Cycling safely in London
Although cycling is a lot safer than many non-cyclists appreciate, it’s not entirely risk-free. However, by following our seven simple steps, you can significantly increase your chances of riding happily ever after. And the best news is that your safety really is in your own hands. So here’s what you can do to manage it.
Beware left-turning lorries
By far the most serious risks to cyclists in London or any other busy town or city centre are large vehicles such as HGVs, lorries, trucks and buses - especially those turning left. The reason for this is partly due to the huge blind spots that drivers of these vehicles face. This is something that the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police have tried to help cyclists appreciate with their Exchanging Places scheme, where the public can climb into the cab of a large vehicle and see for themselves the limits of a driver’s vision.
Bike safety first
But the danger posed by such vehicles can be drastically increased by a cyclist’s poor decision-making or impatience. For example, riding down the inside of a stationary truck at traffic lights is incredibly risky - the kerb side of the vehicle features some of the driver’s largest blind spots. If the lights change to green and the vehicle turns left, any cyclist caught in that kerb-side area faces a potentially fatal situation. Do not be tempted to under-take big vehicles - it is too dangerous.
Also, if you get to the front of a queue of traffic and find yourself waiting in a cyclist box ahead of a high-cab vehicle, make sure venture far enough forward so you can turn and catch the driver’s eye. Remember: bike safety first!
Side streets - stay vigilant
Not quite as dangerous as left-turning lorries but possibly more prevalent are vehicles that emerge from side roads into the path of cyclists. This is what has become popularly known as the ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you’ phenomenon, and is simply due to drivers not looking carefully enough before pulling out.
However, again, there are things that cyclists can do to increase their chances of being seen. The first is to wear bright or colourful clothing that will attract attention. The second is to switch on front lights - such as those that come equipped as standard on most Gazelle bikes. The third is slightly counter-intuitive but very important. Nervous cyclists often want to ride near the kerb, out of the way of traffic.
Stay in the middle
This isn’t a good idea at the best of times but when cars are emerging from side roads it’s even less sensible. Drivers who only take a cursory glance to see if any other traffic is approaching as they pull out look at the area of the road where they expect to see traffic - the middle of the carriageway - not the area near the kerb, meaning they don’t spot cyclists. So cycle nearer the middle of the carriageway when you can and try to make eye contact with drivers emerging from side roads.
Cycle lanes aren’t magic for cycling safe
It’s (almost) always nice to see a cycle lane and off-road or segregated cycling facilities are generally very safe. However, if you use an on-road cycle lane, please recognise it has no invisible shield protecting you from traffic and you still need to employ all your normal cycling safety techniques. Also understand that some cycle lanes aren’t fit for purpose and may be too narrow. In this case, don’t worry about being confined to the lane markings. Stay a good distance from the kerb even if that means cycling on the outermost edge of a cycle lane.
Potential pedestrian pitfalls
It’s tempting to think that drivers of motor vehicles pose the only threat to a cyclist’s safety but in busy city centres that’s really not the case: pedestrians can be just as much of a danger. This is another situation where cycling a metre or more from the kerb helps, as this will at least give you a split second to react should somebody step out.
The same applies to parked cars: give them a wide berth in case anybody inside opens a door. Also, be aware of specific danger areas - pubs in summertime are a particular problem with well-refreshed pavement drinkers - and if in any doubt, ring your bell to let others know you’re coming.