Tuesday, 26 November 2013

City cycle survival guide

It is a sad thing that has triggered this post. The recent spate of cycling deaths in London has sparked real debate. Unfortunately, when events lead to such tragic consequences, there can be no satisfactory answers. I express my deepest sympathies to the families of those affected.

While this debate has been heated and vigorous and ended up as the usual blame-game. I hope that we can try and salvage some good from it all.  Use it to raise the profile of cycling, improve conditions for cyclists and raise the awareness of other road users. If we can make even marginal improvements to conditions for cyclists, hopefully more and more people will be convinced to hop on their bikes and give cyclists an even bigger voice going forwards.

Me and my bike, out on the town together :)
(And sporting my medal and at the end of the London to Brighton Cycle Ride!) 

I am by no means a cycling expert, but I do cycle an hour a day up to five days a week through central London to work and back most days. I've had my fair share of close shaves, just ask any cyclist - they'll have hundreds of stories to share, but so far I am still here to tell mine. Rather than share those here, I  instead wanted to set out my personal top tips to keep in mind as you cycle the streets. These are not the usual wear a helmet, use hand signals etc. and they are not fool-proof by any means, but these are the five key mantras that I run through my head each day as I cycle:

1. Assume everyone's an idiot. This goes for driver, cyclists and pedestrians. Always assume that car will turn left without indicating, that pedestrian will step into the road without even looking and that cyclist will pull out without even looking. Never assume other road users will abide by the rules of the road, in my experience they never will. And while in a car that might simply mean you get a scrape or loose a wing mirror, on a bike it can mean a whole lot more. So be prepared to respond at all times.

2. Know your route. Learn where all the pot holes are, learn the order of the traffic lights, and know the black spots where other road users are likely to do unpredictable things! This is all stuff you pick up slowly over time if you ride the same route regularly, but make a mental note each day to deliberately remember these things. Cars always pull out on me in exactly the same places each day, the giant pot-holes don't move but they do get bigger and more treacherous over time! Being able to pre-empt the changing of a traffic light will help alleviate the stress of the routemaster bus revving right behind you and breathing down your collar! Knowing these little details will always put you on the front foot compared to the rest of the road traffic and keep you one step ahead of them at all times.

Fixing a puncture on Stu in Richmond Park a couple of weeks ago!

3. Be visible - but don't assume this means people will see you! Even in a fluro jacket, fluro rucksack cover, cat eye LED lights on back and front and coloured lights on my wheels I STILL get drivers mouthing 'sorry I didn't see you' as drivers pull out on me! What they really mean is 'I wasn't looking for you'.

There's not much we can do about that, we must simply be prepared. But, on the other hand if you do chose to go for the cat burglar look (head to toe black, complete with balaclava!) then that's totally up to you!

Sporting some of my favourite neon cycle gear, classy!

4. Don't rub other road users up the wrong way. Every time a cyclist pisses off a driver or does something irresponsible, that reinforces the drivers perception of cyclists as idiots. As a result, the driver won't leave as much space next time he passes a cyclist, he won't be as patient at the lights as the cyclists start off, he won't check for cyclists as pulling out of a side road. If we expect other road users to abide by the rules, then us cyclists must do so too.

5. Lose your pride. As you get on your bike, leave your pride on the pavement. Trying to win an argument with someone in a one-tonne chunk of metal is never going to end well, regardless of who's in the right! Instead, swallow your pride, leave the cars well alone, smile and feel happy you're still alive to cycle off on the moral high-ground.

"Sit back and relax' - Taking a little break in Richmond Park to admire the view!

Obviously this is by no means an exhaustive list and neither will it guarantee our safe passage through the city streets. Indeed, every single commute is a mini-adventure and we always share anecdotes from the day's commute when we get home each evening! Some ridiculously comic and some downright terrifying. Either way I still remind myself of these five mantras as I get on my bike each morning and evening.

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