As excited as I was to find bikes for hire in London, I wheeled my little Brompton foldie out of the shop with a bit of trepidation. After two full days in London, I still wasn’t comfortable with the left-hand driving traffic, even as a pedestrian. Even with the thoughtful “Look Left” and “Look Right” markings to warn continental Europeans and Americans, I was on alert each time I stepped into the roadway.
So there we stood with bikes in the bustling West End shopping district at twilight, 5 kilometers from our hotel in South Kensington. Since the Velorution bike shop was only a few blocks from the Oxford Circus station, we considered taking the underground, but once we got rolling we didn’t want to stop. With a set of left turns around the block to avoid a difficult right turn we were rolling down Oxford Street surrounded by double-decker buses and black cabs. Too bad I didn’t have my GoPro helmet camera to capture the excitement.
First stop the next day was the Tower of London. Since we got a late start, we carried the bikes on the underground and parked them on the street while we took a dramatic and gore-filled tour with a Beefeater guide, then walked up and down the endless stairs in the tower filled with armor, weapons and memorabilia of the long line of kings. We were dazzled by the exquisite crown jewels collection and amazed at the excessive decadence of items. My favorite was a gold tureen with a capacity of 144 wine bottles.
From the tower we began our 10 kilometer history tour of the city, viewing the iconic Tower Bridge (often mistaken for the London Bridge), then crossing the actual London Bridge (a completely ordinary bridge) over to the south bank of the river. There we rolled down cobbled lanes past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the replica of the Golden Hind, the sailing ship of Sir Francis Drake. For my San Francisco Bay Area friends, that’s the explorer and the ship that claimed our area for the British crown in 1579 as “New Albion.” It didn’t stick.
After a late lunch at a surprisingly tasty burger joint near The Clink (yes, it’s a prison), we rode back across the Thames on Westminster Bridge in the fading light, stopping on its wide sidewalk to admire Big Ben, the Parliament buildings and the London Eye. Probably our best view of London at the perfect time of day.
The early 4 o’clock sunset meant that yet again we rode back to the hotel in the dark: braving a roundabout (yet again), getting disoriented in Hyde Park (yet again), and missing a turn onto the street that turns into Gloucester Road (yet again). In London, street names seem to change every quarter mile.
The next morning we headed out for more: a quick jaunt through Kensington Gardens, through Paddington and up to St Johns Wood in a pilgrimage to Abbey Road. While you need a map to find Abbey Road (aka Grove End Road aka Lisson Road), you don’t need a sign to find its famous crosswalk. The small crowd of tourists dodging traffic to recreate the photo from the Beatles’ album cover gives it away. Given that London drivers are not keen to stop for pedestrians, even in a crosswalk, getting a good photo requires careful timing.
Then it was another 5 kilometer tour across town through yet another park to return the bikes. Total cycling distance: 30 kilometers or 18.5 miles. Not high mileage, but enough to see a lot more of the city than we would walking or on the underground. We also got a good feel for how these little folding bikes perform, but that’s a post for another day.
Have you ever driven or cycled on the “wrong” side of the road? What was the hardest part for you?