What should cyclists consider when deciding where to live in Camden?
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Whether renting or buying, committed road warrior or nervous beginner, your cycling needs may not be a top priority when looking for your dream home.
However, there are some key considerations to bear in mind while house hunting, which could make life with a bike easier once you’ve moved in.
1. Is there somewhere to store your bike overnight?
A large proportion of Camden housing is made up of Victorian terraces, which have narrow entrances and lots of stairs. This can be particularly tricky for those who live in upstairs flats – lugging an unwieldy bike up flights of stairs without wrecking the paintwork is a near impossible feat, let alone doing it with bags of shopping.
It is worth finding out if your building has any communal outdoor space where bikes can be locked, such as a garden or railings.
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Bike thieves are not only interested in stealing whole bikes however, they often carry tools to steal saddles, wheels, handlebars or anything else they can manage to prise off your cycle.
To remedy this, on-street secure bike parking spots are being introduced by Camden Council, with the first installed on College Place. It is hoped that more of the Bikehangars, which have space for up to six bikes each and take up the equivalent of parking space for one car, will be installed across the borough.
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2. Can you cycle safely in the local area?
One of the biggest barriers facing people considering cycling in London is road safety. The capital has not performed well in this respect with high death and injury rates for cyclists and inhospitable roads making it intimidating for many beginners. Things are beginning to change but local councils’ cycling policies vary.
Angela Hobsbaum, coordinator of Camden Cyclists, has been cycling in London for 30 years. She says that the borough of Camden is very pro-cycling and believes that things are set to improve.
“In the next 10 years we’re going to see a revolution. With Camden council we’re trying to block rat runs and quieten residential roads: this is a boost both for cyclists and pedestrians.
“If I were moving house I’d also be thinking ‘can I cycle to my local shops, my doctor, the school?’”
3. Are there facilities for cyclists nearby?
The area is not well served by Barclay’s bikes, with the most northerly bike stands located at Castlehaven Road, Camden Town with 29 spaces. There is also a docking point at Charlbert Street in St John’s Wood and a few dotted around Regent’s Park.
Camden is well provided for cycle shops, with many long-standing and independent stores, as well as the usual chains focussed around Kentish Town and NW1.
Transition Kentish Town and Camden Cyclists also run free drop in bike maintenance workshops with tea and cake on the first Monday of each month at Kentish Town Health Centre where they will carry out basic maintenance and show you how to do it yourself.
Camden council offer free cycle proficiency training for beginners and more advanced riders, and for all ages from 10+, as well as families riding together and children with disabilities.
4. How will your commute be?
Ruth Evans, 29, who lived in Highgate when she moved to London from university 8 years ago, regularly cycled to her office in Bloomsbury. When she was first finding her way around London Evans used TfL journey planner a lot to find quieter routes.
“The cycle lane down through Camden was quite good,” she says. And she found there are added perks to the mobility cycling provides. “I’d often stop at a nice greengrocer on my way home, which you can’t do on the tube.”
Hobsbaum recommends the London Cycling Campain website for the best maps for cyclists. She also notes the borough’s existing cycle paths and those that are planned for the future. Royal College Street is about to be extended through Kentish Town, while the troublesome Swiss Cottage gyratory will eventually be improved with a Cycle Superhighway.
She also points out that routes that are heavily trafficked by cyclists tend to feel safer. The relatively high number of bike commuters in Camden should make riding to work less intimidating, especially for those heading into central London.
5. What about the hills?
Hills can be seen as a positive challenge or total drawback depending on how many gears your bike has, how fit you are and how sweaty you’re willing to be once you reach your destination.
Love them or hate them, Hampstead and Highgate’s hills aren’t going anywhere any time soon, so if you want to cycle in these areas it’s probably just as well to embrace them.
“On my first day out on my bike, I just remember seeing the whole of London stretching out in front of me,” says Evans. “Seeing that first thing in the morning every day was just amazing. It also meant that my (downhill) journey to work was really quick and easy. Plus, I’ve never been as skinny as I was then!”
Hills do not absolutely have to be approached head on. As Hobsbaum points out, “a little bit of walking won’t hurt you.
“People are also very good at finding marginally gentler gradients – you don’t have to power up Swain’s Lane, you can go up Mill Lane instead. Even a slight decrease in gradient will make a big difference.”