As London Councils are challenged to further increase higher rates of cycling in their boroughs, their efforts are supported by initiatives from London’s central government.
London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan and the GLA, in an effort to reduce pressure on roads and public transport has set a target to reduce car journeys by 3 million per day by 2041.
The Mayor’s plan envisions 80 per cent of journeys will be made by public transport, walking or cycling, with enough cycling infrastructure in place to provide 70 per cent of Londoners with access to a safe cycle route within 400 metres of their home.
Transport for London (TfL) and London Councils are investing heavily into cycling infrastructure programmes to support these targets and generally agree cycling offers significant upside to alleviate road traffic issues by increasing cycle journeys over cars, while also creating ‘greener’ transport options that support clean air initiatives.
Along with more dedicated cycle routes, bicycle hire schemes, cycle parking facilities and education, London Councils have been tasked to deliver sufficient numbers of cycle skills training programmes to their communities to increase overall cycle journeys in their boroughs.
But is it enough? Will investment in these initiatives, along with improvements in cycling infrastructure, result in a modal shift in increased cycling journeys within London’s respective boroughs?
Some Councils, such as Lambeth, Southwark and Hackney are driving higher rates of cycling activity through increased course levels, promotions and events. But Boroughs are also under intense pressure to provide evidence their investment in cycle skills training programs results in greater cycle journeys. There are success stories. Sutton Council’s three year investment in their Smarter Travel program increased cycling by 75%.
A recent survey from Cycle Confident provided statistics supporting this to be the case. The survey was directed at 1539 adults living in one of 12 London boroughs who had taken a Cycle Skills training session from Cycle Confident in the last 7 years.
In answer to the key question of whether cycle skills training increased activity, 69 per cent of respondents stated their personal cycling activity increased after cycle instruction.
A follow on question provided further insights into cycling habits with 69 per cent stating their cycling activity increased between 1x more per month (11.44%), 2-3x per month (17.6%) to as much as 4x more per week (10.75%).
When asked if providing more Cycle Skills training would result in more people cycling in their area, 85.4% agreed with this question.
Respondents also agreed overwhelmingly when asked if they would like their Borough to provide more Cycle Skills training courses, with 88 per cent in the affirmative. This high number may be in response to concerns of budding cyclists who wish to cycle more but are put off by a number of factors, such as fear of busy roads or lack of cycling infrastructure.
The majority of London councils offer two free sessions per adult. However converting a new cyclist with basic skills learned in entry-level cycle training classes, to one who can confidently ride in busy London traffic, is a real challenge.
David Showell, MD of Cycle Confident says “Converting weekend leisure cyclists into weekday riders making local journeys or commuting to work is key to delivering modal shift in London’s Boroughs.”
Showell went on to say, “Cycle instruction is key. It delivers a good foundation to begin a lifelong cycling journey. But adults and children also need to be able to practice their new skills and build confidence before moving onto London’s busy roads.
Helen Hayes, MP of Dulwich and West Norwood, who recently took a cycle skills training course stated “The key to encouraging more Londoners to use cycling for every day travel is in my view both delivering significant investment in infrastructure to make our roads safer, and continuing free access to high quality training to give people the skills and confidence to cycle safely. I would never have felt confident enough to take my bike out on the road without the training I took part in, which made a huge difference.”
This seeming lack of confidence can be seen in the question regarding why more Londoners don’t cycle in their areas and addresses the issue of personal safety. While cyclists are willing to invest in further lessons with a view to increasing their cycling activity, 78 per cent said the reasons they didn’t cycle more was due to three key issues; 1) fear of cycling on busy roads, 56%; 2) lack of cycle lanes and quiet ways, 21%; and 3) not having sufficient cycle skills to ride with confidence on roads, 17%.
In answer to what type of cycling was preferred, 63% of respondents use their bicycle for leisure activities. This would assume many leisure cyclists ride their bikes during weekends, in parks, on bikes paths or quiet roads, rather than in traffic. In order to convert this group to commuter cycling, advanced, on-road training needs to be combined with further investment in cycling infrastructure to make sustainable gains in modal shift.
With TfL’s continued investment in London’s cycling initiatives, even modest increases in cycling activity, for example, from 2% to 5% are doable. This growth target is not just UK centric. Other European countries are also heavily supporting initiatives to increase cycling journeys.
France currently has a modal breakdown where on average, 2% of journeys take place by bike, but the head of their National Bicycle Council believes that 14-17% of all journeys is a realistic target.
Some UK and European cities have far higher rates of journeys by bike regardless of rain, cold or hilly terrain. For instance, the UK has its share of rain but Cambridge (100,000 inhabitants) enjoys 27% of journeys made by bike, with Oxford at 17%. In London during rush hour, it’s estimated 32% of all road users are cyclists.
