I’m back living and working in London and that also means a return to the gruelling daily commute! On a side note, I’ve been working on another back to London post, on my house-hunting experience. Call it writer’s block or a reluctance to revisit the traumatising events, but I haven’t been able to finish it yet. Hopefully it will be coming soon.
Back to the topic at hand! When I lived in London before, my commute was a fairly easy one on the Central line, which is quick and reliable. No such thing can be said about the Wimbledon branch of the District line, which is what I have access to now that I live in lovely Putney! It’s possibly the moodiest form of public transport I have come across. Luckily there’s another, quicker option: the overground from Putney to Waterloo (fun rail fact: Waterloo is the busiest train station in the UK).
So for the past couple of weeks since being in my new house, I’ve been getting the train to Waterloo. My office is in Covent Garden, which is only a 15 minute walk from the train station. Most of my co-workers who get into Waterloo prefer to walk but I find it a little testing in the morning (I’m not a morning person). For the first week I got the tube to Leicester Square. However I realised that between the time it took me to get from the platform to the tube, wait for a train and walk from Leicester Square to my office, I was adding time to my commute! Not good practice for an efficiency loving economist. That should have thought me to man up, stop being lazy and walk, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. My second attempt involved making the last leg of my journey by bus. This has definitely been a lot better and quicker than the tube.
However, I knew in my heart that there was a better option. And then the answer came to me: cycle from Waterloo to work on the infamous Boris bikes! They’re now a common sight around Central London and most people who live or have visited the city have probably given them a go. Not me however, and that’s shameful!
So this week (on Wednesday) I got myself to Waterloo a little earlier than usual in the morning, purchased 24-hour access to Barclays Cycle Hire for one whole pound, and cycled to work. I’m not great on a bike but not a disaster either. Hills are my biggest problem but luckily there’s not many of them on my route from Waterloo.
My decision to attempt cycling to work is partly due to a desire to get in shape but also inspired by all my co-workers who cycle in from places like Wimbledon or Putney. I think it’s a great thing to do and while I know I’m not ready for a full home-to-work cycle commute, this way I can at least start getting ready.
So what was it like? Two words immediately come to mind: scary and exhilarating. As is to be expected, cycling through London rush-hour traffic is not going to be a relaxed experience. From talking to people who regularly cycle, I knew to watch out for buses! But no matter how mentally prepared I was, cycling through the Waterloo roundabout with a double decker less than a meter away did not leave me indifferent. And when the bus makes a stop you’re pretty much stuck behind it, except if you’re one of the experienced cyclists who dare to overtake on the outside – and that’s definitely not me yet.
But once I was past the terrifying stage, I absolutely loved the experience. The best thing about cycling in London is that you’re not alone. There’s a flock of you, all pedalling furiously in defiance of the monopoly that cars used to have on the road. And it’s a great feeling to be part of this kind of early-morning stampede. In London there are now cycle lanes, designated cycle routes and even cycle traffic lights. While we’re not as advanced as some of our friends on the continent in terms of the bike-friendliness, I definitely think we’re on the right track. You can tell from the sheer number of cycles on the roads that something is changing in people’s mentality.
When I got to work I was paralysed by the fear that I had been forced to block out while I was on the bike. But soon that passed and all that was left was sheer excitement about what I had just experienced. I was jumping around the office like a little kid!
In terms of the actual Barclays bike system, I found it relatively easy to use, despite the bike being quite heavy and hard to get in and out of the dock for a relatively short girl. But I think once I get my technique down that won’t be a problem. Many people say that the bikes are quite heavy to ride and I must agree. Compared to all the other bikes out there on the road they are definitely slower, but again that wasn’t a problem for my as my inexperience definitely means I neat to take it slow and steady. The number of docking stations in Central London is impressive and I was able to get a bike from the station in front of Waterloo during rush-hour which I thought was great.
So what’s next? Well I have resolved to buy myself a year-long membership to the Barclays scheme and a helmet, and cycle to work from Waterloo as many times as I can in the morning, and back again in the evening. Hopefully I’ll be on track to buy my own bike and cycle to work all the way from Putney by next September (that’s of a rough target I’m giving myself). If you’ve been thinking about giving cycling to work a go, even for a short portion of the trip like I am, I think you should just go for it and see what you think.