Bike vs London Underground

the stig on underground What is faster – the London Underground or a bicycle?

Video included at the end of this post

Everyone can remember the excellent Top Gear episode where Richard Hammond travelled by bike to London City Airport and beat his co-presenters who between them used a car, a boat and public transport. It made for a thrilling episode and was a great victory for all those who support cycling.

I however wanted to take this experiment a little further and try it out in some popular destinations in London you or I may travel to daily to see which of the two might win.

I made the test as fair as possible by starting and ending the journey standing on the same spot. For tube route planning and estimating journey times I used TfL’s journey planner. Above ground I used Bike Route Toaster to plot a suitable route. I then exported the data to my iPhone which is mounted to my bike using the Bicio bike mount.

Predicted times

According to TfL’s planner the journeys should take:

  Tube Bike
Swiss Cottage to Covent Garden 21 minutes 23 minutes
Covent Garden to London Bridge 19 minutes Not available
London Bridge to Mornington Crescent 18 minutes 23 minutes

 

On the tubeFirst up: The tube

I won’t go into too many details of the tube journey because it will be about as thrilling as walking down a staircase. Which incidentally made up a large part of it. My highlight was helping an old lady get her bag down the stairs. The low point was getting squashed on a crowded central line.

Second: By bike

Bike lights in London As a self proclaimed cycling enthusiast I of course was far more excited by the prospect of going by bike. I cycled up to Swiss Cottage, hit the stopwatch and off I went.

Unfortunately the beginning of my journey was marred by some technical problems with the iPhone where the app showing my route kept quitting on me. Not being a big fan of fiddling with an iPhone whilst dodging shuttling tons of metal flying past me (commonly known as buses) I decided to figure out the route myself. This of course resulted in going completely the wrong way. I arrived at Covent Garden and noted down the time.

Then it was off to London Bridge. I arrived and had a short rest and a chat with a friendly bike messenger. I wondered if he knew what the London underground is. Finally it was off to Mornington Crescent. I was on familiar ground but knew there was about 20 traffic lights between me and my destination. Upon arriving to Mornington Crescent I noted down my time.

What is faster – a bike or the tube?

Before the results, I just wanted to say that my cycling was fast but not erratic and was done on a pretty standard Marin Hybrid bike wearing normal clothes. Any walking etc on the tube was done at a brisk pace but not so much so that I was knocking over kids onto the tube lines for the sake of saving a few seconds.

As you can see from the predicted times I mentioned earlier the result should be neck and neck. Needless to say I was very surprised when I totalled up the times.

  Tube Bike Difference
Swiss Cottage to Covent Garden 28 minutes 19 minutes 32% less on bike
Covent Garden to London Bridge 22 minutes 13 minutes 40% less on bike
London Bridge to Mornington Crescent 30 minutes 22 minutes 27% less on bike

 

The bike was on average 33% faster. Someone could therefore save 1/3 off their travel times or in the case of these journeys nearly 30 minutes!

The second big surprise was how inaccurate the TfL journey time predictor is. My guess is it doesn’t calculate the time required to get down to the tube and back out again.

The funny thing with this test is that it doesn’t include the walk to the tube station which would obviously add more time. It also doesn’t consider the extra time I could reduce the bike journey by actually being familiar with the route.

It was an interesting experiment and I would like to repeat it on some other routes to see what the results are. What sort of things have you guys noticed when you do a journey on the tube and then on a bike?

Here is a video clip of the experiment:

 

See also:

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47 Responses to Bike vs London Underground

  1. VvV 05/01/2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Wapping to Covent Garden/Oxford Street/Soho/leicester square

    Public transport = 40mins
    Bicycle = 25 mins in bad traffic cruising along

  2. tim 05/01/2010 at 12:52 pm #

    did you do station to station searches, or address to address? i think if you use postcodes/street addresses it calculates the walking time. another good reason to keep on the bike through the rough weather though

  3. Andreas 05/01/2010 at 12:54 pm #

    I used station to station in the searches yes. Only downside to the cycling was the cold I felt when I first set off, I opted for my fingerless gloves and that was a major error!

    VvV – another big victory for the bike there!

    P.S. the song in the video is by Air from Moon Safari

  4. emma 05/01/2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Just plugged the journey I did by bike (for the first time) last night into TfL’s journey planner – our office in central London to Surrey Quays Shopping Centre. TfL gives the time for the journey – door to door, including transfer times – as 45, 48 or 55 minutes, depending on your route. I’m not a fast rider, nor am I on a particularly light bike, and I got lost and had to guess at the route, and it took me 30 minutes door to door.