Parma, Italy (176,000 inhabitants) at 19%, is as high as Amsterdam for cycling journeys. Västerås, Sweden (115,000 inhabitants) which is very cold in winter has 33% while Basel, Switzerland, (230,000 inhabitants), 23%.
The safety of a cyclist depends on a number of factors: their visibility to larger road users such as automobiles, motorist behaviour, unbroken road surface, clear signage, and separation from vehicles.
While cyclists are more vulnerable than heavier road users, physical and mental aptitude plays a part in their cycling experience. Good judgement, ability to anticipate problems before they occur, road sense and mastery of the bicycle such as balance and agility, play a great part in the cyclist having a safe journey. The delivery of National Standard Cycle Training as a foundation course is a key component to their continued safety.
Cycle Confident has played an integral part in London’s transformation into a burgeoning cycling city. As the leader in London’s Cycle Skills training sector for 10 years, Cycle Confident has trained over 75,000 children, 46,000 adults, and 15,000 HGV drivers as part of its remit to London’s Boroughs.
It continues to invest in its tech platform to deliver robust reporting back to its clients’ and uses data analysis to react quickly to Council client’s changing needs while delivering quality customer service to its retail customers.
In the near future Cycle Confident will be announcing new initiatives in Balance Bike Teacher Training (BBTT) and continues to develop new training programs to add to London’s growing reputation as a cycling-friendly city.
Cycling is by far the most efficient way to get around for the majority of city dwellers in terms of time and cost. Every time you choose your bike over public transport or your car, you are saving money. For ease of comparison, we’ve done some educated estimates to compare the cost of using the tube and cycling to travel to work in London.
An annual travelcard for zones 1 to 2 is currently going for £1,320. Swapping for a bike equates to about 15 km round trip each day for most people (estimation aided by TfL’s geographically accurate map of of the London Tube and rail lines).
Assuming you are cycling into work 15 km each day, 5 days a week, all year round, you are looking at around £100 bike maintenance cost at most. For that amount of cycling, you will probably get yourself a quality bike along with accessories all for under £400. So for your first year of cycling into work in zones 1 to 2, it’s fair to say you can be looking at a saving of £820! And of course it only gets better from hereon in as you don’t have to buy a brand new bike every year.
If you are travelling between zones 3 and 4 or 2 and 3 instead, your annual travelcard for the tube is cheaper at £988. The practical distance you cover in these zones is around 10 km round trip each day. The bike maintenance cost for the year will be proportionally lower at around £66. Let’s make the (possibly sweeping) assumption that you are less keen on spending as much money on bikes and accessories as well, so might spend £300 altogether. In this scenario, you are still saving a whooping £622 in the first year!
Beat the traffic jam with cycling. Depending on where you live (and this is mostly true in cities), cycling can often get you to places much faster than motorised vehicles can. You don’t even need Bradley Wiggins’ legs or lungs! You can often access shortcuts not open to motorised traffic for an even more tranquil journey.
How about all that time you spend waiting for a train or bus? Without a doubt, using that time getting physical exercise on your bike is of much more benefit. The added bonus is that you are more in control of your journey; you can start your journey whenever you feel like it, know how long it’s going to take and no one will go on strike on you.
All the evidence shows that consistent, weekly exercise benefits the health of both body and mind. It’s a great option to combine your commute with exercise, thereby killing two birds with one stone, or you might just want to soak up the endless scenery as you zip along a country road.
Cycling is also a particular favourite for those looking for low impact exercise to limit aggravating overuse injuries from running and squash, for example.
You can spend as little or as much money as you want on your bike and cycling specific clothes and accessories. However, going out for a cycle ride costs you nothing other than your own energy! There’s no monthly membership, entry fee or any obligation to use any consumables.
Who would have thought you can get tax free transport every day? Your employer just needs to have signed up with the Cycle to Work Scheme. You will then have a budget to purchase your bike and necessary accessories such as lights, locks, helmet, etc which will all be tax free! For exact details and eligibility, visit their website.
What you do with the money you’ve saved is up to you, obviously. You could buy more bike stuff or you could sponsor a bike with the charity we are supporting: The Bike Project. They fix up second-hand bikes and donate them to refugees and asylum seekers. Some of the bikes that they receive go on to be sold through The Bike Shop to ensure long-term sustainability. A bike is also donated to a refugee or asylum seeker for each bike sold. Pass on the cycling love, people!
