This morning we met up with Southwark Cyclists for their “Bike Train”. Once or twice a month they organize a group of cyclists to bike together from Southwark (where we live) to Central London to work. I guess this is to encourage cycling, though it seemed that everyone else riding with us was an experienced bicycle commuter. While we were not commuting ourselves, we wanted to go to get help mastering the cycle routes, as well as to meet fellow cyclists. Unfortunately it was raining lightly, and more rain was predicted in (on one of two conflict predictions) but we decided to but on our rain jackets and brave it anyway.
We got a bit lost trying to find the meeting point, but just as a passerby was giving us directions, Liz, the group leader called Donna, and offered to come pick us up (we were only 1-2 blocks from them).
Liz and another leader met us, and then we went off to the next meeting point, where another group, biking from a different start was joining us. Soon there were about 8 of us. Off we went on various bike routes, ending up on the superHighway. There were about 8-9 of us, including 4 leaders (who were commuting as well).
When we got near Elephant and Castle, the group split up, Liz led us in a “short cut” straight across some back ways, while the rest of the group stayed on the cycle superhighway, on a circular route that was all on separated pathways. We soon regretted taking the short cut, as we realized we wouldn’t remember how to do the hard way, and we should have learned the easy way first.
Much of the route was on 2 way pathways, separated from cars. It was wide enough for us to ride 2 across, and still allow someone to pass us, especially since at this hour most everyone was riding in the same direction. There were tons of commuters biking to work, our “cycle train” was swallowed in the bike traffic. Luckily our leaders had dayglo yellow vests, and only some of the other cyclists were wearing that color. Maybe it’s an illusion but I’ve always felt that London commuters bike more in groups than New Yorkers do. Maybe it’s because of our culture of “independence” or maybe it’s because they are keener on cycle racing, where cyclist group in peleton for aerodynamic reasons. Or maybe it’s just because there are so many more cyclists here.
Anyway we crossed BlackFriars Bridge, still in separated, car-free lanes. Liz told us that the councils had only expected 1/4 of the number of commuters that actually use the paths they are so popular. Another commuter told me that his daughter, who worked at Buckinham palace biked this bridge even though it’s not the most direct, because the superhighway made it safe. I remember 5 years ago riding on Tower Bridge, and it was pretty frightening.
Donna has been looking for the Transport For London cycle guides, and she struck up a conversation with Liz and asked about them. Liz replied that she had ordered some 6 months ago with no luck. Donna informed her that they were out of print (at least for now) and Liz offered us 2 maps of central London (one more zoomed than the other). Donna was thrilled. The TFL feels that apps have made the maps redundant, but we find it’s valuable to lay out a map before you go — plus all the apps have their downsides — google maps hide the cycle path indicators when a route goes over them, and the TFL’s web app does not gives you any choices of routes.