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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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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