The approach to getting unlost depends on your priorities. Do you want to avoid a gigantic mountain range, do you want to finish the ride before sunset or are you so tired that you need to find the shortest or quickest way home? You may wish to find your way back to your original route, though sometimes it’s better to make a diversion altogether.
There’s no silver bullet solution so it’s best to anticipate the likely difficulties you may face before you set off so when you’re really tired, you’ve already got a rough idea what to do next.
Most of us nowadays have a smartphone that has a GPS. You may want to think about getting an app where you can cache maps so you can use it offline to limit data usage (especially useful when you’re abroad). Keep an eye on the phone battery life though. Depending on how lost you are, you may need to ration your phone battery over a long duration to get yourself home.
You can of course ask people for direction. However, be wary – they may only drive so when they say the next village is about 20 minutes away, that might be an hour of cycling!
You may sometimes find pinned up maps outside churches or village halls on a noticeboard. They probably won’t be able to guide you to the finish but might get you to the next settlement where you can find more resources to help you out.
Until we learn how to talk to migrating birds which have an amazing sense of direction, we’ll need to resort to more mainstream methods of finding north . What if you haven’t got a working smartphone or don’t have a compass? There are a few reliable methods to find north but you’ll need to have a paper map on you for reference (or only intend to ride in a general direction).
This is just to show you how little you need to find your way (but if you really think you’ll use these methods, you’ll need to research them further). In the daytime, you can use a stick and a couple of stones to find north but you need strong enough sunlight to cast a distinct shadow and it will take you over 15 minutes each time to get a relatively accurate reading. A better combo is to have an analogue watch and a line of sight of the sun; there’s an adjustment you need to make depending if you are in the northern or southern hemisphere.
After nightfall, you can still find your direction and it can be surprisingly easy. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, the North Star (Polaris) will point you north while, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross constellation will point you south. Having said that, if you’re in the UK, you’ll have to hope light pollution or cloud don’t get in the way first.
To minimise the chances of getting lost in the first place, check out our guide to some resources to plan your ride. It’s useful to have a plan B which involves cutting the ride short or taking the train (though this does make for an easy way out that could tempt the less hardy into ditching their own challenge).
Hopefully, you won’t have to resort to reading constellations but it’s a good trick to have up your sleeve. A not so useful tip but a comforting backup plan is to have the stamina to just keep riding.
Let’s start by sorting out the elephant in the room. Those pro cyclists who whizzed round the Tour of Britain sometimes go out for 3 hour recovery rides and probably cover 100 km in that time. Their long rides are very different to our long rides. Moreover, the distance of a ride is only one indication of a ride’s difficulty; a very hilly route can throw a spanner in the works.
If you only normally cycle to your local shops, in the park or have short commutes into work, 50 km will be a good challenging distance to aim for (for comparison’s sake, a 3 hour ride if your route is short but very hilly).
You should have some experience of riding 50+ km with no trouble before trying this. It’s probably a good idea that you also have more experienced cyclists with you.
Now we’re talking! Let’s hope there’s something waiting for you at the end of this ride by way of celebration, be it a bottle of champagne, a crowd of friends and family or a homemade meal.
This is the point where we tell you to check with your doctor before tackling big, extreme challenges.
If you are just starting out with challenging rides and are setting yourself some ambitious goals, look up any of these: Audax, Trans Am Bike Race, Tour Divide, Transcontinental and Indian Pacific Wheel Race. Everesting is an odd one out where the logistics of route planning and refuel is simplified. For any of these, you will need to bring your determination, a sense of humour and possibly friends who can tolerate your singing.
We’ve published a blog on the basics of route planning already which you can find here. However, for a long ride through a rural area, there are other preparations which will help.
You will probably want to pass through villages rather than potentially busy towns to restock provisions. If you think you’ll be really strapped for time, look at passing through linear rather than clustered settlements where you can simply ride slowly through and shops, etc, will be on your route.
Then there’s the question of gradients. There are a couple of things you can see clearly on maps which indicate potentially flatter roads or cycleways. Most railways tend to follow flat terrain as trains don’t do too well on steep gradients. Look out for cycleways that run alongside railways if you’re after a relaxing, flat cycling experience. Similarly, if you spot meandering river on a map, look at the topography of the surrounding roads carefully. The river is either snaking between hills or through a canyon so nearby roads could be very hilly. On the other hand, it could’ve eroded the river banks to form a floodplain, making the surrounding landscape is as flat as a pancake. Applying year 6 physical and human geography in real life; stay in school, kids.
Jot down town or village names and the distances into the ride where you will find them. It can be reassuring (or vital) to know when the next refuelling stop will come up if you decide to skip or miss the nearest one.
