31 October 2009

Destination, distance? Not on these signs

Should the signposts on London's forthcoming 'cycle superhighways' show distances? Well, of course, you'd think.

But not if you work for TfL, which believes that distances only "confuse people" (their words) and so you're better leaving them off.

So what about giving the destination? Won't that confuse people as well? Perhaps, to ensure complete downward-dumbed compatibility, TfL should leave off from their signs all mention of where the routes are coming from or going to. Maybe they could restrict things to two signs, just saying 'This way' and 'That way'.

After all, it's a principle already being embraced by local councils signing Sustrans routes - as this sign in Wales, snapped last Sunday, demonstrates. Where are we heading? How far away is it? No idea, but at least we know we have the choice of a scenic or a fast route. We may be lost, but we're making good time.

(In fact it's somewhere just north of Newport, perhaps Pontnewydd, en route to Blaenavon, or possibly somewhere else. I think. It was raining so much there was nobody around to ask.)

Still, good to see that this useless information is given in two languages, even if it does mean twice as much space is needed to tell you. It may be pidgin-like, unphonetic, hard to pronounce, and full of strange consonants, but that's English for you.

30 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 39: Mayfair

The dreaded dark-blue widowmaker, and the final square on our Monopoly bike tour, is not a single street, but an area – the square mile or so of ultra-high-rent residential, official and commercial properties between Hyde Park to the west, Oxford St to the north, Regent St to the east, and Piccadilly to the south. (As such, Mayfair actually includes all of Bond St, for example, and everything you can spend money at on Park Lane.)

There are various places eminently visitable by bike here – the fascinating Handel House Museum, for example, which is decorated and furnished much as the grumpy old tune-stealer had it when he was the Lloyd Webber of his day.

Or there's Shepherd Market, a place of atmospheric alleys and pubs where you can while away a few hours manoeuvring your bike down a no-through-lane packed with post-work drinkers, only to find there's no bike parking at the end anyway.

Mayfair is home of the US Embassy, a Cold-War era Grosvenor Square block that proves whatever the Soviets could come up with in terms of ugly brutalism, the Americans could match. It swarms with gun-toting police officers and gives you the willies, as you're not sure which will set them off, continuing to ride, or getting off.

It won't be here too much longer though: they're moving darn sarf to a new location. As the official website tries hard to spin it, "The U.S. Department of State is pursuing a unique and exciting opportunity to relocate its London Embassy from Mayfair to Nine Elms, Battersea". Er, right. Nine Elms is home of London's wholesale fruit and veg market, and has the worst cycle lane in Britain. Doesn't sound like a move upmarket to me.

A curiosity that caught my eye though was this car dealership (right) on Park Lane. It sells Hummers - and has cycle parking outside.

Monopoly's Mayfair costs £400. What could this buy you there? For the stylish cyclist, how about a nice 'athletic-fit' corduroy jacket from spiffy tailors Gieves and Hawkes's 2009 Autumn Collection 02, a snip at £395? Even with the rest of the ensemble (trousers, shirt, hanky, shoes), including your hand-made bow tie, you'll still come in at under a grand. You can hardly buy a touring bike for that nowadays.

Well, that's quite enough about Monopoly. Next week's weekday posts will be comparing Copenhagen with London. You can probably guess which way things will go.

29 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 38: Super Tax

Benjamin Franklin's dictum that "in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes" comes to sharp focus round about the Monopoly board's square 38 and 39. Inevitably, in those final, over-mortgaged throes of a game, you land either here, the Tax square, or on someone else's Mayfair with a hotel on, the Death square.

More of Mayfair tomorrow – but how can you cycle to Super Tax?

We've chosen Custom House, historic home of the Taxman. It stares south across the Thames from the riverside, between Old Billingsgate and The Tower. You're not supposed to cycle along the Thames (foot) Path here (above), because that would obviously be incredibly dangerous, though we have to report that it is temptingly smooth and step-free between London Bridge and Tower Bridge.

