Campaign For Harry Beck-Style Cycling Map

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 63 months ago
Campaign For Harry Beck-Style Cycling Map

Harry Beck's tube map diagram is one of the most iconic, and easily understandable, pieces of design in the world. Now there's a campaign to bring the same approach to cycle routes.

Cycle Lifestyle would like a simplified map of all London Cycle Network routes, produced together for the first time. Simon Parker has created the map you can see above, in central and greater London versions. The main problem is that, unlike being underground, you have to follow the route yourself, so there would need to be decent signage to indicate which coloured and numbered route you were on. The cost of this is thought to be around £500k – compared to the £140m cost over six years of the cycle hire scheme, that's nothing. Cycle Lifestyle suggest it could be covered by sponsorship.

This isn't a new campaign but it's been given a fresh boost by TfL's forthcoming Cycle Vision strategy (which, according to a load of press, was supposed to be published last November but we can't find any evidence of it). Thoughts, opinions?

Last Updated 03 January 2013


It could work. But rather than signage to go alongside the map, perhaps some third party could develop a cheapo bike-top navigator - a bit like a TomTom for bikes, but much simpler - which flashes appropriately coloured arrows corresponding to the map, when a turn is approaching. That way, your navigation is always in the same place (on your handlebars), rather than strewn along the kerb side on sign clutterage and road markings. All it would need is a GPS hooked up to some LEDs and some basic route software...but you could also build in a tracker, to help if the bike was nicked, or so you can record and check out your route at a later date.

Liz Almond

Hmm. Mixed feelings. On one hand I think it's sensible to try and link up existing superhighways and LCN routes to make a more coherent network, and as you point out, the cost is low compared with more complex infrastructure. But when I'm cycling I tend to consult a map before I set off (if it's an unfamiliar route) and navigate by existing road signs, which are large and easy to see, rather than the smaller LCN signs which often get lost among street furniture/visual clutter. My main hope, though, is that we can see the development of better cycling provision along main routes, rather than relying on circuituitous back-street routes!


I think the focus for the LCN should be, as you rightly point out, improving the signage. The roads the network covers are relatively quiet (albeit completely devoid of cycle infrastructure in places) and better signs would really help create a more visibly coherent network. The current signage is either woefully small/hard to spot or completely non-existent, which often leaves you having to resort to guesswork when bike logos disappear.

As a follow-up to improved signage, I'd like to see more connectivity between back road LCN routes (with decent infrastructure) and main, arterial routes, which would attract vastly greater numbers of utility cyclists than Boris' grand "superhighway" schemes (which are anything but "super"), which are fundamentally flawed because they a) don't take any road space away from motor vehicles and b) are therefore clearly pitched at a niche group of athletic male bike users.


Completely useless in my opinion. Unlike on the tube, you *need* to know the actual street layout while cycling! Money better spent elsewhere...


Why not do a fundraising round on

500,000 GBP is not a huge sum. There are plenty of projects that have raised much more than 500k on the site. With a bit of press (that would come naturally) it's a target that is very easily obtainable, then there there really are no obstacles for this to happen other than political will.

this is lemonade

Being too much of a wimp to cycle in Central London, I'm not qualified to add my opinion. So I'll just pin this thing of beauty. Love it. If it doesn't take off, I'd like a print please :)


I applaud the effort that's gone into this, but see it as something of a white elephant myself.

Simplified maps only work for way-finding on fixed routes. You don't need to navigate on the tube or train because the driver does on your behalf. On a bike you need all the information possible to aid your navigation.

As Carlton Reid rightly points out, there are already (several) apps on the market which do this.

There's also, in my eyes, a certain pleasure in getting a little lost the first few times you make a journey by bike. Not on a mission-critical journey to a meeting, granted. But on a weekend jaunt, yes.

That said, I agree with the other comments about improving existing signage. There are a lot of poorly marked routes, which often tail off in the most confusing section (residential areas).

Joe Peach

Improved signage would be fantastic, but 500k is a massive underestimation. We're talking about new signs on every single bike route in London!

John Bon Jailey

It would work if the signage was in place. I think the best way to implement it would be to paint labelled lines along the roads corresponding to the ones on the map. All this would require cost wise would be the equivalent of a single yellow line going on the distance of the route. That would be easy to follow and there wouldn't be the worry of missing a sign on the route. Lets face it, implementing it would be a pretty cheap experiment - if it works great, if not then at least you haven't spent billions on raised bike routes in futuristic tubes above the city that haven't quite worked out how you expected!

Ben, Cycle Lifestyle editor

Thanks Londonist for mentioning our campaign! A few comments from Cycle Lifestyle:

Re. SatNavs: The easiest way to appreciate the importance of proper signage on cycle routes is to consider what it would be like catching the Tube with a SatNav, rather than a Tube map and appropriate signage. In tunnels which all look alike, you'd be scurrying round corners and up escalators whenever your SatNav told you to. You couldn’t ask a fellow Londoner if you missed your turning, got confused, or got misdirected into the
proverbial field of cows; everyone else would know only what their instructions were telling them. And you’d have to be constantly vigilant – just in case there were further instructions. You’d be so disoriented you’d probably end up designing a Tube map. If users of the London Underground can have a proper map and signage, I don't see why London's cyclists shouldn't either.

Re. needing to know the road layout in order to use the London Cycle Map: Take a look at this map ( to see what streets the London Cycle Map routes are on. You would use this for planning the start and end points of your cycle journey. The principle is exactly the same as catching the Tube: you work out how to get onto the network, you work out how to get off the network, then you allow the
network to do all the navigating in between. Cycle Lifestyle's campaign is calling for the authorities to install signs and road markings to make the in between bit possible.

If you want any more info about the London Cycle Map Campaign, then check out Cycle Lifestyle's '100 reasons for a London Cycle Map':

Thanks again, Londonist!

Ben, Cycle Lifestyle editor

Oh, and re. 'circuitous backstreet routes': we hear that old chestnut a lot too. Backstreets can be just as quick as main roads, just as direct, much safer, and much more pleasant.

But the real point is, the argument about backstreets versus main roads is a distraction. What Londoners really want to know is that, for any journey, they can get from A to B safely and simply. By criss-crossing London with long straight coloured routes at a full range of angles throughout 360 degrees, the London Cycle Map shows how this safety and simplicity could be achieved - using a combination of the safest and most direct main roads and back streets in the capital.

To understand the brilliance of Simon Parker's map, it is necessary to understand his 'compass colours system':

This system is a genuine breakthrough in urban cycle mapping. It seems complicated on the surface, but the irony is that it would yield a stunningly simple journey planner. Cyclists could get from anywhere to anywhere in the capital by following just a few coloured routes.