I recently visited London and Paris long enough to get a sense of what cycling is like there. In a word — sucky. But where is cycling pleasant in any big city?
I give the edge to London for accommodating cycling, as well as the number of cyclists. I didn’t see many cyclists on the busy Paris streets, although I saw quite a few in London, despite the traffic.
Paris had its share of women riders, strictly for getting around. London women seemed to be more committed based on the gear they were wearing.
Both cities offer bikes for rent, but London seems to have more bikes available, and they do get rented. I stayed near a London university and on weekdays most of the bikes were taken during the day.
I didn’t see any bike lanes in Paris, but I mostly visited the congested tourist areas. I stayed in Camden London where there’s a substantial residential contingent and bike lanes can be found.
London cyclists have access to local trains on the weekend and quite a few trains had riders heading out for a weekend tour southwest of London on the South West line. Designated cars can take a couple of bikes each, typically near the bathroom. Bikes on the subway? Laughable! Way too crowded.
From what I saw, there’s a fair amount of cycling activity around Portsmouth near the English Channel. Bike rental companies will be found here next to train stations. I visited the area around Wool west of Portsmouth and found some charming country roads.
It’s gently rolling hills at best, no steep stuff. If you like greenery, the rides here can’t be beat in summer months. This area is usually foggy but when I visited we had sunshine and puffy clouds, perfect riding weather.
Given the choice, I would take San Francisco over London or Paris any day. From San Francisco you’re minutes away from some world-class roads that beg to be ridden. You can even take BART. Around Paris and London you’re stuck with miles and miles of flat land and suburbs. Consider yourself lucky if you live in SF.