Custom House has had more relaunches in its career even than me, and seems even more liable to going down in flames just when things seem OK.

The first version here was in 1275. Its super-sized upgrade in 1378 burned down and was rebuilt in 1559, only to provide more kindling for the Great Fire of 1666. Wren's magnificent replacement of 1671 was damaged in 1714 by a nearby explosion; it soon proved as flammable as its predecessors, and was rebuilt in the 1810s.

In 1825, as relief from its traditional role as large-scale tinder, part of the Long Room collapsed thanks to rotting in the wooden piles. The Long Room and facade (above right) were rebuilt by Robert Smirke (stop grinning, boy!) and – despite yet more fire-damage during the Blitz – Smirke's Custom House survives today, though its tax-collecting duties have long since been shoved out to somewhere less combustible such as Victoria Dock.

Hmm; still not immune from the efforts of a disgruntled taxpayer with a grudge and a box of Swan Vestas, which may explain the fragility of CH's previous incarnations.

Anyway, there's not much to see of the House itself – it's not open to the public or anything, and it's fenced off from the likes of us, no doubt in case we have a Molotov cocktail to hand – but this is a fascinating riverscape to explore by bike. There's a lot of boat traffic around and it really gives you the idea of the Thames as a working river. As your sodden feet will remind you, if the water's high (right).

28 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 37: Park Lane

Once a pleasant lane and exclusive residential address marking the east side of Hyde Park, Park Lane was turned into a three-lane torrent of fast traffic, and rather less enticing residential address, in the 1960s. It's a very unpleasant cycle down its two-thirds of a mile today, assailing you with buses, coaches and fast cars.

Fortunately there's an excellent alternative: a bikes-only, traffic-free path parallel to it just a few metres westwards, inside Hyde Park. Nevertheless, you do see people cycling south down Park Lane from Marble Arch down to Hyde Park Corner.

Park Lane is home to several car showrooms, and some upmarket hotels (Dorchester, Grosvenor) where I've been for meaningless awards dinners and suchlike. Bike parking is pretty rudimentary on such occasions and means hunting for a lamppost, like a dog with a bad prostate.

There's a recent memorial near the top dedicated to Animals in War. Sculptures depict several beasts of burden with the message THEY HAD NO CHOICE, an observation that may seem all too relevant to cycle facilities in central London too.

There's a sideways cut-through (below right) that takes you to a cycle route running parallel to Oxford St, which soon dissolves into uncertainty leaving you lost amid posh shoe shops and cafes you can't afford.

Monopoly's Park Lane costs £350. What could this buy you there? Depending on availability, you might be able to get a room for two for one night out of season at one of the four-star hotels, such as the Hilton.

27 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 36: Chance 3 of 3

The Last Chance Saloon on our Monopoly circuit is Make general repairs on all of your houses. Obviously we're going to substitute bikes for houses, and talk about cycle repairs.

My experiences of bike repairs and servicing in London have been mixed. I've only had good quality annual services or one-off repairs from two shops, Apex Cycles in Clapham and the London Bicycle Repair Shop (right) in Hatfields, near Waterloo. Too many others, especially chainstores, have been barely adequate or downright bad.

There's a useful list of bike shops, including repair and rental, on the Southwark Cyclists website. They recommend Druid Cycles (formerly i-Bicycle), a new place in the railway arches in Druid St. It apparently offers a courtesy bike for you to use while yours is being fixed, a necessary service surprisingly lacking in most bike shops.

Anunal services don't work out cheap - I reckon on £100-£200 per annual service, because the 10,000 miles or so I do a year means regular replacement of chainring, chain and rear cassette (and you usually have to replace all three at once, or else the mix of new and old makes the chain skip and jump, and bikes are not meant to be marsupials).

26 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 35: Liverpool St Station

Straddling the border between the City and the East End, Liverpool Street Shopping Centre - sorry, Station - is London's third busiest (Waterloo and Victoria being the top two). If you're off with your bike to catch a ferry at Harwich, or fly from Stansted, you'll be coming here.

