Thursday, 21 July 2016

In which it's cool to cycle

This is the hottest week of the year so far, and if you only cycle commute once or twice a month, it seems like a good week to leave the bike at home.

But oddly, that's not what I've found.

The alternatives

First, let's look at some of London's public transport options:

The Tube

Most of the Underground - particularly the deeper lines - is absolutely sweltering. In the words of one friend who's just started cycling to work: "I may sweat, but much less than if I took the Central Line..."
This City Metric article from a couple of years ago examines the question in some detail. Conditions illegal for cattle transport? I think maybe not for me...

The trains

Being stuck underground or on sunlit platforms as train after train is delayed or cancelled; finally climbing aboard to be crammed in with the passengers of two other trains; being trapped within sight of your station as "we wait for congestion on the line", unable to escape and fill up your bottle of water as you desperately shake out the last drops...
I've done it. I'm not eager to do it again. So this year, I've abandoned the rail network.

The buses
We all know that it can get hot on a bus in the sunshine, even with the best aircon around. And of course, the New Routemasters do not have the best air conditioning around. I jumped on one at the weekend, from being perfectly comfortable at the bus stop, and sat sweltering as around me I heard conversations like: "Shall we get off and walk? It'd be cooler. This like sitting in an oven. Why don't the windows open?"
If I don't want to get stuck on a train, I don't want to travel on a Roastmaster at all. And alas, that's what my commute by bus would require.

Walking is lower effort than cycling, so it should be cooler, right? Actually... To start with, there's no reason for walking to be lower effort. If cycling is higher effort, cycle slower! For the same effort, 3mph on foot = 10mph on a bike.

I took my bike for a service the other week. The cycle to the bike shop was fine and lovely. But by the time I'd walked the 20 mins back, I was more hot and sticky than after the 50 minute cycle to work!

The advantage cycling has over walking - along with shorter time and lower effort for the same distance - is that you get a lovely breeze in your face as a result of going faster.


I owe a great debt to the Southwark Bike Train for getting me over the initial hurdle of deciding to cycle each week even when the weather didn't look perfect. Because it was fine every time, and now I'm more willing to try. So this week, when I thought it was too hot to exist, I've tried anyway. And here's what I found: 

Cycling in the sun is hot. But in central London, the streets are so narrow relative to the height of the buildings that you are almost always in the shade.

Cycling up hills is very hot, but cycling down hills in the sunshine is one of life's great joys.

If it gets too hot, you can pull over and buy and ice-cream, or flop down under a tree in a park. Enjoy it while it lasts!

And as you glide over a bridge with the Thames sparkling below you, the wind in your hair, it feels a lot like summer. And summer is cool.

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