London now offers a citywide cycle hire scheme, operated by Transport for London, affectionately known as “Boris Bikes” after the Mayor of London. For an hourly charge, bicycles may be hired from automated hire stations around the city. The bikes, all colored a distinctive bright blue, can be unlocked and ridden around the city with a credit card, and must be returned to another hire station by locking the bike into the rack.
Despite to the recent improvements, London remains a relatively hostile environment for cyclists. London motorists seem hesitant to acknowledge the existence of cyclists, especially at busy junctions. The safest option is to stick to minor residential roads where traffic can be surprisingly calm outside rush hours.
Most major roads in London have a red-route (indicated by red-painted tarmac), which is restricted to buses, taxis and bicycles. There are many bus stops on red routes, which can present a problem cycling around buses.
Cycle-lanes exist in London, but they are often sporadic at best – usually a 3-foot wide section of road barely wide enough for one cyclist typically indicated by green paint. Many improvements have been made for cyclists in the city over the last few years. Noticeably, there are many new signposted cycle routes and some new cycle lanes. A network of “Cycle super-highways” has recently been launched: these are indicated by bright blue-painted tarmac. Motor vehicles often park on cycle lanes, rendering them unusable.
The towpaths in North London along the Grand Union Canal and Regent’s Canal are the closest thing to a truly traffic-free cycle path in the capital. The Grand Union canal connects Paddington to Camden and the Regent’s Canal connects Camden to Islington, Mile End and Lime house in East London. It takes about 30-40min to cycle from Paddington station to Islington along the towpaths. In summer they are crowded with pedestrians and not suitable for cycling, but in winter or late in the evening they offer a very fast and safe way to travel from east to west in North London.
You should be careful where you will choose to park your bike, because there are many cycle thieves, while chaining a bicycle to a railing which appears to be private property can occasionally lead to the bike being removed.
Taking bikes on trains is limited in London due to overcrowding. Non-folding bikes can be taken only on limited sections of The Tube network, mostly only on the aboveground sections outside peak hours. For this reason, folding bicycles are becoming increasingly popular. There is a map showing this on the Transport for London website. Most National Rail operators allow bicycles outside peak hours also.
Critical Mass London is a cycling advocacy group which meets for regular rides through central London at 6PM on the last Friday of each month. Rides start from the southern end of Waterloo Bridge.