We went on a treasure hunt today. Not a real treasure hunt – the prize was only to retain full use of all your limbs – but it felt very similar: get a vague idea of the route on the internet, and then out in the streets of London following a series of widely spaced, discreetly hidden, deliberately confusing clues. Yep, we’re talking National cycle routes. I’m more or less inured to the fact that local council cycle paths appear to have been designed by someone with a spare can of white paint and a sick sense of humour, but I’d expected better from Sustrans. Once we’d worked out that the signage consisted of postage stamp sized pictures of bikes placed 20 feet up a pole, we managed to find our way from Lambeth to Barnes, but the routes themselves didn’t feel particularly cycle friendly. There was a whole stretch of ‘cycle path’ that just consisted of having you cycle on the pavement without any warning markings for the pedestrians (except very tall ones), bridges too low to cycle through comfortably and – my personal favourite – the trick of dumping you out onto a red route at the point where the road narrows so you can be cut up by a Chelsea tractor with (oh delicious irony) three bikes mounted on the back. You’d think they at least would … oh never mind. Always assume a car in London is trying to kill you. It’s simply safer that way.
And the ride home was worse. In the morning at least Chelsea and Fulham were relatively deserted. Sunday afternoon, with the hordes returned from their Cotswolds weekends, was like the sort of adrenaline-fuelled sport you usually need to consume Pepsi Max to partake in. Particularly in the part where the national cycle route took us down a narrow road which had been ‘traffic calmed’ to the point where no car could actually pass a bike without either mounting the pavement or mounting the bike. Believe me, in the few hundred yards we were on it, they tried both. I don’t know what the perfect cycle route would be, particularly in London, but surely choosing a road that puts cars and bikes in direct conflict can’t be right, nor a pavement that pits cyclists against pedestrians. I hate to knock Sustrans because they’re doing a job that’s desperately needed, but if they can’t devise routes that are safe and fun to ride on, then who can?