Cycling In England

I have recently returned from a short business trip to England.  I know you are curious to learn everything there is to know about the state of cycling in that ancient place.  Having spent more than 100 hours on the ground there, I now feel qualified to provide an update.

England in November is much as I remember it from my time living there in the 1990’s – cold, wet, and dark.  I spent three days in Huntingdon, a small town about 80 miles north of London.  Despite the near constant drizzle, temperatures slightly above freezing, and a sunset around 4:15 in the afternoon, I still saw plenty of cyclists.

The George Hotel, Huntingdon

The George Hotel, Huntingdon

As I sat in the comfort of 17th Century coaching inn at the town’s center (Or should I say “centre?”  I think I’ll stick to the American dialect or else I’ll end up hopelessly confusing all of us), I looked out the windows and noticed a steady stream of cyclists going about their business.  During the dismal morning rush hours, I saw more cyclist pedal past me than I saw during an entire summer’s week in Madrid.  I continue to be confounded by the fact that people in colder climates tend to cycle in greater numbers than people in pleasant locations.  With a few notable exceptions, this is true both in Europe and the U.S.  In my experience, there are far more cyclists in Boston, Minneapolis, and Seattle than there are in Tampa, Dallas, and Los Angeles.  And Huntingdon comfortably outdraws Madrid, a city many times larger.  Fascinating.

It should be noted that every cyclist I saw during my brief stay was clearly using his/her bike as a form of transport.  I did not see a single lycra-clad cyclist on a fancy machine.  This is probably due to the fact I was there during the work week and (did I mention?) it was cold, dark, and wet out.  Only the craziest of recreational cyclists would be about and I did not come across any of them.

Having concluded my extremely important (but not cycling related) business in Huntingdon, I zipped southward for an evening in Central London.  I had just seen a news item on the BBC that discussed a recent rash of cycling deaths in the city and I was wondering if I would see any change in the cycling culture I observed when I last visited two years ago.  During my 24 hours on the ground in London, everything seemed normal.  Cyclists were still flying about Westminster with the bravery normally reserved for sky divers and snake charmers.

Click for news article

Click for news article

The week after my return (November 29th, to be more precise), the scene pictured on the right occurred outside the Transport for London offices.  1,000 cyclists conducted a “die in” to protest six cycling deaths in a two week period.  They’re demanding 600 million pounds per year to be spent on safer cycling in London.  Meanwhile, London Police demonstrated a remarkably poor sense of timing by conducting Operation Safeway, in which they posted 650 officers to 60 key intersections, focusing on cyclists who violate traffic laws.  Clearly, there is a difference of opinion as to who bears the responsibility for cycling injuries in London.

I am now safely returned to my home in the New World, which is also quite dark and wet as of late.  Night cycling has returned to my routine, but I am getting ahead of myself.  I need to leave something for my next post!

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13 thoughts on “Cycling In England

  1. Based on a lot of reading that I do of the cycling blogs out there etc, I would say that you’rse assessment is dead on. This confirms that weather is not a determining factor in whether people get out there and ride their bikes, either for pleasure or out of necessity. Certainly throughout much of Europe commuting to work on a bike is far more widespread than here in NA. Part of this will be that naturally places are closer together in the “old world” and you can get to many towns without ever having to get on a multiple lane highway. Try doing that in LA! I consider myself very fortunate that I can commute to work. I wouldn’t want it any other way!

    • Understanding how North American cities developed (intentionally and unintentionally) after WWII provides a window into why things look the way they do. Basically, while Europe dug itself out from the war, NA was rich and convinced itself everyone could live in a little house in the suburbs with a picket fence. Cars were central to this vision and so roads and highways were built to accomodate them. Pedestrians were an afterthought and cyclists were irrelevant. Neighborhoods were fundamentally altered with highways and roads. How much of this was the result of an evil motor industry bent on profit and how much was just the natural outcome of a lot of money and cultural preferences is the subject of debate. The fact remains that it is virtually impossible for anyone to live outside of a downtown area and not heavily rely on a car.

  2. Interesting point of view Steve. Only having cycled in the UK, difficult to make an assessment but we do seem to be a hardy bunch. Thinking about it, just in my locality, there is not much difference in the numbers on the road during the summer or winter periods. The only deciding factor between the two is the early nights are less popular. I am off to New Zealand for a couple of weeks soon. It will be good to see what they get up to. Last time I was there, it seemed like a land stuck in the 1950s so my blog should make for a different perspective. Check out sonofvilla.blogspot.com

  3. I think those who live in the warmer climes get spoiled by the good weather and then can’t take the worsening weather or either extreme. Remember its all relative. I’ve always said its easier to put on more clothes but there is only so much you can take off.

    I envy the fact that you were able to go to England and make these observations first-hand!

    • That could be, but it doesn’t explain an absence of cyclists on a warm sunny day in Madrid. When I puttered about Tampa a few years ago, it was February, so the 60-degree weather probably seemed cold to them. *shakes head and rolls eyes*

  4. Hi Steve good post. Living in the UK and cycling to and from work by bike all year round it never occurs to me to do anything different. Cycling has never been more popular in the UK than it is at the moment. The government and local councils are trying to get more of us out of our cars and onto bikes. The increased number of cyclist on the roads only seems to have enraged a certain group of motorists even more, who see us as being in their ways, and have no right to be on the roads at all, and whatever happens to us is our own fault and truely deserved. I suspect the debate will go on for some time yet.

    • I have had arguments with otherwise rational people about whether or not cyclists have a right to be on the road. In their defense, they are somewhat right in that for decades the only form of transport on the roads had an internal combustion engine and most of the North American roads are designed for use by cars. Still, it is remarkable to see the anger when somebody is forced to delay their drive by 15 seconds.

  5. I was going to say that, in general, northern countries are richer, but then I thought, ‘why the heck would rick people decide to commute by bike!’ I’m as lost as you are.

    • I notice a difference with my country. Granted, its a big country, but the southerners don’t ride in the same numbers as the northerners. That doesn’t look good for you, sitting in Southern France, but the French insist on being different in just about everything, so I imagine the same is true for cycling. 🙂

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