer to think of it as pro-choice. Cars are great if you need to cover long distances, transport many people at once (such as  6 children!) or need to carry large loads and I don’t want to deny people using them for this. However we need to ask WHY single people still see the need to use a car for the 1-2 mile journey to their local shops to get some milk and sugar? Cycling should be seen as a potential quicker and easier replacement for walking, however until it is perceived as being as safe and easy as driving we still have work to do. It’s going to be difficult but it will be worth it.

Thought I’d finish off with some shots from the ride 🙂

Iz gets her bike decorated before we set off 🙂

The view down Park Lane as we waited to start

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