Riding Every Street in the London Postal Code: First Impressions and a Ride with a Local Legend

Photographer Conor Courtney recently moved to the UK and decided to set off on an unusual two-wheeled adventure: riding every street in London. This led to him meeting up with explorer Jonathan France.  Read on for Conor’s account of what unfolded next…

In July, I was asked on a podcast if I would ever consider riding every street in Seattle, my hometown. The interviewer barely had time to finish the question before I answered, shortly, “No.”

At the time, I had just written and photographed a story about a particularly adventurous friend, Danny Roberts, who rode every street in Seattle over two years. Roberts had spent dark, cold, winter nights methodically criss-crossing quiet neighborhoods. He’d flown down sketchy arterials and boulevards that no cyclist would choose to ride. I thought the project was more Type II fun than I would ever want.

Yet here I am, in a new city, a new country, deciding to follow his lead.

My partner and I moved to London in January, itching for a new adventure in a place outside of the US. Aside from four months spent studying abroad in Denmark and a summer photojournalism internship in Illinois, I had never lived outside of my hometown of Seattle.

As we packed up our lives in Seattle, Roberts’ style of exploration wormed its way into my subconscious. Riding every street in the London postal code seemed like an incredible avenue to get to know my new home and a way to replace the sense of fulfillment I found by exploring the nature around Seattle. I could note inviting pubs and coffee shops to visit later. I could get a sense of the differences between various boroughs and the feeling of central London roads compared to far-flung streets. I thought that finding the safest, most joyous routes could help introduce new friends to city riding.

Professionally, it felt like an opportunity to consistently create. I could take street photos on crammed sidewalks bursting with energy, make videos detailing my experiences, or highlight family run businesses through food photography.

With a dutiful commitment to riding new roads, I’ve now set off on dozens of rides. I’ve flown though busy central London streets, weaving through cars and pedestrians, feeling the adrenaline of putting the hammer down only to be foiled by stoplights a few hundred meters later.

I’ve felt the spit of rain on my face as I rode alongside the Thames at dusk, noting the seagulls flying over silt-covered lime bikes and the shells cutting through the choppy water.

I’ve felt the boredom and frustration of traversing street after quiet street, looping back to cover a path of pavement I missed, with all semblance of rhythm having left my legs miles ago.

Before I moved, I found Jonathan France at the top of the Wandrer leaderboards for London, having completed an astounding 75% or 11,350 miles of unique roads within Greater London. I learned more about him on an obscure blog noting his “tiling” accomplishments.


Tiling breaks up a landmass into grids of squares, and range in size from level 0 (the entire world) to level 17 (about 200m by 200m). Most tilers aim for level 14, about a square mile, and try to ride as many of these unique “tiles” as possible. In 2018, France achieved a perfect 100×100 square at level 14 in a single year of riding, likely the first, and only cyclist to ever accomplish this feat.

The term “wandering” doesn’t represent the physical difficulties of France’s accomplishments. France, in his 60s, rode 100 or more miles 131 times in 2018. He averages between 20-40 hours per week on the bike, spending long winter hours exploring the lesser traveled roads around England.

France rarely rides in a straight line for more than a few minutes, curving off to side streets, putting his wheels down on seldom seen tarmac, and stops to take photos of classic cars, scenic views, or oddities.

After years of dealing with recurring injuries, which he attributes to a sedentary work and lifestyle, France began exploring in earnest in 2013, when he first bought a Garmin bike computer. He says the appeal of this type of riding is that you never know what’s around the corner. “If you’ve got a target to aim for, then you’re always tempted to keep going out,” says France.

But finding new roads every ride takes work and France says he spends about the same amount of time planning his routes as he does riding them.

“I’ve often thought, if I lose this ride, would I go out and ride it again, with all the twists and turns, which is why I ride with two GPSs,” says France, “A really good ride, is that you know that if you’d lost it, you’d go out and ride it again the next day.”

France’s eyes are constantly roving on his rides, taking in the scenery and the details around him. All of this riding has led to a remarkable ability to mentally map where he is, a testament to the benefits cycling creates for neuroplasticity, says France.

“It’s remarkable the amount of times that you’re not too sure where you are but you’ve just realized you know exactly what’s around the corner, there’s either a water tap or a cafe and you think, nice, I know exactly where I am,” France says.

“The amount of information that you’ve deduced where you are from is small. Often it’s a gradient, or a change in the trees.”

As we rode around North London, looping through Hampstead, Belsize Park, Regents Park, and eventually to a cafe in Fulham on a sunny day in February, I hoped to pick up clues on how to proceed on my own, albeit less expansive, attempt at exploring local roads.

France’s bike setup was simple, a reliable steel frame that was around 20 years old, a Brooks saddle, rim brakes, and a mechanical two by groupset. One jacket on, an extra jacket in his bag. The fanciest pieces of tech are his Garmin 530 and dynamo hubs. “It’s remarkable how little you need,” says France.

I noticed how France slows but rarely stops on the bike, maintaining his momentum without particularly high speeds. He tries to make only left turns on his rides, so he’s never having to cut across a lane of traffic. When he steps off the bike, it’s often to appreciate and photograph classic cars.

He draws inspiration from explorers similarly interested in the seemingly mundane. Diamond Geezer, a Londoner who is walking every street in the city from memory and Quintin Lake, a photographer who walked the United Kingdom’s coastline, are two that France speaks of glowingly.

Ultimately, France says, “Part of the appeal is that you know it will never be finished…hitting the seven wonders of the world or the highest mountains is a pretty definitive list. But you can’t make anything definitive in Wandrer; there’s too much in it. So, it has the appeal of just a fun pastime you’re unlikely to get bored of.”

He doesn’t have an end date for the project, though he figures he’ll start focusing more on tiling and less on Wandrer in the future. After his years of dealing with injuries keeping him off the bike, he says, “I feel the need to make up for lost time.”

After riding with France, I’m still trying to determine the most efficient and, more importantly, enjoyable way to ride my 3,700 miles of unridden roads. Tracking my rides through Strava and Wandrer, I’ve been downloading basemaps to my Garmin to see where I’ve ridden to minimize the repeats.

So far, I’ve approached rides in two ways – the first is to pick a point far from my start and simply take new roads there and back. The second is to pick a borough or a neighborhood and “grid” out the streets, riding every single one until I’ve completely filled in a section, and then move on.

On another rare, sunny winter day, my partner, Arendje, and I started riding from our home in Maida Vale. We looped across the Grand Junction Canal, watching the swarms of seagulls, pigeons, and ducks dive after bread in the water. Passing houseboats along the canal, we reached a small skatepark, taking turns looping around the small bowl and wondering if we’d hit our bottom brackets if we tried dropping in.

We slowly weaved through the pedestrians walking along Little Venice on our way to Regents Park, finding a rare strip of what we could generously call “singletrack” along the way.

As we rode, we discussed the changes between Seattle and our new home. The riding between London and Seattle seems to mirror the differences in priorities between the UK and the US. The barriers to everyday cycling are much lower here. For the most part, people can pick up a bikeshare bike nearby and the cost is about £2 for an hour of riding. Combining bikeshares with the tube makes it incredibly easy to travel in the city.

I find I’m traveling faster than cars, as speed limits are typically 20kph on the main roads and less on the side streets, which means less unnecessary passes by a car going well above the speed limit, a frequent occurrence in Seattle. But I’m still getting used to the busyness of London. I feel like I can never take my eyes off the road, as there’s always a car stopping unexpectedly or a pedestrian stepping off the sidewalk.

We rode through the Regents Park side streets lined with millionaire mansions, quietly wondering if we were allowed to be there, and back along the outer road. Stopping my favorite newfound bakery, Miel. Invigorated by focaccia and coffee but chilled despite the sun, and warm up by taking on one of the few rises in the city, Primrose Hill, before heading home through St. John’s Wood.

Local adventurers like France and Danny Roberts feel like the antithesis to the narrative pushed by the bike industry that riders need expensive gear and far flung adventures to find satisfaction on two wheels. My conversation with France for this article leaves me feeling inspired that I can find adventure outside my door.

I’ve fallen in love with the way light bounces off tall buildings in Central London, splashing onto shadowy streets below. Turning a corner in Fulham and stumbling onto the historic Craven Cottage.

Seeing friends happily chatting at a pub reminds me of how easy it is to get around here, which makes seeing the people you love that much easier. I’m excited to keep finding more details and more places to return to in the months ahead.