Monday, 23 April 2012

Cycle-friendly London

Despite the explosion of bicycles and cyclists in Warsaw, in terms of absolute numbers there are far more in London. When I left London nearly 15 years ago, I was quite a rarity - someone who cycled to work daily. Today, encouraged by politicians, cycling has become mainstream. The optimal solution for me was the Brompton fold-up bike, a gem of ingenuity that folds up to tiny proportions in less than a quarter of a minute. From home in Perivale, two miles to Ealing Broadway station, thence to Paddington by mainline train (eight minutes) and onwards another two and half miles from Paddington to Centre Point. Today - cold (+8C) and wet - I was amazed by the sheer volume of cyclists commuting through Paddington Station.


Above: the bike park at Paddington. Hundreds of bikes left here overnight - they are generally inexpensive bikes of non-nickable character. In the morning, their owners will pick them up for the last leg of their journey to the office. 

Left: Cycle hire points, by Transport for London* (TfL), have popped up all over the place. I counted three between my hotel in Bayswater and Paddington Station. First half-hour is free, pop your credit card into the slot to release the bike. I shall experiment with this form of transport before my week is up in London! (Kraków already has these and central Warsaw will be getting them too).


Right: I saw more Bromptons in and around Paddington this evening that I all kinds of bikes in Warsaw. Dozens of them. They are not cheap, but they are excellent (my own Brompton is over 20 years old and has now been taken off to Łódź by Moni. I must say, I'd love another - titanium parts and single speed for maximum lightness. When I bought mine, they were available in black only; today, I saw a huge variety of colours - but the same classic design. The Brompton costs more than two Dahons (the only other fold-up bike seen in appreciable numbers), but in London the home-grown folder is the only way to go. As iconic as the red bus or black taxi.

Left: Only in London. To those who've never seen Bromptons in their thousands, this TfL notice at North Greenwich tube station must appear puzzling. A Brompton, once folded, is no bigger than a small suitcase, unfolded, pushed through the automatic barriers can cause chaos when they slam shut trapping the rear wheels between them. If you had a Dahon folder, it would a) take you hours to fold and unfold and b) even if you did manage to fold it, you'd be hard pressed to heave the thing through the barriers.




Above:
fixies - they're also to be seen in London, although there's so many normal bikes out there they become a bit of rarity. This one, with white aero rims, matching crankset and saddle, has a track frame with reverse rear drop outs and flat bars, just slightly narrowed. Brakes front and rear testify to the rider's common sense.

Cycling has become a hot political topic in the mayoral elections that take place on Thursday 3 May, with current Conservative mayor Boris Johnson a keen cyclist and his Labour opponent Ken Livingstone (former mayor of London) someone who did much to boost cycling in London. Check out how well organised the London Cycling Campaign is in terms of political mobilisation in advance of the election.

I hope that it will take less than 15 years to get cycling so well rooted in Warsaw commuters' minds.

* TfL used to be London Transport (pron. Lana Chainspaw) until 2000, when 'passengers' became 'customers' and a 'target-focused modal delivery approach based on optimising key performance indicators' replaced 'good service'.

This time last year:
End of the azure week

4 comments:

Chris said...

Wroclaw has them (cycle hire points) too, all over the "downtown" :)

Marcin said...

Despite the explosion of bicycles and cyclists in Warsaw, in terms of absolute numbers there are far more in London. When I left London nearly 15 years ago, I was quite a rarity - someone who cycled to work daily. Today, encouraged by politicians, cycling has become mainstream.

... and because of such, there has being an explosion of bikers arrogance. Example? This Sunday I had a walk alongside the Vistula River on the pedestrian pathway at the Citadel at the east side of Wybrzeże Gdyńskie. There lays a cycle way parallel to that. So, tens of bikers cycled in two directions on that pedestrian pathway totally ignoring pedestrians of whom many with kids and pets. Yeap, hordes of biking chamusi, each of them absolutely weird being payed attention to theirs improper behavior. So, response was "Panie, s***j. Będę jeździł, gdzie mi się podoba."

Wilkbury said...

Michael,
It's a fixie not a fixie/single speed? I am not sure but looks like it has a rear flip-lop hub.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Chris

Good ideas seem to be spreading fast!

@ Marcin

Chamstwo's chamstwo's chamstwo whether it's on two legs, two wheels or four wheels. The motorist should give way to the cyclist, who should give way to the pedestrian. Always. The behaviour you described is testament to being brought up badly. I tyle.

@ Wilkbury

Difficult to say, not seeing it in action. Certainly a flip-flop hub; and drop-outs do, however, suggest fixed gear (track-bike heritage)