Cycling is a way of life for many Londoners – such as the bike couriers you'll see weaving their way through City traffic at frankly implausible speeds.
Much though we live and breathe the gospel about sustainability, liveable cities and street space, we’ll admit that London’s new-found love for cycle cafés is quite the most fun part about the city’s bike boom.
Quite why bikes, coffee and cake go so well together we couldn’t say. But they do: try the relaxed canalside Lock 7, the perpetually fashionable Rapha Cycle Club, or the all-encompassing Look Mum No Hands for starters. Some cycle cafés are essentially bike shops which serve coffee; others aren’t really cycle cafés as such, just coffee shops that have been colonised by cyclists. Some attract seasoned Tour-watchers, others are meeting points for bike couriers; some have climbing skills seminars, others knitting evenings. But none will turn you away even if you arrive on a Boris bike or a battered old hybrid. We’re all cyclists, after all.
Bike jumbles, usually staged out in the suburbs, combine second-hand kit with cycling artisans' stalls and, often, a selection of gorgeous hand-made bikes. Herne Hill Velodrome hosts the best-known London event, recently joined by a monthly jumble at the London Bike Kitchen in Hackney. There are more, but publicity is sporadic to say the least. Check out bikejumbles.co.uk and the London Cycling Campaign’s calendar for listings.
Fed up of cycling solo? LCC local groups organise regular, gently-paced social rides, and there’s always the CTC and British Cycling’s member clubs for the faster cyclist. Perhaps the most uplifting experience is joining a campaign ride, organised occasionally to fight for better cycling conditions in London: check out cycle.travel’s news pages for information about upcoming events. There’s also a monthly Critical Mass ride, starting under Waterloo Bridge (South Bank) at 6pm on the last Friday of the month.
Cycling in London wins out over driving on pretty much every count, but none more than parking. Residents’ permits, dank underground caverns, awkward reverses… all a thing of the past.
If you keep your bike inside, ask your local bike shop for wall-mounted or ceiling-mounted racks to save on space. You’ll be taking your bike out 300+ times a year, so buy something convenient, not just clever. If you’re lucky enough to have an outside yard or shed, then don’t skimp on security: thieves know about these, and will think nothing of scaling a wall to steal the bike on the other side.
London has so many commuter cyclists that major employers compete to be cycle-friendly. Secure bike parking is an absolute minimum; many also provide workplace showers and lockers for your pannier or backpack. Good employers will also take part in the ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme, where you can buy a bike tax-free (up to a maximum of £1,000).
Most importantly, a cycle-friendly employer won’t blink if you choose to cycle to a meeting rather than taking the tube, or you’re 15 minutes late due to an unexpected puncture. (After all, they really don’t want to rent a car parking space for you.) Weigh up the facilities when applying for jobs.