  5. Dawn 05/01/2010 at 1:42 pm #

    TfL’s cycling calculator is so innaccurate – it claimed my daily commute (Clapham to Docklands) would talk 100 minutes on bike, when it actually takes 50 minutes (about 12 minutes quicker than the tube & DLR), and I tend to err on the side of cautious speeds. Others in my office won’t try cycling because “it would take too long”, and I must admit, if I’d just checked TfL’s times, I’d have been put off too.

  6. Balint 05/01/2010 at 1:43 pm #

    A couple months ago I did a similar experiment: http://cyclephotos.co.uk/2009/07/cycling-through-london.html . The focus was a bit different, however: I wanted to know how much difference it makes if you push the pedals really hard or if you just cycle casually. Riding fast was around 15% faster but in that case I looked and felt like I completed a stage of the Tour De France.

    And the comparison between the tube and the bike? The bike won, hands down, in every aspect.

  7. Griff 05/01/2010 at 1:49 pm #

    Haven’t done it for a while, but New Barnet to Picadilly Circus- 40 minutes by bike, 75 by car (if you’re lucky). I’d imagine that if TfL’s times included all the walking up and down stairs etc, a lot of people would walk the whole route. You see a lot more above ground.

  8. MarkA 05/01/2010 at 2:07 pm #

    I think the trick here is to compare journeys door to door (ie from your house in Swiss Cottage to your desk in Covent Garden, or whatever) – the bike usually wins. The Tube is fantastic, but times get very slow as soon as you have to change lines – have you ever changed trains between Bank and Monument? It’s like a two mile walk in tunnels underground…

    Last Sunday by better half and I had a little race of our own – me on the bike, b/h on the number 8 bus from Bow to Bethnal Green. We set off from the bus stop at the same time and I got there a good 5 minutes earlier and £1.20 richer.

    I’m always surprised that cycling isn’t more popular south of the river as finding a tube train there is like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack…

  9. Matt 05/01/2010 at 2:08 pm #

    I travel from Crouch End to Blackfriars. When taking public transport it involves a short walk to the bus (5 mins), a bus to Finsbury Park (variable), Victoria Line to King’s Cross (variable), Circle or Met Line to Farringdon (variable) and a 10 minute walk down to Blackfriars. This typically takes 1HR + door to door. When riding my bike my commute is only 30 minutes (no variables)! I am fairly fit so ride at a good pace but a savings of 50% makes it worth it even in the worst of weather. Not to mention the dosh I save by pedalling my way in.

    Bikes win on every aspect (bar safety I suppose)

  10. Joe 05/01/2010 at 2:09 pm #

    Hackney Wick > Shoreditch:

    Public transport: 40-50 minutes
    Bike: 13 minutes

  11. Mike 05/01/2010 at 2:10 pm #

    What about arriving to your destination in a sweat with the bike? What do you guys do to limit that? Do you bring a change of clothes wherever you go?

  12. obviously slow 05/01/2010 at 2:15 pm #

    I just put my journey into TFL’s calculator. Notting Hill Gate – Oxford Circus. I currently ride and it takes me just under 30mins, I ride pretty quick, but mostly stop for lights etc.

    TFL says the journey would be (walk-tube-walk) 39mins
    and by bike 22mins!! how come it takes me 27-30mins? Im gonna have to modify my route

  13. Mark 05/01/2010 at 2:15 pm #

    Barnes to Soho:

    walk + train + tube + walk = 50 minutes
    bike + change of clothes = 40 minutes
    bike + shower = 50 minutes

  14. Claire 05/01/2010 at 2:24 pm #

    I do the Shepherds Bush – Canary Wharf slog. Along main roads at a pretty stiff pace and doing it on the bike is definitely faster, and I much much prefer it to the germ filled tube trains.

    On the way home, If the cross wind is too strong for my Wilier and it’s wheels coming up from Limehouse to Embankment, I take the Clipper up the river which takes a while but it virtually empty and there’s tons of space for the bike. Plus if it’s really cold, you can get a hot chocolate on the boat!

    Mike – I’m really lucky in that we have bike racks, lockers and great showers at work. In the morning I throw on my bike kit and have a clean shirt etc in my rucksack. We’re lucky , I know.

  15. Caitlin 05/01/2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Willesden Green to Euston= 35-40 min by tube, 30 cycling. I don’t find a huge benefit in the time saved, but saving £4.60 a day by cycling definitely makes it worth it to do it as often as I can (weather permitting)

  16. Caitlin 05/01/2010 at 2:34 pm #

    Also- I find TFL’s walking time estimations to be wildly inaccurate- they say it takes about twice as long as it takes me at a leisurely pace.

  17. Callum 05/01/2010 at 2:44 pm #

    West Ealing to Westminster requires a bus to Ealing Broadway then the District line to St James’s Park, then a five minute walk. On a good day it takes around 55 minutes. On an average day, cycling takes me no longer than 50. And more importantly, it doesn’t cost me upwards of £7 in peak time..

