In from the cold

This is as busy as it gets on my normal commute

This is about as busy as it gets on my normal commute

I’ve been commuting in a cycling desert these past few years.

This fact was brought home to me this past Tuesday morning. I had to be in Vauxhall for a meeting that started at 9.30am, which meant – instead of my usual trek across north London – I joined thousands of others heading into the centre.

It was like no experience I’ve had for the past four and a bit years.

My route took me from Stoke Newington, through Angel and down to Holborn, after which it turned into something of a sightseeing trip, taking in Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Big Ben and the Tate Britain before finally arriving at the somewhat more mundane Vauxhall.

It wasn’t the sights along the way that made the journey so remarkable. No, it was the sheer number of other cyclists. For virtually the entire route, I was one of many people on bikes, all of us jockeying for position along the roads and at the lights: anything up to 15 or so cyclists at some junctions.

Compare this to my usual commute. Though I start out deep in cycling territory, there are few other cyclists going in the same direction as me. On a really good day, I might see 6 or 7 other cyclists at the junction of Hornsey Road and Tollington Road. But as soon as we reach Holloway Road, they drop away – off to Camden, mostly – while I continue my solitary journey up to Tufnell Park and beyond.

Over the past four years, I’ve become used to being almost the only cyclist around – pretty much in the same way that, when I used to commute into central London, I got used to the presence of all the other cyclists. I don’t think I gave it much thought, except when someone got in my way.

Now, though, I realise how much I miss them. I miss the feeling of being part of a group. I miss being part of something.

For most of my commute, I have to fit in around the traffic. I have to squeeze past 4x4s far too big for the narrow streets they’re being driven down. I have to head down the middle of the road – or even on the other side of the road – if I want to avoid getting stuck in the traffic. I sometimes have no choice but to get stuck, as there is simply no room for me.

But on Tuesday, it was the other way round. The traffic had to fit in around me and the other cyclists.

Were there always this many of us? Either there weren’t, or my years in the cycling desert have made me forget. There are just so many people on bikes in central London. It’s extraordinary.

So many cyclists, in fact, that what little cycling infrastructure currently exists – an advance stop box here, a painted white line there – seems completely inadequate. It’s like trying to squeeze into a pair of trousers you’ve long since outgrown.

Rather than get frustrated, though, it actually gave me hope. Surely we must have reached critical mass? Surely we’ve got to the point where sheer numbers mean our needs can no longer be ignored? Here’s hoping.

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13 thoughts on “In from the cold

  1. Ha! It would appear our commutes overlap by the *entire length* of Holloway Road Argos :)

    If you see a bloke pulling a bright orange trailer with two kids in it, say hello!

    • Will do :-)
      That bit of road is just about my least favourite bit of my commute, as it involves having to cut across four lanes of traffic to get into the right hand turn lane. I’ve developed a technique for it – basically, arm stuck as far out to the right as I can, look behind me and give myself plenty of time to do it – but I’m still relieved once it’s over with.

  2. Reblogged this on ezpcgoescycling and commented:
    Nice to hear about large numbers of cyclists in London. Edinburgh too has a fair number of cyclists – you might get 1 or 2 per junction however. Nice alos to hear abut cycling and camraderie being discussed – as opposed to cycling and road rage or cycling and traffic rant.

  3. Just bought a bike through the Ride to Work scheme and plan to make the North London to Euston journey into work. I’m a little bit scared of riding in the road near my home as the drivers seem very harsh here but I know I’ll enjoy the Euston part of the ride as there are always sooooo many other cyclists! Nice to ‘own the road’ a little bit!

  4. It’s funny to meet the same people on the junctions over and over after they keep overtaking me all the time! One negative side of it is that, while there is so much talk about drives being considerate to cyclist, some cyclists should learn to respect fellow cyclists too. I got bumped into by another cyclist when I let the bus to overtake me instead of risking being added to the death toll. He should have definitely keep the distance and looked what was going on. Fortunately nothing happened but hopefully he learned the lesson!

    Loving your blog!

    • Thanks! I know what you mean – I once had another cyclist have a go at me because I didn’t apologise for having caused her to come off her bike. This was apparently my fault because I’d stopped to let a pedestrian cross the road (it was a zebra crossing) and she’d ridden into the back of me. Sorry, but how is that my fault?

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