millbank headwind

Returning to London as a cyclist is like coming home. When I was little we’d often cycle as a family – down to Dulwich to visit grandparents, or every week to the Sumics music group off the Caledonia Road; every school morning for two years my dad would put me on the back of the tandem and take me down to Essex Road station, and my mum had taught me to handle the Old Street roundabout (killer of a dozen cyclists a year) aged about ten (which was, on reflection, genuinely insane.)

However, as an adult doing his own thing fifteen years later, this is a new and exciting world. Lessons learned among the Velocipede Squad:

  • The “cycling superhighways” are actually genuinely fantastic. My first ride from Paddington down to Vauxhall had maybe five hundred metres of road shared with vehicles; all the rest was segregated cycletrack, almost all of it offroad. It’s an approach I’ve never seen in Britain before, done properly: cyclists are treated like actual people. No, better than people. Like cars.
  • A lot of London cyclists take it seriously. The cult of spandex is in full force here, and its adherents are everywhere, dolled up in fetish gear and humping two grand of carbon fibre at warp five. The Millbank peloton makes me feel small, slow, afraid, low-vis and unreflective. It stings.
  • Fortunately, the Dutch/Danish baseline approach of “it’s too far to walk and too nice a day to get the metro, let’s use this legitimate method of two-wheeled transport with our normal clothes” isn’t extinct. Boris bikes (which should really be named Ken bikes, but what the hell) are a very important and very visible enabler of this, and comprise maybe a quarter of the bikes on the morning commute.
  • Probably due to a lack of proper hills, many London cyclists have no clue how to use their gears. There’s always some dipshit standing on his pedals. Always.
  • The Millbank peloton forcing its way onto the MI5 roundabout, against right of way and in the face of actual motor vehicles, by sheer force of numbers and overwhelming impatience, is a bizarre and terrifying thing to see.
  • There are some truly superb calves and arses on display on my usual route to work. Given the unisex nature of cycling cult gear, it’s often hard to ascertain the gender of their owners, which probably badly confuses and upsets some people.
  • HGVs on London roads move gently, tentatively, clearly very aware of the terrible damage they can do. People are surprisingly polite to buses, and buses are surprisingly polite in return. There is an intense, passionate mutual hatred between cabbies and cyclists.
  • There’s a neat little initiative Lambeth Council are running, creating cycling spaces out of parking spaces with custom-made lockable sheds you can ask for a space in. I registered a request when I first moved here, was told to expect a response soon, and several months later haven’t had it. Apparently there’s a vast backlog because the contractor doing it is the only one in the UK capable of building lockable sheds, and Lambeth are utterly unable to compel any sort of performance out of them. Classic public-private partnership.
  • There are still far, far too many prick cyclists who think they’re too cool for red lights and will sail through in full view of everyone, including across surges of moving traffic and through pedestrians crossing the road. Annoyingly, they usually survive, so I move for a programme of public crucifixions.
  • My boss pointed out that most drivers in central London are professionals: chauffeurs, bus drivers, van drivers, taxi drivers, lorry drivers. On reflection, it shows. Private vehicles are actually in the minority, which is a blessing. I don’t want to be either in or around a regular car.
  • I’m not really frightened of cars hitting me, because in the tight confines nothing goes fast enough to do any serious damage. I am however terrified of being crushed between them, and the godawful lanewreck around Parliament Square requires being between lanes for most of it. Not fun.
  • Either the lanes on the southbound side of Whitehall heading onto Parliament Square need better marking, or they’re putting something in the water, as there’s not once I’ve followed it without five idiots in the wrong lane indicating and trying to shoulder their way in.
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