Do you have 23 minutes you are looking to waste, but you’re not quite sure how to do it? Let me help.
A few days ago, I was watching a repeat of one of my favorite shows, BBC’s Top Gear. For those who haven’t seen the show, it features light-hearted segments concerning sports cars and other bits of automotive interest. The show also often puts its three cohosts through a “challenge,” where they are required to perform some odd stunt involving automobiles, such as converting a car into a boat that can cross the English Channel, or designing their own camper. It’s all great fun and yes, I realize one of my favorite shows is an automobile show; I’m a complex person.
Anyway, this Top Gear report featured one my favorite challenges ever conducted by the irreverent cast – a race across London during the morning rush hour to determine the fastest means of transport.
The competing vehicles are:
A Mercedes Bens GL, driven by James May, who is known by the nickname, “Captain Slow.” He also has terrible navigation skills, so the autombile does not have its best representative driver in this contest.
A Specialized Sirrus Limited carbon framed hybrid bicycle, ridden by Richard Hammond. A lover of muscle cars, Hammond is the youngest and most physically fit of the three co-hosts. He is therefore the only one even capable of making the journey by bike. He does so in fine form and this is clearly not his first trip in city traffic, as his constant barrage of insults indicates.
Public Transport (Bus, Tube, and Dockside Light Rail), taken by “The Stig,” an anonymous race car driver who normally is employed by the show in testing super cars. Since The Stig is supposedly born and bred solely to drive fast cars, forcing him to take public transport is quite comical to Top Gear’s regular viewers.
A speed boat, driven on the Thames River by Jeremy Clarkson. You wouldn’t normally consider The Thames as a transportation route, but it interestingly has no speed limit for much of its length. Watching Clarkson fly along the river at 70 mph is impressive.
The race starts at Kew Bridge on London’s west side and concludes at City Airport on the east side of the city. I won’t divulge who wins, but I will say the race does a fantastic job showing what it is like to cycle in traffic. Hammond’s cursing at buses, comments on traffic lights, and battles to keep his speed up while contending with disappearing bike lanes certainly resonates with me.
Longtime readers will remember that I contemplated riding the streets of Westminster during my visit there in 2011. You can see what that would have been like at 3:08 in Segment 2, as Hammond pedals through Trafalgar Square and moves toward Charing Cross and The Embankment. When Hammond reports, “I’m on the river. I just got onto The Embankment,” he is passing by my hotel and the very bike kiosk I attempted to use. Sadly, both the hotel and kiosk are out of frame.
A final note, you will hear May make a phone call in order to pay something called a “congestion charge,” which is a tax all automobile drivers must pay for riding in central London during business hours. You can pay the tax via the internet or over the phone as May attempts to do with comic results. You may wonder how the city of London enforces this tax. The answer is simple – they have cameras covering absolutely every road in central London. The system automatically looks up your license number and compares it to cars which have paid the tax. Fines are then mailed out as appropriate. The civil libertarian in me shudders at the thought of this government system, automatically capturing the movements of thousands of citizens every single day. Big Brother is truly watching the vehicle drivers of central London.
In any event, the race is very entertaining, with interesting insights on how it is to travel across a busy city. I found the cycling portion to be especially on the mark. The three segments take about 23 minutes to watch. Enjoy!