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“Bike Porn,” Yes, But London Cycling’s a Family Affair

October 9, 2009

Leiden RR stn bikes_CROP

Say the phrase “London transport” and most people will think of chunky black taxis, quaint red Routemaster double-decker buses, or less quaint tube trains jammed with commuters. There’s the congestion charge for autos, of course. And there’s walking — London’s a fabulous city for pedestrians, if shoe leather’s your style.

But, bicycles? Times are changing and cycling’s on the rise in London (as in New York City), with lots of new bike paths painted alongside curbs around town. It’s still a tough sell on streets crowded with all those other conveyances, but that didn’t keep Londonist from oohing, aahing and ogling, camera in hand, at a preview of the 2009 Cycle Show taking place this weekend in the Earl’s Court convention halls.

And it didn’t keep my family from renting (“hiring”) bikes one morning in June from a shop in the charming Gabriel’s Wharf complex. (Helmets were optional, but we rented them. I’m adventurous; not crazy.)  Off we flew for a full day’s outing … in three hours. We covered much of Southwark and Lambeth — way more than we could have squeezed in using any other form of transport.

Netherlands+Wales 2009 090

Award-winning photo of London Naked Bike Ride.

First, though, a few hundred yards down the Thames Walk, we stopped at the brutishly iconic Southbank Centre complex, home of the National Theatre and the Lyttleton, in whose lobby we perused an exhibit of British Press Photographers’ prize winners. (Speaking of “bike porn,” cycling fans will appreciate the award-winning snap at right, taken in Hyde Park.)

One of 25 Thames-side trees transformed by 80-year-old Yayoi Kusama, part of "Walking in My Mind" exhibit, summer 2009.

One of 25 Thames-side trees transformed by 80-year-old Yayoi Kusama, part of "Walking in My Mind" exhibit, summer 2009.

In the Hayward Art Gallery next door, “Walking in My Mind” explored the suggestive and dreamlike

debris of the artist’s subconscious — represented as everything from baby-voiced anime videos to four “lobes” constructed of cardboard and packing tape and littered with great books,  discarded soda cans, among other totems.

Weaving through strolling crowds along the river, we made our way next to Borough Market and, nearby, an outlet of iconic bakery, Konditor & Cook.

In Memoriam, War museum, sign_CROP

Warning sign from "In Memoriam," Imperial War Museum

Then, taking advantage of (relatively) light weekend traffic, we ventured out along Southwark Street and down Blackfriar’s Road to the Imperial War Museum. While the kids learned about wartime espionage, the grown-ups took in a moving special exhibit on the Great War, “In Memoriam.” (Startling fact: England hosted 200,000 war refugees from Belgium alone.)

Back on the bikes, back to the Wharf, and off to the airport we went. What a great way to see London.

Photos © by author.
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2009 1:29 pm

    Not wearing a helmet isn’t crazy. Studies have shown that motorists take less care and give less space when overtaking a cyclist who is wearing a helmet. And if you get knocked over by a truck or a speeding car that helmet isn’t going to help you at all.

    • October 9, 2009 3:05 pm

      Welcome to AngloFiles, Murray. I discovered via Google that you know a thing or two about biking in London (and are willing to go to the mat to defend it, editorially speaking!). How would you rate London’s progress on accommodating bikes?

      Even if you give the city an A+, though (or however you grade in England), I’ll be wearing my goofy helmet. Yes, there’s Dr. Ian Walker’s study(are there others?), which found that drivers passing bicycles in the curb lane on English roads will shave more closely past those wearing helmets. And there’s the special case of the Netherlands, where even this Nervous Nellie let the whole family forego the headgear. It wasn’t just the holiday mood that relaxed me; it was the way Dutch drivers AND pedestrians yield unconditionally to bikes.

      I probably needn’t tell you how lovely it was to let our hair blow in the wind! Still, I’m keeping my helmet on everywhere else. No helmet could save you from a motor vehicle actually rolling over your head, but there are lots of other ways to take a blow, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that helmet use reduces head injury risk by 85 percent! I’ll take those numbers over windblown hair, any day.

Trackbacks

  1. London’s Two-Wheeled Love Affair « AngloFiles
  2. Catching Up: Wills of Wales, PM Blair and the AWOL AngloFile « AngloFiles

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