My brother recently bought himself a new bike. He used to ride a lot at my parents’ house when we were younger, but hasn’t ridden on London’s roads so is taking it slowly, getting used to cycling with more traffic.
On Monday night, I cycled over to his place – about four miles from mine – on my way home from work. Together we cycled to my house. My brother is an experienced London driver, and is a sensible person, so I have no doubt whatsoever he will quickly spot patterns and form strategies to cope with certain types of situations.
Here is what I’ve learnt from my years cycling on London’s roads.
- Never ever wait down the side of a vehicle at a junction. If you filter up the left and realise you can’t get to the front, stop between two vehicles. Ensure the one behind you has seen you (see number 2) and let the one in front of you go first when everyone moves off. Even if a vehicle doesn’t turn left into you, it might move around a car turning right. Ultimately, it’s just a really bad idea.
- Eye contact goes a very long way. If you make eye contact with the car behind you at lights, you know they have seen you. Equally, it’s amazing how you can make eye contact with a driver even as you’re moving. For me, it seems to remind people that I am a person, not just a nuisance.
- Take care of cars turning right over your path. If you’re cycling along the cycle lane alongside stationery traffic, everyone will warn you against left turning traffic. You pay extra attention to ensure the cars cannot move and that no one will turn into you. The risk you might not spot though is that gap in the stationery cars. That is there for a reason – to allow a car to turn right through the cars. Approach these gaps with incredible caution, assuming a car is about to appear.
- Signal even when you wouldn’t in a car. Obviously signal left and right when you’re turning. If there is a popular left turn coming up, especially one which is sweeping and people take quickly, consider a gentle right/straight on signal to indicate you’re not taking that left turn. Use your hands however you think best conveys what you’re doing. Just because you have right of way doesn’t always mean you don’t signal.
- Look look and look again. Not only are there cars, buses, taxis and lorries on the roads, but there are a lot of other cyclists. Make sure you check over your shoulder before you move in either direction as someone might be undertaking you, the bus you just overtook might have pulled off and be lurking over your left shoulder.
- Don’t be shy. You have a right to cycle on the roads. Most people would rather not hit you, so be clear in your intentions and be visible at junctions. If you’re turning right, you will have to use the right hand lane. People may be held up for a few seconds as they can’t pass you. This is okay, you can always say thank you afterwards (see 7). Make sure you are safe, and use as much of the road as you need to do this.
- Show some manners. This is less a tip than a request. Stop at red lights. Don’t cycle the wrong way down one way streets. Let other cyclists move out to pass buses and parked cars. Consider letting cars cross your path (with your signalled permission) to access side roads. Wave to say thank you. Don’t ring your bell to move pedestrians in shared spaces. Don’t move in front of faster cyclists at traffic lights, forcing them to repeatedly overtake you. Don’t antagonise drivers; no you shouldn’t be shy, but there’s no need to be difficult either.
- Take it slowly. You’ll learn more and more, and decide what you are comfortable with. Don’t feel pressure from others to squeeze through small spaces. If you’re happier waiting in the traffic, do that. You will eventually develop a great sense for the road, but even then things will surprise you. Take it easy out there!!