Could London’s commuters turn to the motorbike?

Natasha Culzac
commuter 300x225 Could London’s commuters turn to the motorbike?

Commuters at Waterloo station (Getty Images)

Have you ever shoe-horned yourself onto the 8.19am Denmark Hill to Blackfriars train? It’s not pretty. If you haven’t, and yet you live in this great megalopolis, then you’ve more than likely embedded your limbs into some other unwitting passenger’s soft, memory-foam-like body, on one of the city’s other overcrowded train or tube routes.

With all that pushing and apologising, one’s thoughts do wander to alternative methods of getting into work. Seeing as walking is largely out of the question (and if cycling in sweaty Lycra really isn’t your scene), just how feasible is commuting by motorbike or scooter? Will a large portion of Londoners ultimately proclaim “enough is enough,” whilst disdainfully pulling an over-priced season ticket from a machine amidst the latest round of fare hikes?

Earlier this month the Motorcycle Industry Association reported an 8.5 per cent rise in new registrations for bikes between 51-125cc, during 2012. After completing Compulsory Basic Training (or ‘CBT’, colloquially), bikes with an engine size up to 125cc are incredibly cheap, not only just to buy but also to run. The MCI says that these increased sales figures can be traced back to the petrol price rises of early 2011.

In addition, the MCI noted that for the first time ever, the five best-selling bikes around the country were all 125cc or under. These included the Honda CBF 125 M; a smaller Honda NSC 110 WH; and the Yamaha YBR 125. Whether the top-selling five are indicative of a trend, we’ll have to wait and see. But it’s certainly not incomprehensible that during this age of cutbacks and above-inflation rises on everything but salaries, townspeople may be exploring their options and going for the cheapest-to-run one.

But is this the same for London? The figures provided by the MCI are national and cannot be broken down geographically. However, some London-based dealerships are noticing that things are looking noticeably bright: “During the recession in 2008, sales dropped off. However, we’re now back to pre-2008 figures,” says Reuben Anderson, director of London Scooters which is based in London Bridge. “Scooters are quite seasonal but even this time of year sales haven’t really slowed off at all. We get a lot of customers who live on the border of the M25 and a few from Kent and Essex. I bike 12 miles in to work and it takes me 25-30 minutes. It costs me less than £10 a week to do that sort of commute.”

commuter 2 300x225 Could London’s commuters turn to the motorbike?

Commuters at rush hour near London Bridge (Getty Images)

Money talks. With National Rail pledging fare hikes for the next five years to pay for significant network improvements, it’s the free parking for motorbikes in London (in all but Westminster City Council, who still charge just £1 per day) and the £16 per-year road tax for under 125cc’s, which makes the two-wheeler a very attractive prospect. That is all aside from the no Congestion Charge fee and the freedom to ride in bus lanes.

According to South-West London based BMG Scooters, the price of a single journey from Fulham Broadway to Piccadilly Circus on the tube is 20 minutes long and £2.30 with an Oyster card, whilst they say a scooter journey is 25 minutes and, a tad optimistically, £0.35. However, for those in Greater London, it’s often not the cost which attracts them but the cut to their average journey time. Sha Murni, who works in the city said: “Getting to work would take one hour 20 minutes on the train, as opposed to an average 42 minutes on bike.”

It’s not all hunky-dory, though, as many motorcyclists will tell you. Carrying around clunky all-weather coats and helmets can be a pain for the city workers used to only ever clutching a satchel. The dearth of parking spaces in some of the most popular spots, whilst often free, can cause irritation, and then there’s the over-whelming exposure to danger.

The Department for Transport’s latest annual report on road casualties reports a 10 per cent reduction in motorcycle fatalities in 2011 compared to 2010. This is also a 33 per cent drop from the 2005-09 statistics. Yet like most other road users, this does in no way guarantee relative safety and all due care needs to be taken. London’s road network is an eco-system. Like a Congolese jungle, different species of transport either work together or put up a fight. For motorcyclists, their relationship with other road users can be a tempestuous one.

Motorcyclist, Sha, said: “Pushbikes are the downside. Over the years I’ve seen an increase in pushbike users and the fact that they are using the same lanes as the rest of the traffic doesn’t make any sense to me. They create disturbance, delays and they increase the risk to themselves and others. Another thing, the traffic lights are not taking into account the timing of the traffic.”

It must be stated that motorcyclists are no angels either. However, for one motorcycle sales and hire company, business has been booming. “We’ve had two record Januarys on the trot. Sales have gone up 400-500 per cent compared to three years ago and they’re still maintaining that level – London dealers especially” said Greg Holland-Merton, director of Raceways Motorcycles. “For some of the ones out of town, the increases haven’t been the same, which is to be expected, really. For London shops, the year before was the same and so will this one. I see a bright future, sales have gone bananas.”

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  • johnheppell

    No cars will travel into London after the congestion charge is put on all but electric so motorbikes will be safer. The bigger point will be that if they are not then the trains will be so full workers will simply stop the commute – bye bye London economy within three years methinks/1

  • Hamish MacCallum

    Could have written this 25 years ago, I rode a motorbike everywhere in London back then (I’m in rural Australia now) and I can assure you traffic was bloody terrible back then, I can only imagine what it is like now. Its the only decent way to get around London and that has been for the last 25 years!

  • Guest

    I’d have to disagree with Sha – actually motorbikes but particularly moped riders can be a real hazard to ‘pushbikes’. It would be interesting to understand Sha’s experience in the ways that cycle riders cause ‘disturbance, delays and an increase in risk to themselves and others’. Moped riders who weave in and out of cycle lanes (I understand they’re allowed to use bus lanes but does this extend to cycle lanes?!) pay no attention to their mirrors and frequently try to crowd out cyclists at lights are a real danger. Perhaps Sha would like to lobby the government to provide some other ‘lanes’ for cyclists other than those that currently exist?

  • drg40

    Are you allowed to wonder if many of the people who travel to that pigsty called London every day aren’t merely driven by greed? I wonder why they think it’s perfectly acceptable to spend most of their “free” time trapped in a stinking tin tube?

    Of course, they could vote with their feet and seek a local job first, even if that did mean they couldn’t boast about how bad the traffic was, and how much their season ticket costs, how little they see of the wife and kids, how terrible the transport unions were and who they got plastered with on the train last night. Maybe they wouldn’t have anything interesting left in their lives to talk about?

    After all, if you add up transport costs, extra holiday or holiday home costs because you desperately need to get away from the cess pit whenever you can, the ridiculous cost of living in the great metrollops, add back in taxation and lop that lot off your salary expectations, never mind the value of being part of a gamily again, mayby London might suddenly be revealed as the sort of place reserved for Mr Goldmann and Mr Sachs

    It is true, offer a turkey an extra £5 and he’ll vote for Christmas, even if he has to spend £10 to go and collect his paltry bribe

  • plumplum

    Some years ago I always commuted to/through London on a BMW tricked up to look like a police bike. Stripes on the fairing and panniers. Worked quite well with the motorists who would always slow down as I came up behind and got a bit of a surprise when I went past or better still, stopped and took off my helmet.
    Got knocked over twice by London’s Finest Buses and decided enough was enough, somebody was telling me something. Never ridden since

  • peterc

    yeah watch the carnage begin pedal cyclists deaths up and soon will the new bikers become the next fatality .sorry the roads are too small ,only big enough for a car and everyone is too busy reading messages or applying products to notice a damn bike where did that come from ?what was that thump? oh well…. go up the a13 in rushour if you want to die tommorrow.

  • BeerKeg

    Great, I wonder how long it’ll be before congestion charging applies to bikes now then? Not only that but having to deal with the them on the road as well as all the cyclists at commuter time is going to be fun. Not.

  • fartyblartfast

    Nobody needs to cycle in sweaty lycra if they use an electric bike.

  • dribble

    nobody needs to cycle in ’sweaty lycra’ at all. Cycle in whatever you blimmin well like, there’s no law against it

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