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Cycling In London Tips for 2021 | University of London

24th February 2021
man cycling on street

Cycling has grown with explosive popularity among Londoners over the last few years with the number of cyclists in the capital increasing sixth fold since the late 1970s. The rise is understandable since cycling offers Londoners a relatively cheap, direct and practical form of transport that also keeps them physical activity. With the COVID pandemic making it more likely to avoid public transport, bike sales soured a whopping 60% in May of 2020 alone! Regardless, cycling is a great way for London’s residents to reduce their carbon footprint and cut travel emissions.

At the University of London we are committed to a tangible sustainability plan championing the use of bikes and sustainable transport forms amongst our faculty staff and students. We thought it would be a great idea to publish a one-stop guide full of London cycling tips for anyone thinking about taking up cycling in the capital in 2021.


Cycling in London for beginners

London is a very busy place with constant traffic flow, multiple lanes and busy intersections - it’s certainly different to cycling in other less-busier urban centres across the UK.  We recommend that as a beginner cyclist in London, you should get plenty of practice in calmer, less -populated environments before traversing busier central routes. 

Buying the right bike 

There are lots of different types of bikes available depending on your needs. Make sure that you select a correctly sized bike since this is key to comfort and safety. You should also have a clear idea of what you wish to do with a bike ie. is it just for weekend borough-wide runarounds, long commutes perhaps? Or do you want something robust for off the beaten track weekend adventures? The second hand bikes in London are very abundant so it’s worth taking a look at Gumtree and second hand bike shops for any bargains. If you decide cycling in London isn’t for you, at least you can sell it without having invested a fortune in something new. For a comprehensive guide to buying a bike read Cycling Weekly’s comprehensive guide.  

Finding secure bike storage in London is essential

A good quality bike in London can cost anywhere from £300 - £1,000 which means bikes are very big business. Bike theft is very low tech, can be done in seconds and is very hard to trace once the bike is stolen. This amounts to a tremendous opportunity for criminals if you are not careful. Always use cycle stands and designated lock stations since these allow you to double lock your bike which makes it harder for thieves to steal individual parts. If you can’t do this, make sure you double lock your bike in a public place around people so thieves are less likely to target it. At the University of London we have multiple secure cycle storage facilities across the campus. 


Map Of Bike Storage Near The Uni

Cycling safety gear

Before you put food to pedal you must be kitted out with a few pieces of mandatory safety equipment. A well fitting helmet, reflective vest and reflector lights are non-negotiable. Helmets prevent head injuries which can be fatal and sustained at any time or place. Reflective clothing also ensures that you are visible to other road users therefore reducing the likelihood of an accident happening. 

Make yourself known

Visibility and profile is everything when it comes to being noticed by other road users. It may take some getting used to, but try and occupy large spaces behind and directly in front of other vehicles and be assertive. It may feel natural to stay out of the way and negotiate smaller nooks within traffic, but people may not see you which is where accidents can occur. Before maneuvering, be sure to make all signaling as clear as possible so that other vehicles can safely anticipate your next move.  

Take your time 

It’s really important to take your time when building up to road cycling in London. Rushing is never a good idea and will end in an accident. It’s very likely you will encounter the odd beep from a frustrated driver but just try and remain calm. Some people are inpatient but you have every right to be on the road as they do so try to not take to heart. 

Check out Bikeability courses in your area

The government led Bikeability training courses are delivered through local authorities and are designed to teach standardised principles of safe road cycling. The scheme is conducted nationwide and caters for adults as well as children. These courses are taught at different levels by professional instructors and it’s a great way to learn how to cycle with traffic and gain foundational experience.      