If you are travelling by yourself then you may need to do more research if you want to leave your heavy bike lock at home. Use Google Street View to find cafes or pubs with outdoor seating so you can refuel in peace with one eye on your prized bike. At a pinch, you can always dig into some fish and chips outside the shop.
Have a few contingency plans in the bag if you can. Are there train stations along the way and do trains run regularly around the time you expect to pass through? Is your ride a loop and, if so, can it be shaped like a figure of eight or butterfly shape? You can then decide along the way if you want to cut out a big chunk of the ride.
Do you have a supportive friend or partner who owes you a favour? Perhaps you can call them for a lift home in desperate times?
This rings particularly true for multi-day rides. A good start is having more than one method of navigation, preferably include one that does not need any batteries. Perhaps consider riding in an area with plenty of road options so if there’s flooding or a landslide for example, you can always make a minor rather than a 30 km diversion.
Try to plan plenty of refuelling stops or if you are only passing through one town, make sure there are a few shops there or you’ll be in trouble if a shop doesn’t exist anymore or is shut one day a week exactly when you need it to be open.
All the tips in this blog are collated from experience and we hope our past misfortune can be your gain. As with anything, the more you practise, the better you get. We won’t let you go just yet as next week’s blog will be about what to take on your really long cycle rides.
Most tyre brands offer options with puncture resistance. They will have features to resist cuts to the tyre side walls and / or resist sharp objects penetrating the entire tyre tread. Depending on where you anticipate cycling, these might be worth investing in.
Whatever tyres you’ve got, you will still find little flints or stones stuck in them from time to time. Remember that a puncture isn’t about damage to the tyre but to the inner tube inside it. So check your tyres regularly and prise out any flints or other detritus to minimise the chance of them eventually working their way through.
The inner tube doesn’t normally get taken out to be checked on so if you’re changing your tyres and the tubes are coming out anyway, give them a quick visual once over. You may find some abrasive marks that haven’t caused a puncture yet but are a useful warning about debris that has found its way into the rim or tyre. You’ll be far better off sorting out the problem in the comfort of your home rather than by the side of the road on a cold February night.
Believe it or not, not changing the tyres and inner tubes correctly is a common culprit of repeated punctures. Do it right to avoid pinching or ripping the inner tubes; make sure there is no debris on the inside of the tyre or rim; check that the offending “puncturer” is out of the tyre and make sure you have the correct size inner tubes to compliment the tyres or vice versa. Treat yourself to our subsidised bike maintenance course here.
Think about the common causes of punctures: sharp objects going through the tyres and pinch puncture from hitting potholes. You can avoid these by choosing the line you take on the road or trail carefully. Avoid riding through a gutter full of road grits and often unseen glass and other debris, and be better prepared to steer away from potholes by focusing your vision sufficiently far ahead.
If there’s nothing to puncture, then it’s job done. Solid tyres is aptly named, they are solid unlike normal tyres which are pneumatic systems. The ride quality will normally be different though so don’t rush to get a pair and think they will ride exactly the same. Some brands are now calling the tyres “airless” tyres instead of solid tyres.
This is not guaranteed avoidance advice and probably only really makes a difference if your tyres are really under inflated. But without enough air in the inner tubes, if you hit a pothole, the tube will be pinched between the tyre and the rim. This usually results in a pair of small, clean cut slits on the tube, hence its nickname, the snake bite.
Call us superstitious but mention the p-word and it will come for you. Don’t gloat about how you haven’t had a puncture in 10 months because you just might wake the sleeping beast.
100% puncture proof and 100% no fun.
Have a clear goal for the route you’re planning. Are you looking for the shortest route, fastest route or quietest route? Do you need to cycle via certain locations to pick up shopping or avoid a closed bridge, for example? Perhaps you are planning a challenging ride in the countryside or trying to draw a dinosaur with your GPS?
Whatever you’re looking for, you should gauge your own ability and experience. Be realistic with the difficulty and the complexity of the route.
You’ll be in for a shocker if you gauge your ride simply by the distance and ignore the elevation you gain. Your riding time can quickly double if you didn’t factor in the hills.
How often do you have to make a turn along your route? Making more turns will slow your average speed down and you will have to accelerate after the turn so your use of energy is not as efficient as it could be. This is mostly applicable to urban areas. If you’re spoiled with a few options, consider taking the route with less turns.
Unless you have a GPS device to guide you (or an incredible memory), less turns means less chances of getting lost too. For a first time route in a city, it’s also much easier to stick to the route when the turns are at T-junctions that will force you to choose a direction rather than having to remember when to turn off into a side road.