And if airline baggage handling is up to its usual standard, on your way back through, you'll be straight to the nearest bike shop to get your bent derailleur mended. (There's an Evans and a Cycle Surgery in Spitalfields Market, a few metres north-east of the station.)

If you're looking for a park, there's one of those big mechanical racks for storing bikes round the side. You're not supposed to take your bike down to the concourse by the escalators but everyone does.

Liverpool St is the site of free concerts in summer, which make a fine stopoff on your bike en route to a dinner out, while in winter you can spend an evening at Broadgate Ice Rink trying to find a cycle park.

Most of the trains from here are operated by National Express East Anglia, whisking you off to places in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, but not of course Liverpool. The company used to be known as the inexplicably confusing brand name One ("The 6.40 One Service to Ipswich will depart from Platform 3...").

There are Cambridge services too, if you want to put London's 'cycling boom' into perspective (Cambridge has the highest rate of real cycling in the country). According to the AtoB website's Bike-Rail page, NEEA trains allow four bikes on local trains and six on long-distance services.

Monopoly's Liverpool St costs £200. What could this buy you there? You could buy a two-week season ticket from Cambridge (£189) and just about have enough left over for a cappuccino from one of Liverpool St's caffeine pushers.

25 October 2009

Cycling and depression: some good news

Thanks to all those people who responded with personal experiences of how cycling has helped them cope with depression, following a recent post. (I'm writing up an article on the subject for a cycling magazine.)

Simply put, the article will make the following points, among others:
* Exercise is always good, because you can self-medicate, it's effective, and you can't overdose in a dangerous way
* Cycling (by yourself or in a group) is especially good because it enables you to control the social interactions to suit you: lots, none, or any stage in between
* Cycling also re-establishes a control zone: you can set targets and tick-lists to suit you, and feel you've achieved something with the day
* There should be no stigma: in practice, depression affects everyone in the western world at some point, either directly 'on' oneself, or through someone close to you

I have a feeling there's a book in this. (Probably with more potential than a follow-up to 50QBR, anyway.)

But finally... it annoys me how every popular article I've read on depression seems keen to list famous sufferers (Einstein, Churchill, Adam Ant etc. Don't they realise - and I'm being quite serious here - that this news actually makes you feel worse if you're depressed? Because you think, dammit, if only I could bat like Marcus Trescothick, or bluster my way up like Alistair Campbell, or write symphonies like Malcolm Arnold, at least I've have some talent to call on, instead of being stuck here trying to work out if it's worth getting up. I'm not saying that's right, or wrong, and it isn't meant to be funny: it's how it is.

So in my article I desisted. Anyway, if I'd found any famous cyclists that had suffered from depression, that would rather have defeated the object.

24 October 2009

On my hobby horse again

Our North of England correspondents have drawn our attention to Alnwick Castle's display of ancient bicycles. On a trip there recently, they saw this fine hobby horse from the 1820s.

An information panel by it explains that this model belonged to the Duke. Built by a London maker called Denis Johnson, this particular hobby horse was more sophisticated than the 'draisiennes' popular on the Continent: it had steering, which must have seemed edgy and controversial at the time.

Thanks to Si and Sue.

23 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 34: Bond St

London's swankiest shopping street - and some may feel there's one S too many in that description - is not actually called Bond St. It in fact consists of Old Bond St and New Bond St, running on from each other: half a mile of posh boutiques heading south (it's one-way all the way) from Oxford St down to Piccadilly.

According to the Bond St Association website - which, unsurprisingly, does not mention anything about cycle parking - it is a "playground for society's most stylish and influential people". Which at least explains the childish behaviour of some of the drivers trying to find a parking space there.

Clothes and jewellery are the main things on sale here, neither of which subjects I can offer expertise on.

