Test cycling the Cycle Super Highway 6 Northbound

I have been looking forward to the opening of the CS6 northbound for the longest time, as cycling in Fleet Street or Holborn can be really awful.

When I read that it was open, I tried it as soon as I could!

The initial bit is still as it was the last time I rode there, a few months ago: mostly in good condition, except for the numerous manholes that can give you "a bit" of a bump if you catch them in the wrong angle (specially with smaller wheels like my Brompton).

The big novelty is that it then is no longer a temporary lane built of patchy tarmac, but a proper segregated lane, with hard divider and all. Although despite looking smooth, it feels really bumpy, as if they hadn't properly "rolled" it over, and then, also, BAM! out of nowhere comes a strange ramp and suddenly you find yourself towering over the cars on your right.

It's like riding on a podium, and it's very strange. I've no idea what the point of this sudden elevation is, but I am intrigued. Perhaps there are some utilities that need preserving? Who knows!

After going under the viaduct, the lane branches towards the right, but it was not obvious to me that it actually continued towards Farringdon (either the signalling is missing, or I missed it), so I left the lane and merged with cars earlier than I should have. I find this bit quite stressful because vehicles are really keen to get into Farringdon Street before cycles do, and there's only so much space on the lane. I wish they'd understood it takes some time to get to speed when you start cycling from zero after you've stopped on the traffic light...

The CS6 actually does not continue all the way up to Farringdon Road: once in Farringdon Street, you need to turn left and then right to Saffron Hill. This is not obvious at all (specially when you have impatient vehicles roaring behind you) and it took me several attempts to figure out how to stay in the CS6 to enjoy the "super highway".

Attempt #1 - via Clerkenwell Road

The first time, I continued ahead to Farringdon Street.

There's improvements when you turn left on Clerkenwell Road. The road seems to have been resurfaced, which is nice because it was a collection of potholes and patches of variable quality.

A couple of pedestrian islands seem to have been removed, and I have mixed feelings about this—I do like islands as a pedestrian, but they make me stop as a cyclist, which I dislike when I'm going uphill like in this road.

All in all, this segment is very smooth now, and (without even trying) I was three seconds faster than the last time I cycled this way, as I was actually pretty tired and cycling somewhat slowly.

But I wasn't really enjoying much of the CS6 route because I left it early. In addition, I wanted to avoid the Clerkenwell Road / Gray's Inn Road area. So the experiment had to be repeated.

Attempt #2 - not branching off early, and continuing to Farringdon Road

The next day I repeated this route, continuing all the way north until the end of the lane.

There's a semaphore for cyclists, and it turns green marginally earlier than the semaphore for motor vehicles, but not for long enough: when you're halfway the junction, vehicles are almost exiting it already. I propose to TFL this 'marginally' should be longer. Give us more time to get out of danger!

I think of this specially because the cycle lane can accommodate two cyclists in parallel, and you can get into a situation where two cyclists start in parallel when the traffic light turns green, but then are chased by a manic van which really wants to get ahead first and is revving like it is the end of the world (only to stop at the traffic light 20 meters later).

Past the Clerkenwell Road junction, I continued all the way up Farringdon Road. It's hilly, but somewhat gentle, and there's a mandatory cycle lane for a good portion, which makes the hill bearable as you don't have to cycle right behind a vehicle while it gives off fumes in your face.

Eventually I turned left to Cubitt Street which joins with —I realised— the CS6 again! So I wondered: where has the CS6 been all this time? I thought I was on it all this time!

Attempt #3 - researching, and turning left on Greville Street

So I searched on the Internet. You'd expect this to be very obvious information, but it isn't super easy to actually find a map that tells you "here is the route you should follow".

The page for the CS6 on TFL's website has a link to a PDF map (A PDF MAP!!! WHYYYY???) which is not what I would expect in 2018. I'd expect a website with a map that I can interact with, and the route overlaid on top, but what I get is...

CS6 map

The PDF is too grossly oversimplified to use it to plan a route. It doesn't tell you:

  • which street you need to turn left to in order to get into the actual Saffron Hill (Greville)
  • and that then you also have to turn right
  • and that it is full of pedestrians (which we don't want to run over)
  • also that it's not as wide as Farringdon Road, but a series of backstreets with painted bike signs on the road, plus a lot of vans and other vehicles using it as a rat run 😒

Google Maps is really funny because it doesn't even know that there's a cycle route, and it suggests you take the route I took first (up Farringdon Road). It won't even let you edit the route to get into Greville Street; I guess TFL haven't shared the new cycle route data yet? I had to switch to 'walking' to get it to render the CS6 route!

Saffron Hill section

Then what looks very simple on the PDF turns out to be a lot of street junctions that you need to be stopping at and looking at with suspicions, lest a crazy vehicle show up from nowhere.

In contrast, the non-CS6 Farringdon Road route has less junctions, is more straightforward, and there's less up and down of hills, just a persistent gentle up hill and the down hill around Mount Pleasant, while the CS6 route feels like a rollercoaster.

Farringdon Road: 2 m up, 1 m down

Farringdon road elevation

CS6: 13 m up, 12 m down

Saffron Hill elevation

Also! The CS6 section behind the Mount Pleasant mail centre is a wasteland of construction works, full of trucks, dust and temporary signs all over, and I hated cycling that bit.


✅ The segregated lane from Fleet Street to Farringdon street feels safe, even if it's strangely bumpy.

❌ I'm not impressed with the Saffron Hill section of the "super highway". It feels more like a deprived 'quietway' than a 'highway', let alone a 'super highway'.

Also, it feels very awkward—naturally you'd want to keep going in the same direction you're still going, not stop once you've got momentum and negotiate people and vehicles for almost a hilly mile.

What would feel better is a proper segregated lane all the way up to Cubitt Street (not an intermittent discontinuous lane with the occasional ASL).