Women cyclists in London

There’s a push to get more women cycling in London and that’s a great idea – or is it?


1  it’s better than the Tube

Anything is preferable to that. Personally I find it scary enough holding my position on the platform amidst the 7.00 am crush, way before I’ve managed to get on a train. The train part is, of course revolting, people try to be respectful but the closeness and the odour and the general fug is no way to start the day; those pauses mid-tunnel, where everyone silently wonders what might be happening. It’s grim down there.

2  it’s cleaner, cheaper and more convenient

You might think that the air quality is off-putting for cyclists but underground that stuff we’re breathing is more heavily polluted than anywhere on the surface. And remarkably, research has shown that the air inside your car (in London traffic) is much more polluting than on a bike. Yep, for real, I asked Google.

In fact I would say London is refreshingly pleasurable for cyclists these days, some of the time. For instance, in May I had to go down to Bristol for a lunchtime meeting and since my train left Paddington at 9.30 I thought why not cycle instead of getting:

a) a train into Victoria (yes reader, I live in South London)

followed by :

b) the Circle line to Paddington

51 minutes total

Cycling, I reckoned I could do it easily in 40 / 45 minutes, saving myself £11.60, off peak-return. Worth considering then and as luck would have it, the sky was blue, the sun was shining, the cherry blossom was heavenly! Those new fangled blue cycle superhighways were reassuring and the traffic wasn’t too bad; the only busy section was at the top of Sloane Street by Knightsbridge. After that I was pedalling through Hyde Park which was just so beautiful! It felt great to be alive, under my own steam, getting some exercise, all these good things.

At Paddington I could free wheel right into the station, that’s a great feeling and I discovered a dedicated, lockable cycling pen on Platform 9.

Sorted ! ( ‘See it, Say it’ etc… yeah yeah)

3  it feels great!

For me the difference is in how I feel. It’s so clean and efficient. You can always park, for free, it’s so cool getting around under your own steam. We all know that exercise is a powerful predictor of good health in older age. Biking to work means you’ve built effective exercise into your day without going to the gym. I arrive at my destination feeling energised and positive. I guess you’d have to say it’s a responsible form of travel. There’s no doubt about it, cycling is really good for you, your heart and lungs respond to the demand, pedalling pressures the cartilage in your hips and knees and they get a thorough lubrication. Your muscles of course build condition.

Researchers at Kings College compared two groups of endurance cyclists in different age ranges, one in their twenties and the other between fifty-five and seventy-nine. They found the physiological data so similar it was only by looking at the physical appearance of each subject that they could identify their age.

By contrast, shuffling in a herd from one tunnel to another totally sucks. On another day of course (in different weather or dressed differently) then I may well have gone with the herd, naturally. Like a lot of Londoners, I do a bit of everything and cycling has its down side doesn’t it?

No it’s a terrible idea

1. because it’s such a FAFF!

It goes without saying, cycling’s a bit of a faff. There’s what to wear on the bike: layers, waterproof options, panniers or backpack, backpack cover? pump? spare inner tube? and remember – removable bike lights – required most of the year. Then there’s the work bike storage / leave it outside with a heavy lock dilemma ( all locks being penetrable); rare is the London office that adequately provides shower / change facilities. I work in a clinic where we have what we call the Parisian shower (comes out of a scented aerosol). Then there’s the change of clothes and maintenance thereof. To rock-up to your meeting looking coiffed & corporate you need to build a lot more time into the equation.

And if you have to incorporate other tasks, school run etc., that just complicates matters further – at the most pressured time of the day.

2. and d’uh, it’s actually quite dangerous.

I’ve spoken to a lot of women about cycling in London and most of them look at me like I’m crazy. I’m talking fit and active women who will happily bike around Richmond Park, bike the kids for the school run and pedal down to the shops. There’s no way they’d cycle into London in the rush hour. It looks far too dangerous, too busy, too hostile (and that’s the other cyclists as much as the drivers.)

But it’s great exercise and we need to build more exercise into our lives, cycling is so convenient and good for all ages. What can be done?

A young professional woman in Balham  told me about a scheme on offer from Wandsworth Council. They will offer you f-r-e-e cycling training and even accompany you to and from your place of work. A fantastic service that hardly anyone seems to have heard about, but that could make a huge difference to the number of people cycling to work. London traffic is scary, there’s not much room, everyone’s on a short fuse; cyclists need to know their safest routes and how to command road position.

Similarly, has anyone heard of Peddle My Wheels? https://www.peddlemywheels.com

They will help you find the right bike at a good price and you can pay off the cost in small chunks monthly. They will  teach you how to handle yourself on a bike. They work with several boroughs but not Richmond at the moment – hopefully soon!!. It’s a genius idea, they offer new, electric and second-hand bikes. They refurbish those pre-loved kids bikes that cost so much and inevitably get cast off, only to languish at the back of the garage. Check out their web page to find out more.

But I digress, what else can be done to get more women cycling in London?

We need a change of heart.

People are on a short fuse a lot of the time, or just not paying full attention. Not just the drivers but also the cyclists and even pedestrians, wandering along head down engrossed in their smart phone screen. We wind each other up and all of us get stroppy. Parents pull up late to drop the kids to school, the passenger doors fly open on the traffic side – and the door takes out some innocent cyclist. Cars occupy  the cycle space at the traffic lights, cyclists buzzing  in and out of moving traffic. And there’s plenty of cross over – cyclists sometimes drive cars, drivers get on their bikes at weekends, pedestrians can also be seen behind the wheel from time to time. We could all do with being more respectful of each other. Allow a little more  time for your journey, resolve to cycle / drive / walk with a little more consideration for others. Bikes are only going to increase in numbers, particularly now that e-bikes are coming down in price and the bike to work scheme has been extended.

Imagine a world where we allow a little extra time for the commute, we set off in a calm and generous mood, travelling in harmony and inspiring  more women to delight in commuting by bike, it shouldn’t be that hard, should it?

To find out more about London pollution, click here.

To find out more about the Met’s ’Space for cycling’ scheme click here.

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