This was supposed to be about Russian martial arts, but the Russians will have to wait until next week because I’ve been laid low by a revolting cold. I have done something new though: the cycle of doom. Stoke Newington to Marylebone via the most polluted and gnarly road in London. It has inspired me to impart some wisdom from my years of commuter cycling.
Before the survival guide I must first say that I love cycling. I love that you can know exactly how long it’ll take you to get home. I love that you end up getting lost and discovering bits of city you didn’t know were there. I especially love cycling at night time, when it feels like the city is your own. Springtime night rides are particularly special: go for a little meander around residential areas when the blossom is out and the traffic smell has receded.
But enough gushing. This is a practical post. Here are my ten top tips:
- Imagine everyone else is a dangerous and erratic simpleton. This includes other cyclists and pedestrians. Cycle as if everyone is always about to do something stupid or lethal. They usually are.
- If a driver sees your face they are more likely to notice you. So when you’re changing lane or pulling out, eyeball the driver behind you.
- Watch out for potholes. Since the snow this year there are millions of them, lying in wait to clobber you in the pant region, often hidden under the car in front until the last moment.
- Avoid road markings and drains when it’s wet. Both of the times I’ve fallen off have been when my wheel slipped on these. If nothing else, it’s embarrassing falling off your bike for no apparent reason. Tourists get all sympathetic and try to send you to hospital.
- Get inside the mind of the motorist. They are angry, frustrated, confused and distracted, but once you know that they’re fairly predictable. For example, if the green light in front of you has been green for some time, the van behind you is going to drive like a crack addled go-karter to get through it.
- Don’t assume people stop at red lights. Look anyway.
- Don’t wear headphones. Your hearing is very useful. It tells you, for example, that a bus is just closing its doors and may be about to pull away without looking or indicating.
- Buses overtake and then pull up in front of you. It’s just how they roll. On the plus side, the drivers often have their windows open so a well placed insult can rain in on them as you pass.
- Don’t mutter or swear at other cyclists. They can usually hear you and sometimes they’ll even stop. Trust me on this.
- Don’t be an arsehole. Your bell is not intimidating so don’t try to frighten pedestrians with it. You are the smallest, most squashable thing on the road. Even pigeons don’t take you seriously.
That’s about it. For new cyclists I’d strongly advise getting TFL to send you some free routemaps. They show you all the approved cycle routes and nice leafy alternative roads and they’re totally free. Get them here: