Bikes faster than public transport for most London journeys under 8 miles

Nifty web mash-up gives you yet another reason to ride bike to work

by John Stevenson   September 16, 2013  

London ride map

Is it quicker to ride or take public transport in London? That’s the question Peter Thum-Bonanno of FindProperly.co.uk set out to answer after being surprised by the response from cyclists to a function on his website to minimise commute time. Turns out, the answer is 'yes' even more often than you might think.

Find Properly is designed to help people find rental properties in London according to preferences like crime rate, green space and so on. You can also specify how long you’re prepared to spend commuting into work.

But when the founders added cycling as a method of commuting and announced bike riders could now use the site to find a place to live that minimised bike commute time, they were surprised at the reaction.

“I don’t like commuting,” says Peter on Find Properly’s blog, explaining why Find Properly has a commute-minimising function, and how he’d recently extended it to cycling. “When we shared the good news with cyclists on Facebook, we were surprised by the reaction – cyclists seem to love commuting!”

“Why would we want to cut out commuting we like riding,” said one commenter on Facebook

“I enjoy my commute because I cycle,” said another, while one commenter described a tour of London landmarks taking in Tower Bridge, London Bridge, and St Paul's Cathedral on the way to work. He concluded: “I won’t to change my place, I love my route!”

In response Peter decided to find out how far you had to commute for riding a bike to be quicker than using public transport. “It was time to whip out Excel and do some analysis,” he writes. “(I have never sounded so nerdy).”

It turns out that in London almost all journeys of less than 5km (3 miles) are quicker by bike, and public transport only becomes faster for more than 50 percent of journeys if you’re travelling more than 13km (8 miles). The map up top shows the area from which it's quicker to commute into the City by bike.

Peter’s further analysis concludes that a big part of the reason for this is that public transport in London might be very convenient, but its also very slow.

“For short journeys, public transport is slower than walking,” he writes. “This is because of all the time you waste with public transport: walking to and from the nearest stop and waiting for the bus or descending to the tube platform all add significant time. These wasted times are largely avoided by cycling.

“Let’s throw away our public transport system and only use bikes.” Peter concludes. “OK, not really.

“London has, in my opinion, one of the best transport systems in the world. Is there anything more beautiful than seven 38 buses arriving at the stop together?

“And yet, despite this, for many journeys I could out-jog you on public transport – that’s how slow it is!”

You can see for yourself whether you’re better off using public transport or riding a bike to get around in London, with the nifty visualisation Find Properly has created. You just click on a point on the map and it’ll show you the ‘cycling zone’ - the area from where riding a bike is quicker than public transport.

For example, the map above (click to embiggen it a bit) shows the zone where it's quicker to ride than use pubic transport to get to Olympic venue Queen Elizabeth Park.

In case you didn’t get the memo, you’re supposed to use public transport to get to Queen Elizabeth Park. It’s therefore a bit bonkers that it’s quicker to ride a bike there from a vast swathe of London, and when you do get there you’ll find yourself with almost nowhere to lock your bike and security guards telling you to walk your bike along the pavement. Next to the on-road cycle lanes. Oh, and there’s no dedicated bike parking anywhere in the park.

But I digress. If you're wondering why there are blobs of purple surrounded by green, they're usually close to Tube stations. The mash-up uses data from Transport for London for journey times at the daytime peak. It's probably not perfect as it's hard to imagine how it could allow for the time taken to mess around with locks or to ride aimlessly round Westminster trying to find a Sheffield rack, but it's a pretty strong argument for riding bike rather than takinf the Tube. 

22 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I wish software like this would be developed for other major cities

posted by jarredscycling [457 posts]
16th September 2013 - 19:37

9 Likes

Kings Cross to Hangar Lane is quicker by bike for me. Even on a Brompton

posted by Big Les Wade [5 posts]
16th September 2013 - 21:20

10 Likes

I've found that except for a few really direct tube routes, it's faster for me by bike up to about 14 miles away. Oh yeah, and free, healthy and fun Wink

chrisl's picture

posted by chrisl [43 posts]
16th September 2013 - 21:45

7 Likes

Why are the two images different? Second shows Dartford in the green zone, in the first pic it isn't anywhere near.

posted by eurotrash [88 posts]
16th September 2013 - 22:50

7 Likes

Eurotrash, The two maps are different because the target destinations are different - simples!

posted by 3cylinder [87 posts]
16th September 2013 - 22:59

6 Likes

I figured this out five years ago, been hurtling around London om my faithful steed ever since. Spend most of my time trying to find somewhere to lock it up.

posted by kobacom [95 posts]
17th September 2013 - 6:44

10 Likes

So does it really cone down to whether it's faster to find a bike rack or work out the route on the distance-bending tube map?

posted by a.jumper [775 posts]
17th September 2013 - 7:37

10 Likes

It's fast until you get knocked off (twice in 3 months) by impatient idiots that are in a hurry to their hair appointment/dog grooming session/nail treatments. Then you have to spend one of the sunniest months in years waiting for their snide insurance company to pay out to fix your bike. Angry

posted by UnflappableEd [18 posts]
17th September 2013 - 11:03

9 Likes

Brilliant! I wondered about creating various GPS logs of bus/train vs cycling etc.

