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.
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.
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!