If you do want to visit Bond St by bike to buy a two-grand dress or twenty-grand ring, though, be prepared for an argument with one of the sour-faced security guards in a cheap suit and corkscrew earpiece guarding the shop. They'll tell you to move your bike and not lean it on the window and imply that you should sod off because you might scare the stylish and influential people away.

At least, that's what you assume they're telling you, because they can't speak comprehensible English, even if they are English, which is unlikely.

Motor traffic here mainly consists of taxis transporting haughty-looking women; and sports cars capable of doing 175mph, which seems a touch irrelevant in central London. However, they can't go down the entire length of the two Bond Streets, no matter how much they paid for their vanity number plate, because of a barrier two-thirds of the way down. There's a neat cut-through for bikes here, though.

Monopoly's Bond St costs £320. What could this buy you there? Not much. A cheap pair of earrings, maybe. Anyway, if you're specifying budgets in mere hundreds of pounds, you're probably in the wrong place.

22 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 33: Community Chest 3 of 3

For the final C-chest we've selected From sale of stock you get £50.

I've never managed to sell any of my bikes, through eBay or any other channel, because they've ended up nicked, lost, abandoned in a college cellar, or run over by a builder's lorry while parked.

But eBay looks a pretty good way of turning an unused bike into cash. Because I've never seen a half-decent one go for less than it's worth. You think, aha, there's a Dawes Galaxy that must be worth five hundred quid, and it's only been bid two: I'll keep an eye on this... but in the final minute of bids, it ends up going for six hundred and fifty.

Conversely, I don't think eBay is a good place to pick up a bargain bike, especially if you don't get the chance to inspect it and try it first.

But then, where is a good place to pick a decent second-hand bike at a sensible price? All the shops I've seen in London that do used bikes don't do them as bargains. Getting a quality tourer second-hand is something I've been trying to do for years without success. So if you have one to sell, let me know, and for your sale of stock you'll get considerably more than £50...

21 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 32: Oxford St

Oxford St - an aching east-west mile-and-a-bit of footslogging from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road past bully-brand chains and character-free shops - is said to be Europe's busiest shopping street.

It's an old Roman Road, which explains its straightness - and atmosphere of battle. We don't like cycling along Oxford St at all. Though most of it is free from private cars, the rest is a narrow conduit for impatient buses and taxis which jostle with each other for the entire space between one set of traffic lights and the next.

You end up getting off and walking, only to find that the pavements are even more congested with pedestrians. There are bits of cycle parking here and there - not enough though.

The street is home to lots of famous retail names: Moss Bros, Selfridges, John Lewis, Debenhams, House of Fraser, HMV, Disney, Topshop, Primark, Gap Nike, Adidas, and possibly Britain's most recognisable city-centre brand, Closing Down Sale. Selfridges used to have a branch of Cycle Surgery inside it, but they moved out a few months ago.

There's quite a rivalry between Oxford St and Regent St's associations, apparently, reflecting the usual British preoccupations with lower (Oxford) and upper (Regent) classes. It's detailed in Tim Moore's very amusing book Do Not Pass Go, a trip round all the London Monopoly locations. And, unlike Regent St, Oxford St's site acknowledges bikes, with a page listing cycle parking opportunities (they claim 179 stands 'close to Oxford St' and list streets nearby with 358 more spaces). So you can imagine where my sympathies lie in the green-set battle.

Oxford St's Christmas illuminations are fun, and the best time to cycle is Christmas Day, as part of Southwark Cyclists' very sociable and popular 25-12 ride (they don't like to mention the C-word; bit of a touchy subject to some of us). Because, on this day and Boxing Day, there are no buses and very few taxis, making it the only time of the year when the street is actually fun to explore by bike.

Monopoly's Oxford St costs £300. What could this buy you there? With three hundred quid in your pocket - just a minute, I'm sure it was in this pocket - what the?... - you don't think it's anything to do with that dodgy-looking group of youths that jostled us as we were coming out of the tube station checking the map do you?... what d'you mean, you can't find your purse..? ...

