Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Cycling in London - ooof.

Since I was given a free bike by Amy via *Cesca, I have used it a few times but I am not too confident on the London roads.  Aggressive drivers combined with lots of traffic, my lack of experience and the scary statistics of London road cycle deaths mean I am not quite mentally prepared to tackle anything more than the mile cycle to the swimming pool.

Because I love a bit of self development (plus it was free!) I decided to take advantage of the cycle training sessions offered by Cycle Confident.  Cycle Confident have been providing individual and group training sessions to people of all ages and abilities since 2007, and in a bid to get more Londoners cycling safely, have signed up with the TFL scheme to get Londoners cycling more safely. (They also provide cycle awareness courses to bus and lorry drivers, which is good to know)

My trainer, Louise, met me in Peckham Rye Park and we discussed what I wanted to get out of the session - I wanted to learn some of the road rules, see what does and doesn't apply to cyclists, and generally how to be safer on the road.

We started with the ABCD of checking your bike, which is really just common sense, here's some of what I remember and hopefully is correct:

A is for Air. Check your tyres are inflated properly - pinch either side and it should have the same 'squeeziness' of an apple. (Don't get pedantic here - not a rotten apple, a firm ripe one!)

B is for Brakes.  Test your front and back brakes (did you know bicycles can be left hand and right hand drive, and if you buy a bike on the continent then the front brake will be on the other handle and vicecersa?) and make sure your tyres come to an easy halt when the brakes are put on.  Make sure your brakes aren't coming all the way back to the handlebar grips, if they are they need readjusting.

C is for Chain.  Make sure your chain turns nicely and isn't coming off the spokes.  Also check to make sure when you change gear, the chain is swapping to the different spoke correctly.  My chain is rusty as hell, Louise recommended I take it off and clean it to assess if the rust has damaged it, but I think it's probably easier to pop down to Evans and get a new one...

D is for Direction and Dangly bits.  Make sure when you're about to get on your bike, you haven't got any dangly bits that can get caught on handle bars or in the chain or the spokes.  Check for loose bag straps, baggy trousers, scarves etc.  I had a pair of tracksuit trousers I rode in once and they got stuck in the chain and now have holes in the bottom of them.  Direction - stand in front of your bike, clamp the front tyre between your legs and move the handlebars.  The handlebars shouldn't twist and if they do, they need screwing on again!

We then went round the park a bit where we practised signalling, looking over your shoulder, and emergency stops - where you push your butt into your saddle whilst crunching on the brakes hard.  It's really important to learn to look over your shoulder, and properly look, rather than glance.  Making eye contact with drivers helps make them more aware of you, 'humanises' you to them, and can indicate to them you're about to move/stop/do whatever you're about to do.  My signalling is a bit wobbly, as is my looking back pose, however with practice I am sure I will get better.

Once we'd done that, we hit the roads, jack. We spent a good hour or so freezing our butts off (it was SO cold on Sunday, I could't feel my bum or hands afterwards) cycling in the backstreets of Dulwich and Peckham, practicing road positioning and turning right and left.  Some more things I learned:

- pretend you're a car.  It's tempting to squidge yourself to the side of the road to get out the way of vehicles, but really you should position yourself a metre away from the kerb toward the centre of your lane like a car would (this felt very unnatural to me, and I felt like a massive pain in the backside - there are many drivers (including me!) that would be massively pissed off to be stuck behind a cyclist who was in the middle of the road, but to be fair the roads we were on had a 20mph limit anyway and we were probably doing that).  The point of this is so that you're seen more easily.

- hold your line.  Don't weave in and out of gaps left by parked cars, hold your line and keep to the metre or so from the kerb/parked cars.  If you weave in and out, it can look like you're letting a car past, which you may be doing for the first car, but then what about all the cars after that?  It also decreases your visibility as you'll be hidden from drivers behind you.  If you're cycling quite a long distance, all the weaving will also increase your journey time, so don't do it.

- be wary of parked cars opening their doors. Stay a metre or so away from a parked car as the passengers could open their doors into your path and you go splat into their car window.

image from here, a blog post demonstrating the importance of lights!

- at junctions, position yourself in the middle of the lane.  You're less likely to get squashed by vehicles turning left.  Try and get ahead in the cyclist box at the front, and remember if you can't see a lorry driver in their cab, they won't be able to see you either, so move forwards so they can see you.

- when coming out of a junction do an L shape.  Go straight ahead for a bit, and then make your turn rather than cutting the corner.  You'll spend less time on the wrong side of the road this way.

- be considerate.  Cyclists often have a bad name, so the more considerate you are, the better the name will get - don't jump lights, pedestrian crossings and cut corners.

In summary, the most important thing was be seen - using positioning, hi vis gadgetry, lights and frequent looks behind you.

If anyone else has any tips for me let me know!  I found the session really useful and Louise was lovely - patient, constructive and encouraging.  I have another session booked in a few weeks time where we're going to cycle my route to work, a busy route on the way there and a quiet route on the way back.  Whether I will pluck up the courage to cycle to work on my own is another matter - especially with the current weather and lack of showers in my work place.  You can use this nifty little tool to plan your own London route.

TFL provide free or subsidised cycle training in all London Boroughs.  You can use this link to find out more.

*There you go Cesca, another mention for you even though you're 800miles away...


  1. Yeah!!!! Also can not believe that bike is still functioning...3yrs rusting away on the balcony...good effort!

    1. Tell me about it!!! I have bought some nice new handlebar grips though as the current ones are coming be fair i think bikes are fairly sturdy things, when i was a kid I had a BMX that my dad pulled out of the river and did up for me!


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