22 July 2009

Bus vs bike? One loser, one winner

Bikes are the fastest way to get across cities, especially central London. We all know that.

It causes problems at rendezvous with friends who are taking public transport though. Invariably I'm ten minutes early and they're half an hour late.

Which makes me look the no-mates drinking by himself at the bar. Or the restaurant loser stood up by an internet date. Or the middle-aged newlywed whose Russian bride has yet to return from picking up her new British passport.

Anyway, yesterday we performed an accidental bus/cycle comparison. Two of us took a parallel journey from the Elephant and Castle to the top of Regent St at rush hour, setting off at the same time (8.33am), taking identical routes (over Westminster Bridge and past Trafalgar Square).

Of course, the bike won comfortably: I arrived at 8.47am, my colleague at 9.05am. The bike journey, in other words, took less than half the time (14 versus 32 minutes).

The cost difference is also dramatic. The bus journey was a peak-time Oyster card charge of £1*. The bike expense on the day was nothing. Plus six quid for a coffee and sandwich while I kicked my heels waiting for them.

Still, I did my good deed for the day while I did so, explaining to a young Russian woman how to get to Heathrow. She seemed in quite a hurry.

(*Amended - see Tom's comment below)


  1. It's not just central London. I used to regularly beat the 65 from Ealing Broadway to Kew in rush hour, and this on an ancient bike I found in our shed.

  2. "The bus journey was a peak-time Oyster card charge of £1.20"

    £1, actually. Was 90p until January when Boris put the fares up.

    Of course, owning and running the bike is a non-trivial expense too, but point taken.

  3. @Tom... doh! You can tell how infrequently I travel by bus. I'm better on things I do more often, like the price of a pint of Sam Smith's in the Chandos, Trafalgar Square (£1.89... or maybe £1.90).

    Thanks - for the benefit of future social historians mining internet archives, I'll change it in the post but add a footnote.

  4. I once cycled from King's X to Battersea, while my wife took the bus. This was a Friday evening - rush-hour time. I arrived 40 minutes before she did. I saved money 'cos I was going to the in-laws so my tea was free.

  5. I've been known to beat taxis too....

  6. I too have once beaten a taxi - with a cable lock after the £$%&*** had knocked me off . . .

  7. That bus journey in Bristol would have been £2.80 minimum.

    Then the journey would have been double the time again asit would have sat in traffic everywhere because the bus lanes all have cars parked in them. Even the new multi million pound "showcase" routes that are suposed to show off how great bus travel is.

  8. @Karl... I know how you feel mate... but here's a salutory tale from South Africa:

  9. Bromley to Lodon with travelcard £12.60 today and 1.5 hours going in. On my bike close to nothing and 50 minutes.

  10. Yeah but Bromley South to Victoria (Lodon? where that?) should only take 17-18 minutes. But that is a staggering fare!

  11. Owning and running the bike is a non-trivial expense too

    I find that I spend about 10p a mile (counting bike, maintenance, consumables like chain oil and brake blocks, and CTC membership, but not counting clothes or food).

  12. @Gareth... I discussed the expense of running a bike at length in my post of 1 March. Last year I spent £360 quid to do 4,500 miles, so I'm not far away from your figure.