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Pedal power wins with journey times a third quicker

Inspired by that Top Gear episode in which Richard Hammond raced his co-presenters across the capital from Kew to London City Airport, arriving there by bike ahead of those who used a car, speedboat and the tube to do the same trip, blogger Andreas Kambanis of www.londoncyclist.co.uk decided to conduct a similar experiment, getting on his bike to ride between three pairs of London Underground stations and compare those journey times with the length they took by tube.

The good news for cyclists is that pedal power came out on top each time, with the three trips coming out on average a third quicker than by public transport.

In order to ensure a fair comparison, Andreas started and finished each journey from exactly the same spot, using TfL’s transport planner to estimate journey times and plan the tube route, and Bike Route Toaster to plot the route by bicycle, with that information stored on his iPhone which he attached to his bike, a Marin hybrid, with a Bicio bike mount.

Transport for London’s transport planner didn’t seem too optimistic about the bicycle’s chances of winning the challenge, with the underground, at 21 minutes, coming out two minutes ahead for the Swiss Cottage to Covent Garden leg, while from London Bridge to Mornington Crescent – a fitting final destination, if ever there was one – the tube was predicted to take 18 minutes, a full five minutes ahead of going by bike. And for the middle leg of the journey – from Covent Garden to London Bridge, a predicted 19-minute journey by tube – the TfL website said no estimated time was available. Perhaps it was still deciding which of Waterloo, Blackfriars, Southwark or London bridges to go over?

Andreas describes the tube journey as “about as thrilling as walking down a staircase, which incidentally made up a large part of it,” adding that the high point was “helping an old lady get her bag down the stairs” – definitely storing up some good karma for the bike ride there – while the worst part “was getting squashed on a crowded Central Line.”

As you’d expect, he was a lot more enthusiastic about the prospect of the bike ride, which he undertook on a Marin hybrid, wearing normal clothes. Oh, and stopping at red lights and keeping off the pavement, too.

Armed with an Oyster card and a video camera – we’ve posted the short film below – things didn’t get off to a good start on the first leg, from Swiss Cottage to Covent Garden, with the route on the iPhone app (but not Andreas himself, thankfully) continually crashing, leading him to decide to wing it down to the West End, and managing to take a wrong turn on the way.

Bike vs London Underground from Andreas Kambanis on Vimeo.

After that, he headed down to London Bridge, and then back up to Mornington Crescent to complete the journey. Andreas says that throughout the trip, he was “fast but not erratic,” while when he was on the tube, he walked briskly, “but not so much so that I was knocking over kids onto the tube lines for the sake of saving a few seconds.”

Despite TfL’s predicted timings which suggested that for the Swiss Cottage to Covent Garden leg that the race should be quite a close-run thing, Andreas says he was surprised by the results. For that journey, the bike came out nine minutes ahead, Andreas completing the trip in 19 minutes. From London Bridge to Mornington Crescent, he rode for 22 minutes, while the tube journey took a full half hour. But the biggest time saving, 40%, was seen in the ride from Covent Garden to London Bridge – 22 minutes by tube, but only 13 minutes by bicycle.

On average, the trips by bike were a third quicker than those by underground and as Andreas points out, if they were part of a normal commute, there would be extra time savings to be had by cyclists compared to tube travelers since the former wouldn’t have to walk to the tube station in the first place.

Andreas also says he was surprised at the lack of accuracy of the TfL journey time predictor, although as anyone who has arrived on a Northern Line platform to see the next train advertised as arriving in one minute will have realised, by the time it arrives several minutes later, that time on the underground is an abstract concept at best.

He adds that he plans trying out the challenge on other routes, so if you have any suggestions, put them in the comments below and we’ll let you know how he gets on.
 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

7 comments

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londoncyclist [13 posts] 7 years ago
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Really liked the write up, thanks very much for it! I think the amount of time you save is enough reason for anyone to jump on a bike!

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OldRidgeback [2813 posts] 7 years ago
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I used to commute from Brixton to Swiss Cottage/Swiss Cottage to Brixton on my old Ridgeback. My record time for the 16 km/10 mile ride was 37 minutes, which I couldn't even beat on my motorbike, despite several attempts. I set that record on a weekday afternoon and there was plenty of traffic around. I wasn't riding at some ungodly hour of the morning on deserted streets. Note that I've long made a point of not jumping traffic lights at red (I was stopped at Greenwich in the late 80s by a cop for doing that, he let me off with a warning and I've never done it since). On the tube the Brixton to Swiss Cottage journey took around 50 minutes and that included changing between the Victoria and Jubilee lines at Green Park, which is horribly congested and unpleasant at the rush hour.

Somewhat ironically I remember being stopped along with another cyclist by the police on one occasion (not the record setting run day) when cycling through the middle of Hyde Park rather than using the cycle lane skirting the park. We were told to get off our bikes and walk, despite the fact that us two cyclists and the policeman who had stopped us were the only people to be seen on that September evening in that part of the park. What amused and annoyed me at the same time was that the previous day I'd driven up Park Lane on my motorbike to get to work and had been driving in the middle lane at 40mph (it's a 30mph limit) while being overtaken on both sides by faster moving vehicles (driven no doubt by people who had decided I wasn't breaking the speed limit sufficiently). Park Lane runs right alongside Hyde Park, for anyone unfamiliar with London's layout but I got the impression that the police were less interested in enforcing the speed limit for vehicles along this very busy route, than enforcing a rule that served no safety benefit to anyone at all.

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Simon_MacMichael [2504 posts] 7 years ago
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OldRidgeback wrote:

I remember being stopped along with another cyclist by the police on one occasion (not the record setting run day) when cycling through the middle of Hyde Park rather than using the cycle lane skirting the park...

Different police force though, Royal Parks Constabulary... I guess it gave him something to do  3

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OldRidgeback [2813 posts] 7 years ago
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Simon - yes indeed - he came out of his tea hut and shouted at us to get off our bikes. But given the speed I'd been doing on my motorbike the day before just a few hundred metres away I still thought it was ridiculous.

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cat1commuter [1422 posts] 7 years ago
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So cycling is definitely the fastest way to get around London?

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OldRidgeback [2813 posts] 7 years ago
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It all depends cat - on some routes cycling is quick and on others not. Basically though two wheels is the quickest way to get around the congested centre, whether human-powered or with an engine to help. On my 25km commute out to my present workplace from South London's Zone 2 where I live to the office in Kent, using the car takes 1 hour- 1 hour 15 minutes, the train and bicycle take 50 mins-1 hour and the motorbike takes 45 minutes (in good weather that is).

Like I said before, even with my motorbike I couldn't beat my record time across town achieved on my bicycle.

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Simon_MacMichael [2504 posts] 7 years ago
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Hmmm out of idle curiosity I just plugged in Euston to Euston Square (only 300 yards or so but would involve a change of tube line and getting across Euston Road) to see what would happen.

Results: No result returned for Tube, Bus 4 minutes, cycling 3 minutes but pedestrians win with 1 minute.

That would be a pedestrian wearing a Jamaica national athletics team vest, Puma shoes and striking an archer pose when he got to Euston Square, presumably  3