Big-city cycling is the pits — even in Paris

Tavistock Place bike lane in Camden London. Dense residential area north of London.

Tavistock Place bike lane in Camden London. Dense residential area north of London.

I recently visited London and Paris long enough to get a sense of what cycling is like there. In a word — sucky. But where is cycling pleasant in any big city?

I give the edge to London for accommodating cycling, as well as the number of cyclists. I didn’t see many cyclists on the busy Paris streets, although I saw quite a few in London, despite the traffic.

Paris had its share of women riders, strictly for getting around. London women seemed to be more committed based on the gear they were wearing.

Both cities offer bikes for rent, but London seems to have more bikes available, and they do get rented. I stayed near a London university and on weekdays most of the bikes were taken during the day.

I didn’t see any bike lanes in Paris, but I mostly visited the congested tourist areas. I stayed in Camden London where there’s a substantial residential contingent and bike lanes can be found.

London cyclists have access to local trains on the weekend and quite a few trains had riders heading out for a weekend tour southwest of London on the South West line. Designated cars can take a couple of bikes each, typically near the bathroom. Bikes on the subway? Laughable! Way too crowded.

From what I saw, there’s a fair amount of cycling activity around Portsmouth near the English Channel. Bike rental companies will be found here next to train stations. I visited the area around Wool west of Portsmouth and found some charming country roads.

It’s gently rolling hills at best, no steep stuff. If you like greenery, the rides here can’t be beat in summer months. This area is usually foggy but when I visited we had sunshine and puffy clouds, perfect riding weather.

Given the choice, I would take San Francisco over London or Paris any day. From San Francisco you’re minutes away from some world-class roads that beg to be ridden. You can even take BART. Around Paris and London you’re stuck with miles and miles of flat land and suburbs. Consider yourself lucky if you live in SF.

Typical rental bike in Paris. They're a similar style in London.

Typical rental bike in Paris. They’re a similar style in London.

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4 Responses to “Big-city cycling is the pits — even in Paris”

  1. ted pauly Says:

    there you are ray….good to hear from you….figured you might be on tour some where….you missed the heat wave…..getting blown out….hitch hiking in extreme heat just to get back up alpine road after biting off way more than one can chew….heat is hot….need to work on hyrdration techniques i guess…hope you are having a good trip.

  2. ted pauly Says:

    by the way….did you bring your bike?

  3. Thomas Says:

    Well done for sampling the roads! I have lived in central London for 5 years, using a bicycle for transport & leisure almost every day. It’s not a great place to cycle, nor is the south-east of the UK in general, but there are some wonderful places if you’re prepard to cycle for two solid hours to get out of London and some of it is far from flat – I have descended at 50mph frequently, albeit briefly! Large parts of California do appear to be cycling paradise in comparison and I hope to visit and sample – thanks for writing about it. All the best, Thomas.

  4. jkeehan Says:

    Devonshire outside of Portsmouth is nice cycling territory. But it is hard to find 2,000 foot ascents with corkscrew descents in G.B. that we take for granted here.

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