During my time in London (some seven years), I averaged some 5,000km a year on two wheels. Many thought I was crazy cycling in a megalopolis like London. Maybe.
In time for #WorldBicycleDay I thought I’d share how I stayed alive, because it is a wonderful city to see on two wheels.
London has changed immensely over the years. From very little cycling infrastructure to eight Super Highways, with two more due for completion this year. And three more being discussed beyond that.
Quiet Ways were also introduced (wonderful idea) – and of course the extensive bike share scheme, which the banks seem to take turns sponsoring – has been supplemented with new ‘dock-free’ entrants.
If you want to read (and perhaps help expand) a worthwhile brief history of cycling in London, then Wikipedia is, as ever, to hand. For now though, let’s get to those tips:
Staying-alive lessons from London roads…
Use the infrastructure
A kerb, bollards and whatever else can be had between you and other road users is a great thing. Get a map of the Super Highways, Quiet Ways and whatnot – and make good use of them.
And where that’s not available, try a back road – you’ll see things you’d never otherwise find.
And don’t forget about the tow paths. They’re wonderful really.
Smile and wave
A San Francisco principle that applies in London too. Life is short, and anger always puts you in harms way. Eye contact matters, and a smile and a wave rarely goes amiss. And yes, those lorry drivers can be scary – but if you look at them as if you’re looking up to them (!) – they’ll be extra careful around you.
That said: best stay entirely clear of big roads with doubledecker buses and big lorries. And never attempt this special Ukrainian trick in London or indeed elsewhere:
Get to know a good bike mechanic, or two
My favourites are:
Park your bike indoors at night
It’ll last longer (which means it’ll be safer to ride) – and it is less likely to go missing.
Lock it when you park outdoors
And always use two or three locks… involving something immovable.
The following example from an insurance company poster might be an example of overdoing it though…
Mark & register your bike
And whilst you’re at it, respect red lights. They’re there to keep you – and others – alive.
Make good use of the parks
The air is cleaner there. And some of them have good spots for coffee too.
And you can find other ways of pedalling, if you need variety.
Here are a range of ideas.
If it rains, persist
A few drops won’t kill you. Just remember that depending on the type of brakes you have, they might work differently than when dry.
If it rains too much, get a cab…
Say, if you lose a pedal some 10km from home – as once happened to me during a bout of torrential rain. A good-humoured Black Cab driver will help you fit the bike in the back.
Note, there is no fog
Despite the reputation for pea soup fog, London’s air is clearer these days – (even if it might not be that clean). Despite this, many people, especially the spandex-clad alpha types, buy fog-grade strobe lights for the winter months.
Lights are good, blinding is bad
Strong lights could have the exact opposite effect of what you were hoping for. Be sure to point your lights down onto the road. You’ll be seen – but without blinding. In doubt? Park your bike with the lights some 20 meters away and then start walking towards it. If the strobe is uncomfortable to you, it is uncomfortable – and distracting – to others. You may also want to say to bicyclists that blind you (whilst smiling and waving): ‘there is no fog’.
The Highway Code – Rule 236
You MUST NOT use front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced (see Rule 226) as they dazzle other road users […] You MUST switch them off when visibility improves.
Get informed & Speak up
Biking in the big city only gets better if you share your ideas (and concerns). Support the work of:
- London – London Cycling Campaign (@london_cycling) – and be sure to participate in the various Transport for London consultations
- National – Sustrans (@sustrans) – The people behind the National Cycle Network
- Europe – ECF – European Cyclists’ Federation (@EuCyclistsFed)
- Global – UN – #WorldBicycleDay
A few more to follow …
@londonair – for regular air quality updates
Most importantly though, get out there and pedal.
Enjoy! And stay safe.