13 May Friday Funday Cycling in London — Embankment to Notting Hill
Gigi and I are getting to know the city a bit, and are starting to meet new contacts within the London bike world. I attended an event at Look Mum No Hands where I met Sasha with Blubel, and we almost immediately set up plans for a cycling date. I haven’t meandered much around my piece of West London, so we set our sights on Notting Hill, and specifically didn’t set a route.
My trips before Gigi were made on the Santander Cycles (London’s bike share/cycle hire scheme), which are convenient but don’t lend themselves to much wandering if you have to ride across the city. I get super anxious about the 30 minute time limit, so I’d usually high-tail it to and from my destination. I realize £2 for an extra 30 minutes isn’t terrrrrrible, but I also didn’t want to do it every day considering the whole point of the annual membership is to pay less, not more.
Plus, cycling in London takes a few more cojones than in some other cities. Traffic is fast, the buses are massive and the taxis encroach on your elbow room. The side streets are pleasant to cycle on, but as someone who gets lost easily, especially on London’s labyrinthine streets, they aren’t ideal for getting where I need to go expeditiously. Now that I’ve got Gigi, both time and inclination are on my side.
I met up with Sasha near Embankment tube station, which is located near the newly completed East-West Cyclesuperhighway, and we headed back toward West London, near Portobello Road and Notting Hill. It winds up being the perfect sightseeing cycle route to see some of London’s most iconic sights!
The eastern stretch of CS3 just opened officially a few weeks ago (the western stretch is still being completed and is snarling traffic for miles). If you’re a urban cycling enthusiast, riding any of CS routes and riding for a few miles is an attraction in and of itself. You can ride, separated from traffic, for miles, all the way to Canary Wharf. Starting near Embankment with bikes pointed West meant we saw the London Eye, Westminster, and Big Ben within five minutes of riding.
The Royal Parks
Heading northish, we found ourselves circling a rather large home in the middle of London — I think it’s called Buckingham Palace? — and on through to the bike-friendly Royal Parks. St James’s park has a cycle path along its south side, leading to the Duke of Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner. Again, due to construction this intersection is currently a bit of mess to navigate, but once you’re through it you’re rewarded with a great cycle path through Hyde Park. For both parks, beware of wayward pedestrians. Gigi doesn’t have a bell yet, and that proves to be a bit precarious at times. Take it slow and ring nicely a couple times and 90% of pedestrians will know to move over.
Portobello Road and Notting Hill
Dodge your way across Queensway/Notting Hill Gate Road (the busy one on the north side of Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens) and you’ll find yourself on the quieter streets around Notting Hill. This is where a good meandering will serve you well. Follow your intuition, or head toward that cute house or beautiful flowering tree (link to Sunday in london) and then repeat. It’ll be hard to miss Portobello Road, which is lively with vendors even during the week, and have to take a photo of at least one set of colorful buildings. For a classic cycling outing, be sure to stop in at one of the many restaurants, pubs or cafes. Cycling and imbibing (beer or coffee alike) go together like peanut butter and jelly.
The most important part is to have fun! Cycling in London can be intimidating, but it’s well worth it for the intimate view of London that you get. Instead of whizzing by on a bus — or worse, seeing none of it on the tube! — you can slow down and enjoy it at your own pace.
Thanks so much to Sasha from Blubel for being a great explorer and guide!