Many people come to the shop looking to buy a bike to cycle in London for the first time. Often they are apprehensive about cycling in London and with all the accidents that happen each year it is understandable to feel this way.
I urge all new cyclists to take advantage of the free Cycle Training offered by Transport for London in order to learn the basic rules of the road, hand signals, and legal responsibilities of cyclists. Before you go out on London’s roads, please be sure to know these basic rules and even try to cycle with a friend who is a seasoned city cyclist to learn from them. Confidence on the road is key and as long as you know what your rights and responsibilities are, this confidence will come naturally.
As a rule of thumb, cycle as if you are a motorist. Do not skip red lights, do not wiggle between cars, do not try to squeeze in between HGVs or buses. This sounds like common sense but you may be surprised to know how many cyclists are making these mistakes on a daily basis.
7 Things I've learned from cycling around London:
1. Avoid road rage and be respectful to others
Too often, I’ve encountered aggressive cyclists yelling and gesturing at motorists for doing something wrong. I understand the frustration and fear of a close call, but getting angry on the road can be dangerous for everyone involved. In those situations, it's more effective to keep calm. If possible, have a quick word with the driver to let them know how their behaviour put you in danger.
2. Be smart: no jumping red lights
I know how annoying it is waiting to the light to turn green - but it's worth remembering that if you decide to jump a red light during a pedestrian green light, pedestrians have the right of way! It's dangerous for a cyclist to charge straight past a red light and scare off pedestrians crossing the road on their green light. If we want pedestrians and motorists to respect cyclists then we must maintain the rules of the road too.
3. Cyclists take unnecessary risks (although this is getting better)
It's fair to say that a number of cyclists are adept at putting themselves in danger. I recently saw a cyclist squeeze between two tightly parked vehicles on a red light. The cyclist had no idea when the red light would turn green and if the cars had accelerated suddenly they'd have been in trouble. In London cars drive closely together (especially on smaller roads) so we need to give them some space and the opportunity to spot us in their mirrors.
I also see cyclists zigzagging between cars to escape traffic jams. The great advantage on being on two wheels is you can bypass stationary traffic, but only if it's safe! Always check behind you and watch out for any sudden movements from cars or motorcycles. I find its safest to stick to the left of the road and only move to the next lane as a last resort.
Overall - although I've witnessed my fair share of cyclist scares, I've definitely noticed more cyclists following the rules of the road in recent years. :)
4. There are more of us on the roads
The efforts to make London a cycle-friendly City are clearly working, as increasing numbers of commuters are choosing their bikes over driving or public transport. And who can blame them - it's often quicker, cheaper, healthier and better for the environment, a win-win situation for cyclists and communities! As more people choose to ride, I hope this encourages local councils to invest more money in cycling infrastructure and to pass legislation that protects the safety of cyclists.
5. An increasing number of cyclists are female
Happily - there are now more women cycling in London then there were when I first began commuting in this city 5 years ago. Back then, it was rare to see another female on the saddle but now it's commonplace. This is great news! The more women the better, especially since there's a link between the number of women cycling and how safe it is to ride in a city:
Gil Penalosa, who runs Toronto-based consultancy 8-80 Cities, describes women cyclists as the “indicator species” for how bike-friendly a city is. “If there aren’t at least as many women as men, then usually it’s because cycling is not safe enough. It’s an indicator that you do not have good enough cycling infrastructure.” - The Guardian
6. Many cyclists lack road presence
Sometimes I see cyclists who are visually overwhelmed and nervous on the road. They suffer from a lack of confidence on the road and if I can detect it then surely drivers can too. In a fast-paced environment like Central London you need to make decisions quickly - indecisiveness is dangerous. To combat this, let other motorists know your intensions well in advance! If you're unsure where you're going, signal and pull over to check your route.
To build-up confidence, ask a seasoned cyclist friend to lead you on a few rides or join a cycle training class. Notice their manners, how and when they signal, and where they ride on the road. Once confident in your decisions, drivers will respect you and give you your space!
7. Infrastructure is improving, but the government needs to pick up the pace
Thankfully, London has seen a big rise in cycle superhighways and safe paths for cyclists, and as a result more people are joining the cycling revolution. However, I'm concerned about existing infrastructure not keeping up with the rising number of cyclists. Sadly, too many cyclists die on our roads every year, especially at intersections and junctions that are known by councils to be high risk. We need to ensure that the trend towards safer cycling continues and expands, by making our voices heard!