  18. Nico 05/01/2010 at 2:46 pm #

    That’s why I take a motorbike… waaay faster than both forms.

  19. Andreas 05/01/2010 at 3:16 pm #

    @Griff I think TfL should quote the accurate times so people can start doing fair comparisons. I’ve always felt bit let down by the fact it tells you you’ll be there in 10 minutes but really it means 15 or 20
    @MarkA good to hear you found the same thing as me! Now if only I can start using my bike for going on nights out then cycling back.
    @Matt, knowing exactly what time your going to get there is another huge bonus I agree
    @Mike if you don’t pedal hard I think you’ll find yourself not sweating. Obviously its nice to be able to grab a shower at the destination but not always essential
    @Joe and @mark, thanks for sharing the times
    @obviously slow, checkout some speedy cycling tips
    @Claire, my office had those facilities too, it should definitely be the standard at all big companies
    @Caitlin, have you tried walkit.com?
    @Callum – Money well saved ;)
    @Nico – if you can afford it ;)

  20. Oliver 05/01/2010 at 5:09 pm #

    you can actually include walking times with tfl journey planner if you use postcodes instead of stations – all you need are the postcodes of where you live and where you work! hopefully everyone knows these….

    My journey comparison, using my postcodes and guides from TFL(i.e., door to door), Stockwell to London Bridge:
    Tube: 39 mins
    Cycle : 23 mins
    Bus: 46 mins (on a good day!)

    These include (rough) walking times from my house. My ride usually takes about 25mins – I avoid the main roads and even go at a fairly leisurely pace. I’ve never looked back…

  21. Steve 05/01/2010 at 6:13 pm #

    I cycled from Liverpool St Station to my friend’s house in Shepherds Bush, whilst my friend took the Central Line direct and then a short bus. I followed the same route above ground, and won by about 30 minutes. That said, I was pushing it hard all the way, which was pretty stupid along Oxford Street with the thousands of pedestrians not looking before stepping out. Lesson learnt.

  22. thereverent 05/01/2010 at 8:04 pm #

    My journey to work from the north end of brixton to my office near liverpool street takes 45mins on the the tube (Oval to Moorgate) with walking at each end. On a bike its 25mins if I cruise it, 20 mins if I put some effort in.

    I normally don’t need a shower at the end as I don’t get that sweaty, and in the summer when its hot you only get as sweaty as going on the Nothern line. At the moment its not a problem!

  23. thereverent 05/01/2010 at 8:07 pm #

    My housemate and I had an idea for doing a split screen video of a race across london (bike v tube). I just need to buy an action cam this week.

  24. Peter 05/01/2010 at 9:07 pm #

    I cycle from Twickenham to Farringdon and it takes me about 45 minutes (compared to TFL 1:20) where the train/tube takes 1.25 hours on a good day.

    In addition, I come out a much happier person at the other end and it helps keep up the training miles, did about 6000km last year and trying for the same this year as a new years resolution :-)

  25. Andreas 05/01/2010 at 9:23 pm #

    @Steve, another great victory for cycling, but definitely best to avoid oxford circus wherever possible
    @thereverent, good point about getting sweaty on the tube too. I never feel too fresh after getting off the tube. That is a fantastic idea for a video, if you do it make sure you send me an e-mail and I’ll post something up about it.
    @Peter, That is a decent bit of daily cycling. Keep up the new years resolution ;–)

  26. George 06/01/2010 at 9:38 am #

    This morning I reckon the bike beat the tube hands down. Barnet to Bank took me 5 minutes longer than normal by bike. The absence of my colleagues from the office suggests other transport rather more affected.

  27. thereverent 06/01/2010 at 9:52 am #

    @Andreas
    Will let you have the link when we have done it. Hopefully as soon as it warms up a bit!
    Was thinking Brixton to St Pauls or Kings Cross for the first one.
    Any other sugestions for routes (starting in South London) which might be good are welcome.

  28. Adam Edwards 06/01/2010 at 12:30 pm #

    You can of course mix both if you have a folding bike. For three months last year I was doing Hatfield to Chancery Lane riding my Brompton at both ends. In London it was by far the quickest way to work as tube involved two lines. Perhaps more significantly a London Terminals monthly ticket was £103 less than a Zone 1 travelcard, so you can afford a new Brompton every 8 months on the saving.

