London Cycling Campaign’s Simon Munk on safer winter cycling

Nights are drawing in, clocks have gone back, and Halloween is past us.

For most Londoners, autumn means limited edition lattes, woodsmoke and Hampstead Heath bursting with beautiful colour.

But for those cycling, it can also be a time of real trepidation, even to ditch the bike. And the reason won’t be the one you think it is, largely.

READ MORE: ‘I’ve become an angry London cyclist’

Yes, London can be damp and chilly. But it’s not rain or snow that gets folks to put the bike in the shed. Cycling rates globally dip with temperature and weather – but lots of people here keep cycling through autumn and winter, and far more do in European cities.

Indeed, most Londoners who cycle regularly know getting soaked is a rarity; most times you ride in rain you’re dry before you get to your destination and waterproof cycling clothes do exist. What puts folks off cycling into winter isn’t water, but light. 

Ham & High: Simon Munk says it isn't the weather isn't that puts people off cycling in the winterSimon Munk says it isn’t the weather isn’t that puts people off cycling in the winter (Image: LCC)

Cycling through Finsbury Park on a summer evening is lovely. But the same time six months later is a different story.

Many London parks shut before it’s home time, and while Haringey’s for instance all stay open, some are scary unlit places after dusk. For riders heading home in north London what can in summer be a route of picturesque canals, parks and quiet roads just disappears. 

Risk Finsbury Park? Not if you’re not very confident, particularly not if you’re a woman.

So choose your adventure: congestion and aggression in Green Lanes… or Archway Road? Rain and darkness also seems to bring out the worst in motorists – gone are summer drivers waving cyclists on, now folks just want to get home – and sod any cyclists in the way. 

As a result, many London cyclists give up rather than ride in the dark; others festoon themselves with lights.

What’s really needed if we want to tackle the climate crisis, enable people to ditch the car more and make London a safer, cleaner city is not to be mobile Christmas trees, but more safe cycle routes: main road lanes physically separated from cars; low traffic neighbourhoods etc.

That’s how we get kids and women and lots more of everyone cycling all year round, and so avoid gridlock, pollution and climate breakdown. 

Simon Munk is campaigns manager for London Cycling Campaign

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