20 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 31: Regent St

Every single building in Regent St's mightily grand three-quarters of a mile is at least Grade II listed. They're clearly keen to not to spoil the magnificent early-19th century streetscape by putting in, say, cycle parking.

The street runs north (one-way to begin with) from Carlton House (down near St James's Park) up past Piccadilly Circus, and crosses over Oxford St up to the BBC rocket-launcher at Broadcasting House in Langham Place. You're then only a peach-stone's throw from a picnic in Regent's Park.

It's a useful but often hectic cycle. You grapple with buses, taxis and cars desperate to get to that red light 50m away as fast as possible.

The street boasts such upmarket names as Café Royal, Hamley's, Dickins and Jones, and the Apple store. It's something of a shopper's parasite. Er, paradise. Every Christmas, the focus is on Regent St's famous illuminations, or if you're using a cheap digital camera like mine, on the back of someone's head in front of you.

Regent St has its own website, run by the Regent Street Association, with tips on how to spend the most money possible. Curiously, its 'Frequently Asked Questions' section omits 'Why isn't there any effing cycle parking'. No doubt the answer would be, We're fed up of telling people - there's no demand.

Monopoly's Regent St costs £300. What could this buy you there? It won't quite get you the cheapest iPhone (£342.50) from the Apple Store, which is a shame, as you can get nifty little apps for it that enable you to report potholes or post amusing pictures of bad cycle facilities to Twitter.

19 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 30: Go to Jail

If you've ever wanted to go to jail – perhaps so you could write a blog that briefly becomes a best-selling book with some risqué play on the word 'soap' in the title - it's no use trying to get there through a motoring offence. Drink-driving, speeding without insurance, even running over and killing one of those dangerous pavement cyclists - none of these are remotely likely to get you a custodial sentence.

No. A much more effective way of seeing the inside of a cell is to do something which genuinely threatens human life, such as taking a photo of cycle path or building site.

Tory MP Andrew Pelling was hauled in by vigilant local police while doing a bit of bike-facility reconnaissance on 30 December last year; at around the same time, but on a different point of the political compass, south London artist Reuben Powell was handcuffed and imprisoned while going about his job which involved photographically recording the changes taking place in the Elephant and Castle. (We chatted to Reuben about it later at one of his exhibitions, and his side of the story is very sobering stuff for those of who grew up with reassuring images of the trusty-local-bobby.)

Or you could try cycling along a deserted Bournemouth seafront - that seems pretty effective for getting free mailbag-sewing lessons too.

I did have a brush with the law while taking snaps of Rotherhithe Tunnel earlier this year. I was clearly planning to hijack it armed with a D-lock and bungees, and fly it into the Houses of Parliament. The process for avoiding going to jail in such circumstances is detailed in my post of 13 May.

I escaped with my DNA untaken. Which in a way was a shame, as it would have been nice to resolve that age-old query about my facial resemblance to mum's old driving instructor.

Obviously I can't publish any of the photos of Rotherhithe Tunnel that I took because they might help all those terrorists that subscribe to this blog. So instead, the picture above right is of a police car going about its duties of blocking a bike path to discourage cycling suicide bombers.

18 October 2009

Empty promises of the Mall on Sunday

Given all the (positive) fuss about Skyride last month (which I bang on about in the forthcoming December issue of Cycling Plus magazine, including 13 jokes and some obscure references to A-level maths) I was surprised that more people didn't point out that you can cycle traffic-free in central London every week.

Each Sunday, the Mall and Constitution Hill, running off from Buckingham Palace, are closed to motor vehicles, meaning you can swan up and down on a bike unassailed by traffic.

Make your own Skyride! Invite friends to come along and pretend to be marshals and tell you to stop doing whatever you're doing and ignore them! Have a picnic in St James's Park without 65,000 people all queueing for the toilet in front of you! Etc.

