It’s nodder time again. Every year, when winter reluctantly retreats into his sodden cave, and the sun threatens to grace us with her presence (April, basically), the fair weather cyclists emerge from hibernation, and flock¹ together on London’s roads². Theirs is a peculiar dichotomy; grizzled veterans of many a tough summer mix with complete newbies, tempted onto two wheels to escape the Hades-like furnace of public transport.
It is a sight that brings about conflicting emotions in me. On the one hand, I’m gladdened to see more bikes on the road, on the other – well lets just say that some of these cyclists have a weak grasp of cycling etiquette and, amazingly, the rules of the road. I’m not going bash the newbies on here, I’m forever encouraging people to get on their bikes, so the last thing I want to do is put people off,³ but here (in no particular order) are 10 basic rules pointers that any new commuting cyclist should aim to adhere to:
1: Read ‘Cyclecraft‘ by John Franklin. This is the Urban Cyclist’s Bible.
2: Have fun! Yeah you’ll probably be a bit nervous, but unclench and enjoy the ride. You’ll quickly get into the flow of things and realise that it’s not nearly as terrifying as you imagined. Pretty soon you won’t swap your ride in for the world. Also, remember to grin when you pass stationary traffic, people waiting at bus stops, bus passengers, fuming cabbies etc. Motorists love the sight of a smug cyclist; it almost makes gridlock fun.
3: Please don’t ride like a tit. What I really mean by this is DON’T JUMP RED LIGHTS. It’s not big or clever, let alone safe and it winds up fellow road users like you wouldn’t believe – including a lot of your fellow cyclists. Stay off the pavements, give way to pedestrians at zebra crossings, and take care when passing vehicles on the left, especially HGV’s and buses and especially if they’re indicating. In fact, don’t pass them on the left at all if you can possibly avoid it, and whatever you do, never wait alongside a stationary HGV.
4: Be courteous, don’t push in. If you’re approaching a junction and there’s a queue of cyclists waiting at the lights, join the queue, don’t sail past everyone and take up position at the front. Particularly if some of the riders passed you not 30 seconds ago. This sort of behaviour is hugely irritating, and let’s face it, more than a little rude. Us Brits love a good queue, we do not love a queue-barger. So get in line and wait your turn.
5: Indicate. Traffic ‘aint telepathic, so please let people know what you’re going to do before you do it.
6: Don’t draft. Yeah, yeah, we all know that hiding behind the car/bike/bus/lorry in front of you makes your life easier. Drafting is all well and good when riding with friends, your club, on a sportive etc, but it is not cool to draft people you don’t know. Commuting in London can be more than a little hairy, you never know when someone might be forced to brake suddenly and no one is going to thank you for ploughing into their rear, least of all your fellow cyclists, or indeed your face when it meets the back end of a bus. You’re ugly as it is, don’t make things worse.
7: Be Visible. Get some lights and some reflectives and use them when it’s dark (or all the time if you hail from Scandinavia). You might think looking like a ninja is cool – it isn’t.
8: Get some proper kit. There’s a reason most cyclists wear lycra etc. Trust us on this, padded shorts (worn under baggies if you like) will make life more comfy, as will some padded gloves and a non-cotton top. Keep a keen eye on the sales as well and you’ll be able to pick up all the kit you need to take the next step and cycle through the winter months.
9: Be prepared to p*uncture. Walking the bike is no fun. Spare tubes, a pump and some tire levers aren’t difficult to carry around. With a bit of practise you’ll be able to change an innertube by the roadside in a matter of minutes. This is far less hassle than the alternatives.
10: Get a decent lock and learn how to use it properly. Thousands of bikes get stolen in London every year. Even if you don’t plan on leaving the bike outside I’d still suggest investing in a lock. One of the great joys of cycling in the capital is that it allows you to get around easily, if you want to meet mates in the pub after work etc, then you will need one.
¹a seething luminescent mass.
²and pavements, sadly.
³although given the number of readers I’ve managed to attract, this a rather fanciful notion.