If only more properties had better bike storage in London. Property developers... put a place to store bikes IN the flat! "Secure Bike Stores" are anything but.

posted by ribena [166 posts]
17th September 2013 - 11:16

9 Likes

Big Les Wade wrote:
Kings Cross to Hangar Lane is quicker by bike for me. Even on a Brompton

I was cycling from Lambeth Bridge to Ealing Broadway, using the canal route (12 miles door to door) and it was still faster than the morning I used the tube by around 15 minutes.

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [645 posts]
17th September 2013 - 11:43

6 Likes

I know someone who isn't hugely into cycling like everyone on here, but even living on the outer part of the green portion (Putney Bridge), still manages to comfortably beat the public transport times into the city.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3646 posts]
17th September 2013 - 12:12

8 Likes

posted by qwerky [168 posts]
17th September 2013 - 12:21

9 Likes

I live 13 miles from work, but it's still only just slower on the bike than on the fast train and tube.

I surprised me how short some distances were in London when I started cycling here (not long after I moved to London).

posted by thereverent [338 posts]
17th September 2013 - 14:07

7 Likes

It's a great study that needs to be pushed up the agenda at TFL. Most peak train & tubes are heavily congested and cycling could help alleviate some of the pressure. If more people knew it was quicker and cheaper then they might give it a go. I do think TFL should be looking at gps data as well to see which routes are the easy wins for improving infrastructure so that safety is less of a reason not to. After all, London is pretty flat and the weather is rarely so bad as to rule out a bike ride.

posted by arfa [605 posts]
17th September 2013 - 14:23

8 Likes

I think anything under about 20 miles in Shropshire/Telford & Wrekin would be quicker on a bike and definitely more convenient. Arriva buses are bloody useless and expensive. The trains are ok but network isn't what you'd call extensive (thanks to Dr, Beecham).

I reckon 20 miles would apply to most of the country except for bigger cities.

I love the smell of cleats (mexican accent, you do the jokes)

posted by paulfrank [90 posts]
17th September 2013 - 19:32

8 Likes

Loved my regular London commute - 30-35 minutes from Fulham up the Kings Road or the river to Soho, later Smithfield and most recently Holborn. Could cope with the rare puncture within 10-15 minutes and still beat the tube (45-55 mins, major discomfort and not a chance of a seat) and the bus (60-90 mins to travel only 5 miles!). So good that on one occasion I made a list of all the major sights and attractions I passed on the way.

posted by congokid [220 posts]
17th September 2013 - 20:42

10 Likes

paulfrank wrote:
I think anything under about 20 miles in Shropshire/Telford & Wrekin would be quicker on a bike and definitely more convenient. Arriva buses are bloody useless and expensive. The trains are ok but network isn't what you'd call extensive (thanks to Dr, Beecham).

I reckon 20 miles would apply to most of the country except for bigger cities.

I started commuting by bike through Shrewsbury partly because I was tired of being sat in a queue on The Mount, Frankwell, Smithfield Road etc every morning then doing the same thing in the other direction in the evening. There are more traffic lights and ped crossings now so it is sometimes worse but even if it wasn't quicker the bike is always more fun and I could do the 5 miles to Harlescott in more or less the same time as the car if I really went for it.

Absolutely anything is better - and cheaper - than Arriva's bus service around Shrewsbury (P&R excepted) while their trains are shabby and overcrowded.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2254 posts]
17th September 2013 - 21:39

7 Likes

I rode to Norwood Green from Hyde Park after Saturday's triathlon. My wife left at the same time and took the tube from Kensington to Osterley then drove (yes, I know - children in tow) to Norwood Green. My journey time was 40 minutes, even allowing for the almost countless traffic signals and busy traffic; she took well over an hour.

posted by nivagh [53 posts]
18th September 2013 - 10:34

8 Likes

When I lived in Hackney I used to love cycling to work in East Central instead of driving. The 30 minute car journey took 8 minutes by bike and I could stop for a bagel on the way near Brick lane.

It was always fun to beat the cars to 30 MPH from the traffic lights...but all the fun stopped, when some swine stole my bike. I locked it near to the security guard's cabin in a multistory car park. When I got out of work on a Friday evening it was gone.
I asked the guy working there with a security uniform on (in hindsight calling him a security guard is an insult to security guards) if he had seen anything, and he said yes, someone using cutting equipment to open the lock, but he thought it was their bike!

posted by ronin [236 posts]
18th September 2013 - 11:25

8 Likes

Well for me it is 45 minutes by bike vs 1 hour plus to cover 10 miles. The money saving is pretty substantial, even if I do upgrade my bike(s) regularly Smile

posted by arfa [605 posts]
18th September 2013 - 12:10

7 Likes

if more people took notice of this map and realised that it was faster by bike then MORE people would cycle, which would reduce rush hour traffic on tube and roads, therefore making the tube less congested (and therefore quicker) and the roads less congested (less busses, more people on bikes) and therefore they would be less snarled up - and quicker too!
literally, more people cycling would make EVERYONE's journey to central london faster!!! Smile

Feel the fear and do it anyway

hood's picture

posted by hood [117 posts]
20th September 2013 - 9:55

9 Likes

True, I used to live in Lancaster and they ran a once-a-year "study" of commuting between Morecambe and Lancaster (or vice versa) at rush hour by bus, taxi, car, on foot and by bike.

The bike won every single time (and it wasn't some "lycra lout" running reds all the way, it was just a normal commuter on a sit-up-and-beg hybrid, usually a member of the council!). There was actually a very good segregated bike lane most of the way between Morecambe and Lancaster.

posted by crazy-legs [624 posts]
20th September 2013 - 10:08

7 Likes