Urban cycling: Property pedal power

With urban cycling booming, savvy landlords and developers need to start paying attention to the demands of a new breed of flat-dwelling commuters. Kate Burt reports
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The Independent Online

In Tokyo, cycling residents can stow their wheels in futuristic-looking, 6,000-capacity underground bike parks which stow cycles in a vast subterranean carousel at the touch of a button. In Rotterdam, secure spaces can be rented in lockable sheds on the street, while in the US city of Portland, bikers can get the council to install a rack outside their house, free of charge.

And here – where the numbers of people cycling, thanks partly to concerted Government efforts, have risen dramatically, by as much as 107 per cent in London, since 2000 – what do urban cyclists get? Cluttered communal hallways, three bikes deep; landlords ranting about the resulting fire safety hazard; the hassle of humping your racer up three flights of stairs; several sets of wheels residing in the kitchen. Owning a bike in any metropolitan part of the country – in other words, where you're unlikely to have the bike-friendly convenience of a detached house – can be a nightmare.

But city cyclists are starting to rebel – and landlords and vendors may want to take note. James Jackson, a 35-year-old IT support engineer from east London, is flat-hunting, via rental website, Spareroom.co.uk. He also commutes seven-and-a-half miles to work on his bike every day: accordingly, his room-hunting profile specifically requests cycle storage, something which – according to SpareRoom's Matt Hutchinson – an increasing number of users are beginning to do in their profiles "especially in the bigger cities".

Another flatshare website, Easy Roommate.co.uk , after a user survey revealed 54 per cent actively wanted bike storage, has this month, added "bike storage" to its tickable criteria.

"I'm living on the ground floor of a block of flats," explains Jackson, a member of the growing group of young commuters taking to their bikes. "My bike, and my flatmate's bike, live in our large hallway." Jackson considers himself lucky – he can comfortably wheel his in and out of a weatherproof and very secure parking space. In a city where terraced houses and flats are the norm, it's a luxury. One that property hunters now seem to be valuing in monetary terms. "I would definitely be prepared to pay, say, £50 a month more for a flat but with good bike storage," continues Jackson. "In fact, I've just turned down a lovely place because, although there was space in the flat to store a bike, access would have been difficult: it was a basement and the stairway was really narrow, with two 90-degree turns. Too much hassle, not when it's something I do every day."

This underlines a significant factor behind the burgeoning bike-aware property market. It's not just that cycling has become more popular; more people than ever are relying on bikes to commute, rather than just weekend pottering – in the capital, one-third of bike journeys are now made to and from work, say Transport for London. It means easy-access is a big deal, but also that bikes are becoming more valuable to their owners, making security even more desirable. More people also own more than one bike – one for the road and one for leisure; so there's more storage per person required, too.

"There are still some areas where car parking is more important," says James Hyman, partner for residential sales Cluttons, in London. "Docklands or Chelsea, say, where residents tend to keep expensive cars. But in greener areas like Islington, bike storage has become a regular request. In fact, we now highlight it in our property details – something we've only recently begun to do." Stephen Ludlow, of the residential estate agency, Ludlow Thompson, agrees: "We're receiving more enquiries from young cycling professionals about semi-detached houses, which have a path to the rear garden providing easy access."

But it's not just in London: the CTC, the national cyclists' organisation, reports that cycling is up in parts of Darlington by 79 per cent, and in the county of Avon by 24 per cent. And, in 2008, Bristol was the first UK city to be awarded "Cycling City" status (meaning a £22.8m investment from the Government to help increase the use of bikes). Atif Javid of Bristol's Intire Lettings says the cycling trend has even altered which areas are popular. "The most desirable area is now the four-mile radius around the city centre," he says. "That wasn't always the case; previously people wanted to live further out, with more space, and commute into the city – but with heavier traffic journeys are long. In town, with ever more cycle tracks and routes in town, commuting by bike is really easy."

Jai Breitnauer, a writer from Bristol, backs this up. "We bought our house in 2007 because it was close enough to Bristol city centre to make cycling an option. We paid £187,000 for a two-bed terrace with no frontage, no parking and just a small yard, when we could have got a three-bed semi with front and rear garden, private parking and garage up in north Bristol. Where we live is on a cycle route directly into town, there's a path into the Mendips and we also live very close to some baby mountain bike tracks and good family cycling paths. Our son's Christmas pressie was a trike."

But as a vendor, home-owner or landlord, what are the challenges to making an urban property bike-friendly? Trevor Parsons, Hackney branch co-ordinator of the London Cycling Campaign, ran a pilot project, HomeBikePark, to find out. It took six different types of residence and installed a variety of cycle storage options. "On one estate," explains Parsons, "we converted former pram sheds, while in another we reconfigured a one-time drying room to store up to 27 bikes." Though there were concerns that, with so many bikes, the risk of theft was greater. "It only takes one bad apple to be careless," he says. So what are the options for smaller residences? "A bike bunker in the front or back garden can work well – but planning permission is a grey area, so do consult neighbours. We used a three-bike one by a company called Trimetals – £429 to buy and install. Pulley systems – around £25 – are good for cramped hallways, but ceiling height can be an issue and they need careful installation. Space under staircases can also be made the most of with vertical wall-hangers.

HomeBikePark was a one-off, with limited funding but Parsons continues to work at raising awareness of the issues: "Our project's aim was to prove that there was a demand – and a variety of workable solutions. Which we did. Sadly, however, this demand remains largely unsatisfied."

Hallway horrors: Case study

Hermione Brightwell, 32, is a school travel advisor who lives in Brixton, south London.

"I live in a typical terrace flat – top floor of a three-storey house – which I share with two friends. We all have bikes, as do the couple downstairs. There is no space for one, let alone three bikes inside the flat, so we store them in the communal hallway – but it's small. Downstairs can store their bikes in the garden, but often they end up in the hall, along with their baby buggy... There's simply not the room – and the situation has boiled over on occasion.

"We've asked our landlord to put hooks on the wall but he's not keen, so I forwarded him info about a ceiling pulley, but he wants lockable storage in the front garden. Great – except he insists we contribute to the cost. I'm trying to make him realise what an investment it will be but unfortunately he doesn't see it that way.

"Though I wouldn't move because of it, I would consider paying more for better storage next time I'm flat-hunting. Landlords should be made more aware of cycling issues – and I hope that's the way things are going."