    Cheers
    Adam

  29. Andreas 06/01/2010 at 3:04 pm #

    @George – been calling round a few bike shops today and not a lot of them seem to be answering. Guessing the weather has taken out even some of the hardened cyclists (Or just people that looked out the window and though “Day in bed!”
    @thereverent, Brixton to St Pauls is a good journey. Other than that… Brixton to Nottinghill gate?
    @adam, I like to work it out that way aswell. It’s not long before you can afford some pretty awesome bikes! Especially with the price hikes recently

  30. Lankystring 06/01/2010 at 7:20 pm #

    I’ve compared the times between Brixton and Liverpool st and even with tinned of red lights!! The bike was quicker !

  31. James D 07/01/2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Does TfL’s cycle planner pay any attention to topography yet? For instance, I’m sure I could do Highgate to Archway in half the time of Archway to Highgate (or maybe I’m just horribly unfit). In fact somewhere-to-Highgate would be a very interesting bike/tube race.

  32. Headhunter 07/01/2010 at 4:04 pm #

    I always beat public transport on my bike. I often end up having drinks in London Bridge area with my housemate before cycling back to Brockley SE4. He takes the train 2 stops. I always get back before him. If it’s a journey from north London to Brockley I often have time to get back, shower, change and watch some TV before he gets back after using the Tube and train.

  33. Gary 21/01/2010 at 10:15 am #

    A good article.

    I am a great believer in the Tube Network but it can be very crowded, especially during the rush hour on the Central/Northern and Jubilee line, and then you add the tourists and people generally milling around it can make for a very unpleasant journey.

    Travelling around London, inside the congestion zone, is by far the quickest method of travel, even in very busy traffic and in any weather.

    I think one of the best ways to travel around London if you live outside the zone it to train it in to one of the major stations and then use your bike.

    Travelling by bike around the tourist spots is fantastic and you definitely see much more and I think get much more out of your day.

    All in all, a very good article mate and I think one that proves the cyclist is top of the food chain when it comes to travelling around London.

  34. Higgs 06/03/2010 at 12:06 am #

    I used to commute on the tube but have switched to cycling, mainly for the exercise.

    While it is faster door to door (about 10 to 15 minutes on a 50 minute tube commute – that tends to be lost though to having a shower) the real benefit is not spending time going to the gym. Factoring that in I save my self another 3 hours a week , the gym sub and commuting costs.:)

  35. Stephen 13/03/2010 at 1:20 am #

    TFL journey planner is not the word of God afterall.
    I have a friends who is always saying TFL “lied” to them as to the time it would take to get here or there.
    Some people have no concept of probability let alone approximate timing.
    I blame the Internet.

  36. Tim 12/04/2010 at 11:40 am #

    I just checked the TFL site for my route- 36mins, I am doing it in 32min (Islington to High St Ken). But I checked their route andits much more complex than the one I use. Which worries me that I am not going as fast as I should be!!

    Tube time – 35min.

    • Andreas 12/04/2010 at 3:07 pm #

      As long as you are beating the tube it’s all good! Remember it is tough to go fast in London with all the traffic lights.

  37. arjun 17/04/2010 at 8:12 pm #

    Great to see that the bike won!

    I have a question regarding kids bikes on the underground. My 7 year old son is an avid cyclist – he rides 18 inch wheel cycle. I have a folded bike – but he doesnt. Does anyone know whether a kids bike has the same harsh restrictions suggested for non-folding bikes at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/11701.aspx ?

    We cant ride the full distance – a bit too much for the little one — so need to use the tube in between :-(

    Or does anyone know of people who make folding kids bikes?

    • Andreas 18/04/2010 at 10:28 am #

      I would think they would be restrictive about kids bikes on the underground in the same way as an adults unfortunately. Even if you collapsed the bike I still think they get a bit ansy about it. I think your only option might be as you say to get a kids folding bike if you are needing to travel distances on the underground :(

  38. emma 07/05/2010 at 7:36 pm #

    north islington to canary wharf –

    tube – an hour, if you’re lucky
    bike – 40 min + 15 min (on the way there) to find somewhere to lock my bike, shower and change of clothes

    following the canal when it’s light, cycle routes and via hackney when it’s not. On a folding danon, I’m not slow, but nor am I speedy. A gorgeous way to wake up or unwind

  39. Alex 04/06/2011 at 7:48 am #

    Only a short one this: south islington to euston square (3 miles)….15 mins by bike….30 mins by bus (if you’re lucky)…..30 mins by tube by the time I walk to the station and go down the longest escalator ever (Angel).

    Bike wins easily and is far more fun!!!

  40. bus tours 17/04/2012 at 5:48 am #

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  41. kocaali 06/07/2012 at 5:47 am #

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    • bikefiend 10/06/2013 at 1:21 pm #

      I commute from old street to Greenwich using the greenwich foot tunnel by bike usually means that i reach it at the same time as the using the underground and dlr or a bit more . Which even though not faster means that biking it is helluve a lot cheaper.

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