Insider’s Top Tips for Bike Riding in London

With the Olympics in full swing this week, we’re circling back to a conversation I had in London with the city’s top cycling blogger, Andreas Kambanis (above). We’ve asked him to compare the London cycling scene with New York City’s, and also to share some insider tips for visitors.

In London, as in New York City, two-wheeled transportation’s popularity is on the upswing. Mayor Boris Johnson, re-elected last spring, includes bicycling among his transportation priorities. He has championed a system of “cycling superhighways,” paths that lead into the city center, and the Barclay’s Bike Hire was introduced on his watch in July 2010, first as a membership system, and now open as well to “casual” users via credit or debit cards inserted at check-out kiosks.

Kambanis launched the London Cyclist in 2008: “I started it as a personal blog, but the things that I was writing about seemed to be getting a lot of attention on Google,” he says. By 2009, the now 24-year-old had developed the website into a full-time business, and today readers look to the London Cyclist for timely information about everyday cycling – advice about gear, safety and routes – as well as bicycling-related news from London and around the world. Kambanis has just launched the London Cyclist Handbook, an e-book filled with practical advice about city cycling. Here, he fills us in on the latest from London:

Q: What advice do you have for visitors to the Olympics who plan to travel around town by bicycle?
The bicycle is always the fastest way around London. Rent yourself a bicycle and lock it with a big D-lock. There should be plenty of bicycle parking at the Olympic venues, but get there early as the cycling stations are a 15- to 20-minute walk away from the grounds.

Q. You’ve been blogging about London cycling since 2008. What did writing your new e-book teach you about cycling in your city?
I wanted to discover more of London’s interesting little back routes. Whilst writing the e-book, I spent a lot of time researching them. The result is that I’ve changed many of the busy routes I’d been using since I started cycling in London in favor of more peaceful and far more interesting back streets that crisscross the city.

Q. As you know, bike sharing is about to launch in NYC. What was your experience with bike share’s debut in London in summer of 2010?
There were some teething problems at the start. Chiefly, some technical glitches with the checkout, and logistical issues, such as a shortage of slots at train stations to check into. But they expanded the numbers of bikes in those locations. The bike share has been very well-used.

Q. As cycling becomes more popular, what steps has London taken to educate the public about cycling safety?
More than half of all cycling fatalities in London involve large trucks, so Transport for London is in the midst of a public safety campaign to warn cyclists not to ride to the left of a left-turning vehicle. Improving safety is as much about cyclists changing their habits as lorry drivers becoming more aware. We also have free, one-on-one cycling training courses here, and you can qualify for up to 3 sessions if you’re a beginner.

Q. What do you consider to have been the most significant contributors to the growth of cycling in London?
The factors that have had the most impact are transit strikes, recent increases in public transportation costs and over-crowding — this is becoming a more difficult place to be a car owner.

Q. What are the key challenges to encouraging further growth?
It’s difficult to put in segregated infrastructure, so the answer, for the short term, is to reduce traffic speeds. Some of the councils, including Islington’s, have already reduced speed limits to 20 miles per hour.

Q: Caffeine and cycling go together. What’s your favorite coffee shop?
A. Towpath Cafe, on the canal paths near Islington.

Q: What are you riding these days?
A: I bought a 30-year-old Raleigh frame and built it up into a single-speed. It is my pride and joy.

Q: London is a fashion capital. What’s your perspective on fashion’s role in promoting cycling?
People like to buy into lifestyles. Fashion draws people into cycling.

Q: What’s your favorite London ride?
A: The Tower Bridge ride  along the Thames River. You start out  in the thick of London, then you’re onto a quiet path. Eventually it crosses under the Thames on a pedestrian foot path. You can hear ships passing above. (Note: Check out the London Cyclist’s Bike Ride iPhone app for more great suggestions.)

Q:  And your go-to cycling event?
A: It’s the Dunwich Dynamo, a 120-mile, through-the-night ride to a random beach, beginning at 11 p.m.

Q: What’s behind the popularity of your blog?
A: People are interested in things that help them. I’m able to write about things that help people through my personal experience. People like the blog because it’s approachable. It’s open to everyone.

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