Riding in London: 5 Tips For Staying Safe
London you beautiful beast. Oh how we love you. With your old architecture, bustling energy and multitude of languages, it’s no wonder Samuel Johnson once said that,
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
Unfortunately, the flip side to one of the world’s most famous cities is the cycling infrastructure; or should we say lack of it. As any London cyclist will testify, whilst we may have come a long way over the last 10 years, we’re far behind many of our European counterparts.
Although the Dutch may not get the adrenaline rush of having to pedal up against buses, cycling round London is still a safe way to travel. The key is making sure that you know how to protect yourself out on the roads. With more of us heading back into the office (or pub), let’s have a look at 5 things you can do to stay safe out there.
1. Use those indicators
You see it all the time. Cyclists turning right, or going round a stationary bus without letting others know their intentions. Cars aren’t mind readers. Don’t send drivers on the mystery bus, wondering what you’re doing because you started pulling out into the middle of the road.
The savviest of cyclists over communicate what their next move will be. Just as you’d use mirror, signal maneuver when driving, if you’re going to turn right or overtake a bus, begin by looking over your right shoulder. Stick out your arm. Don’t pull into the road unless there’s space, or you see the driver behind has either slowed down, or is gesturing for you to do so.
It’s the same for turning left. Although it’s unlikely you’ll be undertaken by fellow cyclists, communicate your intentions for pedestrians. If you’re going to turn left at a junction, it’s possible pedestrians may be thinking about crossing or j-walking further round the corner. Let them know that you’re coming.
2. You're far less visible than you think you are
If you’re about to set off for a cycling jaunt in the capital, be aware that whilst you may be able to see fellow cyclists, those behind the wheel will have their focus detracted by pedestrians, fellow drivers and other cyclists. Combine this with poor light and the pitter patter of London rain and our fellow road users are going to really struggle to see us.
It sounds obvious, but for those of us who cycle and have never driven, it can be tricky to appreciate just how challenging spotting cyclists can be. As soon as the sky is looking a little overcast, pop those lights on your steed to keep yourself safe.
3. Filtering. A controversial topic.
To filter or not to filter? By that we mean, should you weave or go round stationary cars to get to the front at a red light. Depending on the circumstances, it can be safer to get to the front and be first off the blocks when the lights change. This means you’re out of the way of turning vehicles.
There are various schools of thought, but here is ours:
There is a clear box at the front of the lights for you to wait in
There is a cycling lane that goes all the way to the front of the lights
The route in front of you is fairly clear eg. only a few cars, with no trucks or buses
The lights aren’t about to change. You don’t want to be trying to filter when vehicles around you are moving.
Just because other cyclists are doing it. If you feel safer waiting on the left side of the road amongst the traffic, then do that. It’s not always safer to filter to the front, just to be out of the way of turning vehicles.
And, as a general rule, never follow the cyclist in front of you. Just because the cyclists around you swerved the traffic, it doesn’t mean you should. That goes for skipping red lights too...
4. NEVER JUMP A RED LIGHT
We don’t care if it’s just a pedestrian crossing that nobody is at, NEVER jump a red light. You’re better than that. We’re not your mother, so we’re not going to lecture you, but besides it being incredibly dangerous for yourself and other road users, it also gives us cyclists a bad rep.
If cyclists treat the roads with respect, we’ll improve our reputation. Cars will treat us with more regard and we’ll have a better leg to stand on when it comes to campaigning for the aforementioned cycling infrastructure. So, in a roundabout way, whilst jumping a red may seem tempting, following the rules of the road will stand us all in much better stead for the future.
5. Treat every car like an idiot
The vast majority of cars are not idiots, but all should be treated like they are. Cars will occasionally pull out without so much as looking, forcing you to slam on the brakes and stare down the driver.
With hands hovering over those brake levers, always be ready for a car to test your reaction times. It may be your right of way, but if a car looks like it’s not going to stop for you, then presume it’s not.
And with that said, all that’s left for us to do is wish you happy pedalling! Cycling in London is perfectly safe as long as you use some common sense. Follow the rules of the road, pay attention and don’t cycle with headphones in. Enjoy it out there - there’s nothing better than the freedom of getting from A to B under your own steam.