What is it like to cycle in London on a road bike?

We’ve looked at some of the best value for money road bikes, great road cycling routes near London and why you may want a road bike. A couple of commenters have asked about what it is like to ride a road bike around London. As I’ve been testing the Trek Madone 3.1 this would be a good opportunity to give my initial thoughts on both the bike and owning one in London.

Trek Madone 3.1

Sram Apex Chainset

Going from a £200 second hand hybrid bike to a £1300 Trek Madone 3.1 road bike was always going to be a huge leap. Fortunately, not in the difficulty of riding. Even a friend of mine who has not ridden a bike in 8 years was able to hop on the Trek Madone and ride without difficulties.

The main change is in the riding position. For someone going from the sit-up-and-beg position to get-your-head-down-and-ride it was always going to take a few rides to get used to the change. After riding with the Trek Madone I found myself missing the drop bars on my hybrid bike.

Tektro Brakes on the Madone 3.1

The Madone 3.1 uses the Tektro R540 calliper brake combined with the Shimano 105 STI levers. In practise this combination didn’t deliver as much braking power as I would have liked. Especially for riding around London. A place well known for cars swinging out of nowhere. However, an inexpensive upgrade to the stock pads is likely to make a big difference.

Whilst the Madone may struggle to come to a halt, it certainly doesn’t struggle to pickup speed. In a couple of unscientific tests around Regents Park I saw a jump in my average speed from 13.5 mph to just above 17 mph. In practise, riding this bike around central London, the difference is unlikely to be so dramatic due to all the stopping and starting. None the less, on longer rides such as from London to Brighton, this will make a huge difference to your time.

Trek Madone carbon frame

The speed boost can be attributed to a number of factors. The lightness of the bike means there is less weight to have to push around on your pedals, the riding position is optimised for speed and the higher-end wheels, combined with thin 23c tyres deliver better performance.

Overall, from my first few rides, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the Trek Madone 3.1. My full review will follow a few months from now.

The fear of locking up the Trek Madone and crossing my fingers that it will still be there when I return

Trek Madone 3.1 locked up in London

The Trek Madone 3.1 is unbelievably fun to ride. It is speedy, comfortable and looks great. However, those three factors also make it highly expensive and highly desirable. In other words: Highly attractive to thieves.

Take for example a recent summers day spent in Battersea Park. After a while lounging around we decided to checkout the food festival. It was time to leave the bike unattended but locked to the railings. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck.

Despite using the correct locking technique by securing both the wheels and the frame and using an excellent lock it was tough to leave such an expensive piece of kit out of my sight.

To calm my nerves there are a couple of things I could do. I could get my bicycle insured and I could also purchase lockable components. However, the bike is on loan from Trek for less than 12 months so such expenditures seem unnecessary.

If I was riding to work and leaving my bike in a secure garage then I’d feel far more comfortable. But that’s not my reality – my bike goes everywhere with me around London. This beautiful, expensive road bike is therefore relegated to the occasional use, when I know it will be in my sight. Ultimately, this is what would put me off riding one around London all the time.

Also from road bike week:

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17 Responses to What is it like to cycle in London on a road bike?

  1. el-gordo 02/09/2011 at 9:56 am #

    Probably a really stupid question, but I don’t ride a road bike at the moment (trying to source an affordable second hand one at present).

    In terms of riding position, you can obviously sit more up right with hands on top of the bars but I presume you need to go down on to the drops in order to brake and change gears. Given that you do a reasonable amount of both those things in central London, do you find that you spend most of your time down on the drop bars and/or switching position?

    I like the visiibility that the more upright position on my hybrid gives and there is normally enough other things going on without adding in a constant up/down (if that is what you have to do) movement as well. Just curious.

    • Woody 02/09/2011 at 10:19 am #

      most people spend most of their time on the brake hoods on a road bike, moving to the drops for sprinting or going downhill, and going to the tops (near the stem) for climbing or a change of hand position. the hoods on road bikes are shaped like handles these days, deliberately, and it’s much more natural to have your wrists rotated so your thumbs are ‘up’ than it is to rotate them so your hands are parallel with the floor, as on a flat bar. you can brake from the hoods, no problem.

      Andreas, I have no problem at all with my Trek 2.3 braking in London; it’s the same geometry as yours, aluminium rather than carbon, but it has 105 brakes and shifters, rather than the tektro callipers. May be worth an upgrade there if pads don’t do it for you?

      Also, a well-locked bike like yours, even if it’s desirable, is pretty safe in daylight. Never overnight though!

    • Denz 02/09/2011 at 10:48 am #

      A racing type bike does not really require you to go up and down the drop bars when shifting and braking. all those can be done whilst your hands are on the hoods (the brake lever). having said that, im talking about the more modern bikes with combined brake and shifting capability and not the older one with the gear levers placed on the frame. for me the only time I use the drop bars is when im going down hill but for most of the time its almost always on the hoods or the flat part of the bar.

      as for upright riding position on a racing bike, this can be adjusted by changing your stem to a much higher angle or buying a new fork and not cutting it too short (this is the much expensive way). by doing this you still have the benefit of having a drop down handle bar and still have an upright riding position.

