This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 125.
I have never lived in London, and have no plans to, so I never thought I’d cycle down Oxford Street dodging Sunday shoppers. That was however what I found myself doing last month, having been given a day out with Artourides as a Christmas present.
As part of the ‘Revolutions’ exhibition at the Design Museum (see previous newsletter article /newsletters/124/article20.html) the company Artourides has designed a ‘Cycle Culture’ tour visiting various iconic cycle companies and cafes. We gathered on a damp morning outside the Museum and were met by a rainbow of folded Bromptons. Nearby there was also a Brompton Bike Hire dock, one of 31 across the UK. Looking just like a set of school lockers, the docks house folded Bromptons which can be booked online by registered users and are hired by the day for as little as £2.50. Too good to be true? Maybe. The dock wasn’t working and word was that all the bikes had been stolen.
Our guides Jack and Barbara led eight of us on a route through Borough Market, Covent Garden and Fitzrovia to Old Street. As I don’t know London very well I didn’t had a clue where we were going but it didn’t matter, I was just enjoying the sheer novelty of cycling through the City and its environs.
As with any good day out there was a stop for tea and cake at a great bike café called ‘Look mum no hands’. Underneath the café there is a workshop where the team of five mechanics not only do everything from repairing a flat to a complete rebuild but also run bike maintenance courses. The coffee scene in Cambridge is missing a trick.
As we rode, Jack and Barbara pointed out interesting architecture and street art. We paused by a huge sculpture by Ai Weiwei, the Chinese contemporary artist and activist, outside the Gherkin building. The piece is formed of hundreds of bicycle frames, geometrically stacked and fused together. Its title ‘Forever’ is homage to the classic Yongjiu (Forever) bicycles mass-manufactured in Shanghai, China since 1940. These bikes were ridden in their thousands on the streets of Beijing, but today car culture is dominant and the city’s traffic congestion is notorious.
All in all it was a brilliant way to spend a Sunday. I never thought that my love of two-wheeled exploring would lead me to the Big Smoke, and cycling over Tower Bridge in the bright winter sunshine felt fantastically liberating (the rain clouds having finally given up).
Last week, as I walked past the British Museum on my way from Kings Cross (I have a deep dislike of the Tube), I caught myself eyeing up a stand of Boris Bikes with renewed interest. I kept walking however, knowing what chaos I would cause not knowing where I was going in London traffic (and how quickly I’d likely get squished). Until those promised cycle superhighways arrive I’ll stick with a guide.