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The canny London cyclist will plan a route that follows residential streets where possible, rather than the busy thoroughfares favoured by buses and lorries. Unless you’re a fixie-toting bike messenger, the safer streets more than make up for any extra mileage. 

Bike-friendly roads

Hackney, Camden, and even the City of London itself have embarked on programmes to stop residential streets turning into rat-runs. These ‘tamed’ roads now make for some of the best cycling in London.

The first tactic is turning through roads into cul-de-sacs for cars. Bollards prevent motorists from driving through, but cyclists and pedestrians can still get past.

Similar to this is the cycle contraflow. This is where a road is one-way for motorists, but two-way for cyclists.

You won’t find these marked on the motorist-centric A-Z, so check with a proper cycle map or route-planner. Unfortunately, it’s rare that you can put together a whole route from these calmed roads, especially when you need to cross an obstacle such as the River Thames or the North Circular Road.

A few bollards don’t make an Amsterdam, of course. Junctions are dangerous just the same, and you still have to watch out for manoeuvring cars. There’s also the ever-present ‘door zone’ – the metre-wide strip beside parked cars, where a door could suddenly be opened on you.

Yet it’s the best London has to offer, and explains why Hackney has more cyclists than any UK city bar Cambridge, Oxford and York. Other boroughs (notoriously the cycle-hostile City of Westminster) are far behind, and it’s to be hoped that the Mayor of London’s promised Quietways will go some way in dragging them forward.


Around one in five of the capital’s roads now has a 20mph speed limit, making them more enjoyable for cycling.

Islington, Camden, Southwark and the City of London have all set it as their default speed limit. The outer London boroughs and (as ever) Westminster are still holding out at 30mph or more.

Major roads are controlled by Transport for London, not the boroughs, and these mostly retain their 40mph and 50mph limits for now. However, TfL has suggested that lower limits could be introduced in future.