All My Little Words

Cycling In London – Ten Tips

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on August 14, 2011
cycling in london

Photo courtesy of Renjujoseph:

Cycling in London will never be perfectly safe and we all know this. By virtue of being more visible on the roads, forcing motorists to learn to accommodate for our presence, the increasing number of cyclists is nonetheless making it safer. Unfortunately this also means more inexperienced, more complacent and more dangerous cyclists on the roads and these days I actually feel more at risk, not less, every time I go out on my bike. As other cyclists being better would put me very much at ease here are my top main key crucial bits of advices. Have at it.

1. Ditch the headphones.
This is fucking obvious but, since I’d estimate that at least 1 in 5 cyclists now ride wearing either earbuds or full headsets, it bears a mention. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and allow that you perhaps aren’t blasting out the dnb to the exclusion of all external noise and, in fact, you probably can hear the sirens coming. Still, that you’re so bored on your commute that you’re in need of entertainment tells me that you simply aren’t paying enough attention. On a standard half hour ride through the capital you’ll be confronted with a myriad of crucial, life-saving signals, and you, you contemptible berk, are missing most of them. If I’ve given you too much credit and you have cranked the volume up to eleven, when that ambulance you didn’t hear coming knocks you down, this one’s for you.

2. Ride slower through traffic.
No, that pedestrian shouldn’t have been crossing blindly between buses and technically you were in the right. Good job. As you’re hurtling over your handlebars having had to slam on the brakes and go from 20mph to 0 in a yard of road, technically being in the right doesn’t count for much. That pedestrians sometimes cross in stupid places, and sometimes do so without looking out for anything less large or loud than a motorbike, needs to be as much your problem as it is theirs. If you can’t see between the two vehicles in front you need to be in a position to stop in time. Kill your speed, not yourself (or someone else).

3. Do it or don’t do it.
A general principle tip, this one. Mirror, signal, maneuver is the primary routine we’re taught in driving lessons and it is, if anything, even more important when cycling. If you’re prepared to make your move you will be in a much stronger position when you do so and will complete it far more confidently and cleanly. Hesitation will get you killed so if you’re not sure if you can cross in time don’t even try.

4. Check over your shoulder.
I seldom see other riders doing this which is baffling to me as it seems so fundamental. Those that need to heed this tip the most are, sadly those least likely to do so as, if you can’t hear what’s coming up behind you, then you’re probably less likely to be looking out for it. [Hint: I’m talking about number 1’s] Even the aurally alert could probably do with more of an awareness of what’s coming up their arse because G-Whizz’s (not to mention other cyclists) are damn near silent and to get tangled up with one would do nothing for your cred.

5. Overtake with a car’s width, or don’t overtake.
Related to number 4, this one is about not making any assumptions as to the next move of your intended overtakee. Just because they have maintained a consistent path for the last 100 yards doesn’t mean they’ll continue doing so for the next 50. Equally important is that you have no idea if they’re alert to your presence, unless you’ve been responsibly dinging your bell as you approach and even then, y’know, headphones. Anyway, you certainly can’t see the pothole or drain that’s going to cause them to veer wildly into your path, so make sure you don’t have to.

6. Keep your eye off the clock.
It’s okay, I get it, we’re all a little bit competitive. But if your primary MO is to get to work quickly, rather than alive, you will severely reduce your likelihood of achieving the latter – at which point who cares about the former? I noticed it myself when I went out this afternoon on a timed ride: at first I was worried about losing precious seconds, so pushed it at traffic lights – a late amber is practically green, right? – took a few chances at junctions and generally (briefly) paid a lot less attention to anything other than my need to get from A to A via B as quickly as possible. The only place it’s safe to time yourself is on a track so make sure you leave enough time to get to work and forget the clock. Relatedly, ignore other cyclists who may be going faster than you on better bikes. I am certain you can keep up with them, I’m certain you don’t have to prove it and I’m certain the undertaker isn’t going to give a shit.

7. Traffic Light Etiquette
This could be a blog post all of its own or, equally, could be summed up in four words: don’t piss me off. All you’re doing is pissing me off. Traffic lights are where cyclist bunch up and therefore where its most important that you respect your fellow rider. Few do. A. Don’t overtake someone on the line if they’re inevitably going to be quicker than you off it. Doing so will only piss them off. B. Stop trying to gain that fractional advantage by edging ahead of the other bikes and watching everything except the lights. You will ultimately make no extra ground and be swiftly passed by non-twats. C. Only skip lights where you’re absolutely certain you’ll provide no impediment or alarm to anyone else. Clue: there aren’t many of these. Zipping through a four-way pedestrian green is stupid because another cyclist could easily be doing the same. Bang!

8. Signal
The kindest thing you can do for those around you – be they cyclists, motorists or pederists – is to inform them of your intended action. Whether it’s with an arm signal, frantic bell-chime or simply by shouting “Oi, wally I’m coming up behind you.” everyone can make better decisions themselves if they have a better sense of your future movements.

9. Don’t be afraid to position yourself in front of cars/cabs/vans/buses –  especially at traffic lights.
You might well wind up the driver but at least that means they’ve seen you. A driver who has seen you is far less likely to kill you than one who hasn’t.

10. Let he who is without sin etc etc

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