There are four main types of resources to help your route planning: people, hard copies of maps / guidebooks, online maps / photos and mobile apps. Cross referencing between a few resources usually yields the best results.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Offer your help to get a non-cyclist get started, maybe pointing them to our last blog since beginner cyclists will have many questions. You can advise them on what type of bike they should consider and what accessories they may need. They won’t necessarily need or want the same things you do so listen to what they’re saying. Go shopping with them; sometimes bike shops have too many options and can feel dauntingly teccy for the uninitiated. Plus the sales staff may be keen to sell something that’s not strictly essential so your experience will be valued.
It works and you don’t need to condition your friends like Pavlov did with his dogs. Offer loads of encouragement to reassure them that they can cycle. Ask them about their first ride and congratulate them on it. Or go on a ride with them to offer support and be their guide.
Cycling is satisfying, practical and basically fun. If you make a point of always arriving to meet friends on a bike, on time and with a smile on your face, they’ll start to wonder if they should give it a go.
There’s a range of travelling distances in cities where cycling is certainly faster than waiting for and using public transport. Time is precious so point out to your friends they could be spending a lot less of it waiting and not knowing when they might get to their destination. And not only will their journey be a knowable length of time but it will have cost them nothing into the bargain.
There is a reason corporate companies spend money on product placement; it works! Maybe leave the odd glossy bike mag open on a page with a particularly irresistible illustraion. Perhaps slip in some cycling related puns in your texts. If you find out what works, let us know in the comments section!
Keep talking about cycling and how great it is. Send them bike-themed birthday cards (even if it’s not their birthday). Get a bike tattoo. Buy them a bike chain keyring or a cycle-themed tea towel. Whatever it takes! You’ll be running the risk of becoming a nuisance by now but don’t give up!
Team up with your other friends who cycle and alienate those who don’t. Occasionally forget to invite the bikeless friends to meet ups or maybe meet up with them but go off on your bikes and leave them behind. Or just exclude them from the conversation by using cycling lingo to bamboozle their non-cycling brains.
No one’s actually advocating any bullying here – we’re all nice people and friends are friends! But get past what may feel like fierce resistance, turn a non-cyclist into a cyclist and they’ll probably thank you for life (not to mention go on to spread the word themselves).
The answer depends on where and how much you intend to ride. There’s no point getting a mountain bike or BMX bike if you want to start commuting to work by bike on the roads. Similarly, it’s no good getting a road bike with skinny tyres if you also intend to use it for countryside escapes on trails where the surface can get muddy or gravelly.
Again, the answer depends on how much you are going to be riding. However, even if you are not going to be using it a lot, it’s inadvisable to aim for the cheapest bike your money can buy. Invest a little more and you’ll enjoy it more (and consequently use it more). But for under £350, you’ll get a good, reliable bike and that means the ride quality should be comfortable and the components shouldn’t wear out after a few rides. Second hand bikes will usually deliver great value for money; check out our blog for advice.
Absolutely not, plenty of cyclists don’t. Lycra is comfortable if the rides are longer and when the weather is hotter. But cycling in your civvies means you can hop on and off the bike with minimum fuss (and if you commute by bike, you don’t have to change before you get to your desk).
This is an area where it’s worth spending a little, but of course the cost of the lock should be proportional to the cost of the bike. Look for the label certifying locks that are Bronze, Silver or Gold standard and read our blog about how to beat the bike thieves.
With us of course! We are London based and work with selected boroughs who sponsors cycle training for those who live, work or study in the borough so that the training is FREE to you! There are other training providers around the country too to give you expert help to get you pedalling.
There are risks associated with everything we do and of course this includes every form of transportation from walking, cycling, driving to travelling on a plane. The National Standard for cycling we teach at our cycle training is intended to help cyclists to cycle more safely. There is training that’s geared to complete beginners as well as experienced cyclists. And of course, there are plenty of on-road routes that avoid busy junctions and bus lanes. If you’re willing to go slightly out of your way, you can pretty much get anywhere by bike in London, without needing to share space with HGVs and hurrying taxis. Again, our instructors can help with advice on quiet ways and route planning. You don’t know what you don’t know so when in doubt, get expert help!
The answer is always yes. The question should be where you should go for a bike ride. Having a cycling buddy will be really appreciated by beginner cyclists. Experienced cyclists can usually learn something along the way too by helping beginners.
Not all beginner cyclists are slow but we were all beginners once so if in a group, the slowest should be given due consideration. If you are walking and your friend has a foot injury, you’re not going to leave them behind, right? Always be aware of your surroundings and where your friends are during the ride to ensure you are not split up.
You probably are but that’s how you learn from scratch. No one has all the answers to every cycling related question (though we’re doing our best!) so we should keep asking questions and keep helping each other.