One of several books published by Sustrans, Cycling Traffic Free London promises to offer a selection of rides in the capital, all of which are safe and, mercifully, car-free. When I saw this on my local library shelf, I was excited – the idea of pedalling around London on undiscovered routes appealed to me, and I’ve had good experiences with some of their other books in the same series before.
The book contains a selection of 20 routes, all marked out with proper street mapping. So far, so good. The selection of routes takes in the whole city, so where ever you visit, there will be a route somewhere nearby that you can take advantage of. However, you won’t be going past many of London’s more famous landmarks – and here lies such an ambitious book’s major shortcoming; much of London simply isn’t Traffic Free. Even the new Barclays Cycle Superhighways – while sounding very grandiose – amount to little more than a painted 1m wide blue lane at the edge of otherwise very busy roads. As such, many of the routes in Central London are very limited. One suggested “route” from Waterloo to London Bridge isn’t even 3 miles long – shorter than my daily commute.
The other shortcoming is that some of these “traffic free” routes aren’t that “traffic free” either and, inevitably, you will encounter some areas on most routes where you will be advised to proceed with extreme caution. This isn’t to knock to the book too much; London is one of Europe’s most unfriendly capitals for cycling and this book is playing its part in getting more cyclists onto the capital’s roads – surely a requirement for them to become more acceptable to motorists and other road users. If you already have my previously recommended book, also published by Sustrans, you’ll find a fair amount of duplication in here – some of these London routes appear in “Traffic Free Trails”, which I consider to be much better value overall. However, there are some good inspirational routes here, especially in the outer boroughs of London, and it’s great to see some effort being made to promote London as a cycling destination.
My advice, if you decide to pick a copy up, is to use it for ideas to generate your own routes and then, along with the free maps available from TFL, accept that you’re going to have to deal with some traffic if you want to see the best of London by bicycle.