Cycling to work in London 

Avoiding the packed tubes and buses is certainly one reason to consider cycling to work in London. The morning cycle commute also means that you can get some fresh air and clear your mind ready for the day ahead. Incentives such as “Cycle2Work” not to mention the investment in cycling highways means that there’s never been a better time to become a bike commuter in London. The following are great tips to be aware of if you want to start cycling to work in London:


  • Plan your route - Be sure to know where you are going as trying to navigate on the go in busy traffic can get very stressful very quickly. You don’t have to just rely on one route, having planned backup routes will reduce the need for thinking on the spot should your primary route become blocked due to roadworks for example.
  • Try and beat rush hour - Rush hour can get very chaotic on the roads in London especially if you are commuting into the city. Make sure to set off perhaps 25 minutes earlier so you can arrive on time and not get caught up in traffic!   
  • Test everything - Make sure your bike and safety equipment is in working order the night before your commute.You don’t have to give your bike a complete technical MOT but just make sure that your tyres are full, lights are working and your chain/gears are in good working order
  • Spare tools - Depending on your destination, commuting via bike can be fast paced meaning unexpected breakdowns can really hold you up and eliminate time efficiency. Always carry a spare set of tools on you so that if a small kink occurs you can quickly fix it and get back on your way. Multi-toolkits from the likes of Crank Brothers are a great compact solution    
  • Change of clothes - For some commuters the ride is short and easy, meaning there’s no chance of breaking a sweat. For those commuting for longer distances over varied elevation, it’s best to wear breathable activewear for the ride, and take your work clothes in a backpack 


Cycling to work no shower?

Unfortunately not all employers have showering facilities on their premises and this can make the thought of cycling to work in London seem impractical. There are however many ways to work around this so that you can start your day as fresh as possible. As obvious as it sounds, try to take the least physically intense route to avoid excessive sweating. If there is a choice between say a 15 minute commute with hills or a 25 minute route with less incline, choose the easier option in the morning. 


Showering at home before you start your ride is also a great strategy because you can be as fresh as possible before you set out. In the time it takes to commute, the likelihood of getting covered with serious amounts of dirt and sweat isn’t a whole lot. As long as you apply deodorant and pack a washcloth before, you’ll arrive at work fresh but with the option rubbing down just in case! 


If the idea of giving yourself a quick post-cycle wipe down in a cubicle doesn't appeal, dry shower products like Shower In a Can offer a convenient way to get clean. Shower in a Can is a liquid that you can apply to the body and it will dissolve the oils and bacteria responsible for producing body odour before evaporating and leaving you smelling fresh. This can be a particularly great option in the summer months where increased humidity and hotter weather can cause more perspiration. 


Bikes on London transport

London is huge, it covers an area of roughly 1,500km² which means it isn’t always practical to cycle when you have to make a long distance journey. One drawback of trying to tackle a cross city bike ride is that you won’t be traveling as the crow flies since you’ll have to navigate streets. Making hybrid trips using public transport and cycling some of the way is sometimes an efficient way to reach long-distance destinations. TfL’s bus, tube and overground networks tend to be more lenient towards foldable cycles but fixed framed bikes are permissible within certain times.    


Bikes on London buses

Buses are a very inexpensive way to travel around London and they are very frequent. The rules are that all London buses allow folded cycles at all times and on all services. This is obviously because folded cycles take up less room onboard so can be accommodated easily. Unfortunately, non-folded bikes are not permitted on TfL’s bus network at any time. 

Taking bikes on London overground

Folded cycles can be taken on the underground at any time whilst non-folded cycles are permitted but not between the hours of 7.30-9.30am and 4-7pm on weekdays. Again, this is understandable since fitting bikes onto a rush hour overground is just not feasible!   

Taking bicycles on the tube

Tube travel for non-foldable cycles is also forbidden for the same reasons as above except for public holidays and outside of the 07:30 - 09:30 time window. Keep in mind that some tube stations like Bank or Hampstead are very deep underground and that carting a bike from station to street can be physically exerting!


How to cycle in London - Tips from University of London

Cycling has the potential to be life-changing on so many levels. The mental, physical and environmental benefits are truly astonishing which is why the University fully supports London’s various cycling investment initiatives and the use of cycling among as many staff as possible. Our Senate House venue contains bike storage, showers and lockers for staff further enabling them to make cycling a part of their commute. 


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