I’ll admit I love to drive. It gives me a feeling of complete freedom and mobility. A bike is a great way of transporting yourself around the city, particularly for a Dutch girl living in a city as busy as London. Even so, there are many places you still cannot get to easily with a bike (too far, unsafe) or things you cannot do with just a bike (transport cabinets back from Ikea!). Regarding the latter I do adhere to my Dutch roots fully and transport anything I possibly can on my bike. Recently, that included a relatively small side table. I wedged it onto the front of my bike but was unable to strap it down. Everything goes well in life until you hit a bump in the road, in this case literally. As soon as I hit a pothole the table went flying upwards. I managed to catch it just in time, just before it flew in my face.
Back in the day, I’ve carried friends on the back of my bike. I’ve carried boxes of stuff and bags of books, groceries dangling off the handle bars, and much more.Being able to cycle “without hands” as we called it in Holland, was a point of absolute pride for me. Recently, I’ve carried boxes of posters and flyers from the print shop to the office, a banner stand (this was a bit more tricky, it sometimes caught my legs making it impossible to cycle before moving it sideways with one hand while balancing the bike with the other). Basically, a bike is a major convenience for any Dutch person. As you can see in the video below, we are no strangers to carrying heavy objects or extra humans on our cycles:
Unfortunately, countries other than Holland are not quite as safe for cyclists as what the Dutch are used to. As an expat cyclist I have to take into account that traffic does not revolve around me, and I do not get my dedicated cycle lanes and cycle stop lights anywhere but Holland.
When I first started cycling in London about a year ago, I enthusiastically looked around the Barclays cycle hire page. I discovered the “cycle superhighway” and assumed this meant a dedicated bike lane. In fact, I was so excited to see there was one near my home, and I could use it to commute to work. I was desperately disappointed during my first journey when I kept looking for the cycle superhighway and wasn’t able to find it. I stopped, pulled out my map, and it said I should be right on it! Then, a few meters ahead I noticed a skinny strip of painted blue on the road. A bike icon explained to me that this was the intended superhighway. It was anything but that: a painted strip on the road mostly covered by parked cars, and motorists who paid no attention to it. In their defence, the road was simply to narrow to separate cyclists from cars. It seems that London is now considering properly taking cyclists off the road on these places and actually building the superhighway that was already supposed to exist.
For now, I ignore the cycle superhighway, instead commute to work every day on another route that is fairly safe. So far, cycling has been my favourite way of getting around London. It is less busy than the tube or bus in rush hour (or any hour), the motorists are not too bad, and I get to see London above ground. It also keeps you more active than sitting on a bus and above all it is super cheap.
Instead of buying a bicycle myself, I am using the Barclay’s bikes, or more affectionately called “Boris bikes” by locals. For a fee of £90 a year I can use the bikes for an unlimited number of rides. It is entirely free as long as your rides are 30 minutes or less. My commute to work averages around 25-32 minutes, so most of the time I am not paying anything extra. If you are just trying it out and you are not sure you want to commit for a year, they offer £10/week plans, or £2 for 24 hours. It is the best deal you will ever get on transportation in London and it can be a fantastic way to get around for tourists as well. However, I recommend a little practise session in a relatively quiet area of town so you can get used to riding on the other side of the road. Going straight is no problem, but be extra careful when turning. If your auto-pilot kicks in you might very well cross the street to turn left, and alarm all oncoming traffic in the process.
Whenever I tell people I cycle, I get gasps of surprise and declarations of my bravery. I am sure it can be dangerous, but with a good dose of common sense and patience on the road it really isn’t that bad. Particularly not on a route you know well and use often. So far, so good and I’ll be keeping up with my very Dutch commute in London.