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.
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.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.