Earlier this week I was in London; lots of cyclists buzzing around as usual. Picked up a freebee copy of the Evening Standard and there was a little article which entitled Why are drivers so impatient to kill cyclists? Naturally that caught my eye. Kara Dolman, the journalist, has been having a brave go at becoming a cyclist in London. Not a bad time of year to tackle this but in spite of this it seems to be turning into a bit of an ordeal. She describes some pretty scary examples of being cut-up, intimidated, virtually run off the road and of course, being abused by drivers of those ridiculous 4x4s. She points out to motorists that cyclists actually have the same rights in using the roads, although you’d find that hard to believe at times.
The tales of motorists being threatening are pretty realistic, especially for a cyclist still getting to grips with two wheels powered under her own steam. The marvellous thing is that despite all those horrible things, she has stuck at it for a month and remarks “just one month of cycling had made me feel happier and healthier than in years”. That’s wonderful.
- If you’re tempted to start cycling in order to commute to work and you’re in a busy urban area, do some research about the best route. The ideal route will probably be different to the route you’d go when driving or travelling by bus;
- Starting when the weather is calm and pleasant is ideal. Riding into a monsoon is enough to put any novice off forever;
- Talk to any cyclists you know about the optimum route, especially if they work in the same place. If they’re friendly they may even be willing to escort you until you feel confident to tackle the ride alone;
- If you can cycle at about the same speed as the traffic, you’ll flow along nicely and they’ll be fewer opportunities for drivers trying to squeeze past you. Having said that some drivers assume all cyclists travel slowly and may appear surprised if you appear sooner than they expected;
- At junctions where you have right-of-way always try and make eye contact with car drivers you are wanting to stop and let you pass;
- Do look out for any offers from your local authority about Bikeability schemes or other ways of improving your Roadcraft on two wheels;
- Know your rights and the recommendations for cyclists. An example pointed out by Kara Dolman was allowing sufficient space for drivers to open their doors as you ride past. Doing this often annoys motorists wanting to overtake a cyclist – hold your nerve – but don’t assume everyone else knows the rule
- Listen to your gut instincts about any situations which may become dangerous
- Believe that the more you cycle, levels of confidence, speed and ability will increase. This in turn will melt many of those anxieties away having replaced them with a confident (but not reckless) presence on the road
So there’s a few thoughts for new cyclists in commuting in London and other busy urban areas. Please don’t become a cyclist who flouts the law (shooting through red traffic lights) and other things that get motorists irate and gives cyclists a bad name. Take good care, stay safe and look out for each other. Enjoy being part of the cycling movement which is wonderfully on the rise in many places.