17 October 2009

Long and short of Docklands bike lanes

Well, only the short, actually. This bike lane is near the Museum of London in Docklands, though it's stretching a point to call it a lane when it's barely the length of a bicycle.

To paraphrase the old slogan for Anadin, 'Nothing is as effective than a cycle lane in London' - so why not use nothing instead. That'd be cheaper too.

16 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 29: Piccadilly

Stretching the best part of a mile from Piccadilly Circus to the edge of Hyde Park, Piccadilly is an imposing procession of upmarket stores, hotels and organisations.

But if you're heading for Fortnum & Mason's, the Royal Academy or the Ritz by bike, beware the one-way system that means you can only go eastwards on the eastern half.

(There is a bus lane going the other way and cyclists do use it, but really it's buses-only, and there's no convenient parallel route thanks to one-way impermeability.)

And if you are popping in for tea at the Ritz, the friendly doorman in the top hat will direct you to safe hotel bike parking round the side. (No, I didn't actually go for tea - you'll see why below.)

As with virtually every other Monopoly street in central London, there's not enough bike parking, as if nobody believes anyone could possibly be visiting the Royal Academy or shopping at Fortnum's by bike. Railings are pressed into service a lot, even when there are racks (as here).

Piccadilly is not a pleasant cycle. Its straightness and perceived width invites traffic to go fast. It's busy and hectic and not always logical, and its western end dives down into an underpass, which isn't very polite.

The street is, you suspect, like some of the people you see shopping in Burlington Arcade's superposh boutiques: rich and elegant, but ill-mannered and not very well brought up.

If you're heading on west to Hyde Park or the Albert Hall, use the crossing and enjoy the car-free route underneath Wellington Arch, home of London's most hurried crossing.

Monopoly's Piccadilly costs £280. What could this buy you there? You could get a decent hamper from Fortnum & Mason's. Not the best, obviously - the 'Dinner Party' one is £300, while their top edition is £500 - but you could snap up a 'Mayfair' hamper for £250 and still have almost enough left over for tea at the Ritz (£37 per person).

15 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 28: Water Works

We wondered what the best waterworks-based cycle experience would be. Cycling past Bazalgette's Cathedral of Sewage, perhaps, on the Greenway? But the Greenway's out in remote east London, and rather dull. There's little look at except the broken glass shards in the middle of the path, little to do except mend your punctures en route, and little to report except the youths who stole your phone while you did it.

Biking along the path of the New River in Islington? But there's not much to see from the saddle. Visiting the offices of Thames Water? Ermm, probably not.

So we decided on a slightly different sort of Water Works: the Thames Barrier (all pics), whose vast metal sluicegates first protected the capital from tidal surges in 1983.

Southwark Cyclists organised a visit last year and we were given a talk full of genuinely fascinating facts and figures. All of which I've forgotten, but the upshot is that it's a good job it was built, or else I'd be able to canoe to the shops several times a year. And I live on the first floor.

We also walked through the barrier's service tunnel to the other side - not open to the public of course - and noted that toting a folder down there would give you another way of cycling across the Thames, a theoretical addition to the crossings listed and described in detail in my series earlier this year. (Obviously, there's no way across the top.)

The Barrier has a visitor centre with cafe on the south side (right), a couple of miles beyond Greenwich on the glorious riverside cycle path that runs all along the south bank from central London to as far out as Dartford. It's a lovely day trip.

On the north side (above right), there's a park with an unprepossessing entrance just south of Victoria Dock and near London City Airport, but the cafe is good and stylish and it's another enjoyable biking destination.

Monopoly's Water Works costs £150. What could this buy you there? Probably best put the money towards your water bill. Should cover at least a month or so.

14 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 27: Coventry St

The short one-way street of Coventry Street, occupying only 100m from Piccadilly to the north of Leicester Square, is lined with tourist snares: Planet Hollywood, Ripley's Believe It Or Not!, Trocadero, and souvenir-tat places that sell postcards of royalty and snowshaker paperweights with London buses.

So the answer to the question 'how do you like cycling through Coventry St' is therefore 'as quickly as possible' - not easy given its signals-stirred traffic congestion, and lost tourists trying to find their way to Covent Garden with unsuitable maps.

Your escape route is right, down Haymarket, and then off to the bottom of Trafalgar Square. And there, whichever lane you're in, the taxis and buses think it's the wrong one.

Monopoly's Coventry St costs £260. What could this buy you there? With such a sum, given the price of accommodation in London, you could be a budget tourist for a day. Or splash out and visit to Believe It Or Not!, then buy a wodge of postcards of Lady Di and telephone boxes, a tea towel with the comedy rules of cricket on it, a village-pubbe-shaped ornament, a T-shirt saying 'I [heart] London', an overpriced burger 'n' fries, a visit to Mamma Mia!, and a bottle of unpleasant pub wine. And then try and work out if any of those things were actually made in England.

13 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 26: Leicester Square

There's no cycling in all-pedestrian Leicester Square, which doesn't allow vehicles. Probably just as well: it would be dangerous dodging the delivery lorries that ply the traffic-free piazza.

Steadily humming by day, the partying Square comes into its own by night. If you pass by it on Charing Cross Road in the small hours, for example, you'll see a noisy throng of bleary-eyed young foreign students blundering around, who have no idea where on earth they are: they're the people driving the bicycle rickshaws which give disgorged clubbers a novelty ride round central London. It would take quite a lot of recreational drugs to get me in the back of one of those things too.

No cycling there may be, but Leicester Square has some of the chunkiest cycle parking in London, more like village-green municipal fencing on steroids than normal racks (right).

You might be using these if you're buying cheap theatre tickets from the kiosk here, or if you're visiting the Square's Wetherspoon's pub Moon Under Water. It's named after George Orwell's 1946 essay listing the ten necessary ingredients of the 'perfect English pub'. These included the provision of mussels and liver-sausage sandwiches and absence of radio and piano, but unaccountably missed out proximity of cycle parking, and doesn't say anything about free provision of wi-fi.

Leicester Square to Covent Garden is said to be one of the most popular tube trips by tourists, even though the distance between them is the shortest between any two Underground stations: 260m. You can walk it, and certainly cycle it, much quicker. The standard non-Oyster tube fare of £4 evidently works out more expensive per mile than the Orient Express.

Monopoly's Leicester Square costs £260. What could this buy you there? Probably one evening's clubbing entertainment for two, finishing with a cycle rickshaw ride to an exciting part of London you've never seen before. Trouble was you asked to be taken to Charing Cross tube.

12 October 2009

Bike Monopoly 25: Fenchurch St Station

Hidden away corncrake-like in City back streets, crankingly audible but not visible, Fenchurch Street Station is the most obscure of London's mainline terminuses, and not even connected to the London Underground system. It also has surely the smallest concourse: my mum has made bigger sandwiches.

In fact, for many of us it's a surprise to find it actually exists. I'd never heard anyone mention it, and subsconsciously assumed it was destroyed in the war, or was the spurious result of some misread sign when Vic and Marge scouted London for locations to convert the US board to an English version in the 1930s.

From here, C2C (which I'd always thought was a coast-to-coast bike route) run services to East London and Essexy places such as Grays, Tilbury and Shoeburyness, like a rail network designed by aliens whose sole knowledge of earth came from Ian Dury albums.

They allow bikes on all non-rush hour services, which is good, but request that folding bikes be enclosed in a container or case, which raises the question of how you transport the container or case. You'll probably need a standard upright bike to do that. In which case you don't need the case.

There's no bike parking immediately outside the station, but there are some racks opposite the station in nearby Mark Lane.

Monopoly's Fenchurch St Station costs £200. What could this buy you there? You could get (by chucking in an extra tenner) a monthly season ticket between here and Basildon or East Tilbury, if you lived in this part of Essex. This is only a possibility, not a recommendation.