      • Andreas 02/09/2011 at 11:04 am #

        I found I like the lower riding position so I spend much of my time there. But as the guys above said it’s easily possible to spend time on the hoods (didn’t know that term) if you prefer to ride slightly more upright.

  2. Alistair 02/09/2011 at 10:25 am #

    tip for locking yuor bike, you seem to have found some nice steel railings in the photo, but NEVER lock to old cast iron railings, they can be broken very quickly with a small hammer and chissel, and theives know which railings are particularly brittle,

    My mate will testify that the ones opposite the edinboro caslte in camden, can be smashed very easily.. I lost on outside the canonbury tavern a few years back as well.

    • Andreas 02/09/2011 at 11:06 am #

      Alistair – I didn’t really feel comfortable on the thin steel railings but couldn’t find proper bike parking.

  3. Gaz 02/09/2011 at 10:28 am #

    Your issues with coming to a halt quickly will probably be down to your hand muscles. Braking from the hoods requires different muscles to pulling on a brake flat bar hybrid bike.
    It just takes a bit of time getting used to.

    • Andreas 02/09/2011 at 11:05 am #

      Thanks for the tip Gaz. Perhaps I could also bring the pads closer. The Tektro brakes seem to be of a good quality so I doubt the problem lies there.

  4. Thirteen 02/09/2011 at 11:24 am #

    Regarding insurance, I have my road bike on my home insurance, which I also have set up to cover any review hardware I have in my possession (I’m a journalist in the tech sector). If I have anything worth over £500, I give my broker or insurer a ring and they add it immediately. It’s massively reassuring when going round London with a couple of thousand pounds worth of kit.

    • Andreas 02/09/2011 at 1:10 pm #

      That’s a good tip. I rarely handle things so expensive for this blog so I don’t know if it’s necessary. Would certainly give better peace of mind.

  5. el-gordo 02/09/2011 at 11:25 am #

    Cheers for the replies, very useful as this is all new to me. I am sure it will make sense when I actually get on the bike but it doesn’t appear that logical as to how you access brakes/gears when you haven’t ridden one before.

    One note about ‘proper’ bike parking, which may or may not have been mentioned on the site before, but beware of bike racks that are bolted to the floor rather set in concrete (more typically found off street at places like gyms etc rather than on street). One of my mates lost his expensive bike when they came along and unbolted the entire rack and lifted all the bikes on it in one go!

  6. 416expat 02/09/2011 at 11:30 am #

    I think it’s interesting that you’ve done the road bike route.

    When I moved to London I I brought two bikes with me – a Dutch-style utility bike, and a Trek 2100 roadie. In practise I never really used roadie. The Dutchie handled the bumpy pavement, constant starts/stops, and dampness with ease.

    Nonetheless I see many people doing the roadie thing in LDN & wish you the best of luck!

  7. Jelmer - Londen 02/09/2011 at 11:36 am #

    Thanks for this review of the Trek Madone, very interesting… I love to cycle through the royal parks, and I think this bike might be the right one to buy.

    I posted it on Digg, so my cycling friends can also read this review and might be interested.

  8. PaulR 02/09/2011 at 12:58 pm #

    I’m lucky enough to have two bikes. I have a good fast Hybrid that I use for commuting (and, if I go and see my parents in the country, a bit of off-roading if I stick some CX tyres on) and a lovely Pinarello (the rear wheel of which is worth far more than the whole hybrid) that I use mainly for weekend and longer distance rides.

    I love using the hybrid for commuting. The slightly more upright position gives me a much better view in traffic, as well as making me more visible. It has disc brakes which give me a huge amount of confidence (in reality the braking power is probably excessive for my needs, but it is the confidence they give me that is important). It has bar ends attached to give me some extra hand positions – i don’t think i could go back to having a flat bar without the bar ends.

    I’m in love with the race bike and do sometimes use it in and around the city, but it’s just not really as practical. The aggressive low position makes heavy traffic more stressful. The experience of riding it is a world away from the hybrid, so much faster in a way that just begs you to push it harder and makes you dream of long descents to fly down.

    In terms of bike security when out and about, I always use 2 gold rated locks and follow ‘proper locking procedure’, no matter which bike I use. Both bikes are fully ensured (be very careful when looking at insurance policies to make sure the cover is really adequate and practical), so it’s not really the financial loss that I am worried about. It is more the massive inconvenience and upset that would happen if the bike was piked.

  9. Ale 04/09/2011 at 10:32 am #

    I would put the speed difference down to your choice of tyres and wheels more than anything else.

    I have a very expensive (~2k) road bike, and a Daewoo hybrid which I paid £70 for about 10 years ago.

    Cycling across London, I actually manage about the same average speed on both, as I have some skinny tyres fitted on the hybrid, inflated to 100psi.

  10. dave 07/09/2011 at 1:06 pm #

    i have a road bike and a single speed commuter, the biggest pain using road bike through town is changing gears and if you’re new to clip in pedals going through traffic can be a bit shakey, not to mention clipping in and out the whole time. I love riding both but like to kept them a separate uses. Also i’d never leave my road bike locked up any where. the road comes into its own at speed when you dont have to stop every two seconds, but you always have to get through town to get to go where you’re heading.

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