Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live” are yet more quotable words from Mark Twain. I’d certainly agree with him, up to a point. My line in the sand was the point at which, on a perfectly straight road a driver took it upon themselves to gently drift into me, sending me over the handlebars as I was doing my very best Bradley Wiggins impression.
I don’t want to scare anyone from riding their bike in London, but it is a sad fact that if you want to take to two wheels you should be prepared for at least a few bumps along the way. I’d just rather not have lost three teeth and be left with a host of issues that seem to be connected with me landing on my face at thirty odd miles an hour. I’m thankful to be alive, but realistically if the driver couldn’t avoid me on a straight road I shudder to think how they would have done on a genuinely busy street.
From my experience, I have learnt a few things that LSE students taking to their bicycle should consider before they begin in earnest. I found these general tips to be useful as I took my first few bambi-like pedal strokes out onto the streets of London. For anyone who’s an experienced London pedalist there’s probably little value, but I wish a few of these had been imparted to me.
1) Know your route as best as possible before you cycle.
It’s hard enough trying to cycle somewhere when you know the exact route. Trying to avoid pedestrians, other cyclists and cars is much harder when you’re also trying to work out just which road you need to turn onto next. At least have a good look at a map first, the less time spent looking up at signs the more you can use it to watch out for cars and other hazards.
2) Never, ever, go down the inside of a large vehicle at traffic lights.
This is an instant recipe for death. At traffic lights you should slow down, sit nice and far back and just let them sort themselves out. It won’t cause you to expend more effort, and you’ll make it to where you want to get to alive. This is one of the biggest problems with cyclist safety that is present in London, the infrastructure has to be improved, but it’s a two way street. Take the extra two seconds and wait to push off, it’s not worth the risk.
3) You’re a vehicle on the road, act like one if you need to.
When cycling in London sometimes I find it easier to equate myself to an, admittedly rather slow, motorcycle. Just because you’re peddling doesn’t mean you have to be sat six inches away from the kerb eating potholes and drain covers for the journey. Taking a slightly more bold line in the road, especially around roadworks or in slow moving traffic maneuvering in tight roads, such as London, forces drivers to react to your presence. I’m not telling you to do it in an obnoxious way, but in certain situations it’s just safer for you to use the middle lane, done properly everyone can advance up the road at a measured pace in a safe manner.
4) Wear a helmet.
Yeah, it might not look cool, but a helmet will help you if you do get planted on the street. I’d probably be dead if it wasn’t for mine.
5) Back streets are your friend.
It is nice to get everywhere with ages to spare, if like me cycling tends to work up a bit of a sweat. But often I found it was safer and more enjoyable to take a side street, it’s quieter and you’re not inhaling fumes from all the engines around you.
6) Don’t get bothered by shouting.
Sometimes drivers shout at you for what they view as a horrible piece of wheelwork. I’d never respond, because frankly they’re behind the wheel of a one tonne weapon, worst comes to worst and you’re just a new hood ornament.
These are things I picked up during my stint as a cyclist in London, as with anything in life, there is danger.