Fresh to London? Sick of the Tube/buses? Or maybe you’ve been here a while, but the idea of cycling London’s busy streets scares you? Fear not, this beginner’s guide to London cycling is here to give you a few tips, tricks, and pointers of how to cycle in the capital.
The first step to riding is getting your bike. While this is obvious, it’s not as easy as people make out. The first hurdle is finding a good bike that’s not been stolen. Buying a stolen bike propagates the idea that it’s profitable, which may lead to your brand new baby being nicked further down the line. So, where do you go? There are bike shops on most high streets, and there are the bigger players like Cycle Surgery and Wiggle. It’s also worth checking out the London Fixed Gear and Single Speed Forum.
This is where we get into choices. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll be told fixed gear bikes are the only way to ride. Or single speeds. Or racing bikes. Or mountain bikes. Or Brompton folding bikes. Or bloody penny-farthing’s.
It’s all a load of tripe.
You should get the bike that you feel comfortable on. If you want a red unicycle or a pink track bike – get it. It’s your bike – you should like it and feel confident on it.
So, now you’ve got your bike, you’ll need to make sure it’s safe when you take it places. Unfortunately in London, if it isn’t locked up in some way, it’ll get half-inched. For that reason, try to avoid quick-release wheels. They will get you into trouble.
I swear by my D-Lock and cable combo. By securing the frame and the wheels, you’re making the theft a real pain to try and pull off. This doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable. Better locked-up bikes have been stolen before, so you shouldn’t think you can leave your bike locked near a tube stop for a week and expect it to still be there.
Always secure one of the wheels and the frame to the pole you’re locking to. Then loop the cable through the other wheel, and put it through the D-lock, as shown. This should keep the bike relatively safe. It’s best to avoid leaving your bike out overnight if you can.
Now, for the riding part – you’d be surprised how easy and safe it is. London motorists have been exposed to bikes for some time, so most (but not all) are on the swivel looking out for you. London traffic is also quite slow due to near constant traffic jams. So you’ll be able to fly by that bus that you used to sit on for an hour to get to work.
You do need to be aware of your surroundings and you need to remember you’re frail in comparison to vehicles. For that reason DO NOT try and undertake buses and trucks/lorries, especially when they are turning left. They can’t see you there, and the bodies of big vehicles swing when they turn. You’ll be knocked off, and at the very least badly injured. Either overtake them, or cruise behind them (at a reasonable distance) and wait until they stop at a light. There are plenty of those in London, so you won’t have to wait long.
You should also make yourself as visible as possible. If you’re into that kind of thing, you can buy the super reflective jackets, but you should have lights no matter what. The lights are not for you, they are to announce to traffic that you’re on the road. If you’re riding at night with no lights down a dark street, it’s pretty easy to be hit.
A decent measure of common sense is also advisable. Don’t go flying through intersections if the light is red for you. Don’t wear massive headphones blasting music – you need to hear what is going on around you. Don’t randomly swerve into and out of lanes. Etcetera.
You’ll quickly find that riding is the easiest, quickest, and all-around best way to get about in London. While the weather may throw you a few curveballs, on the whole you’ll wonder how you ever got around without a bike. And it’s healthier than sitting on the bus/tube where the most exercise you get is balancing while moving and swiping left or right on your phone…