London is the cycling capital of the UK. In the last 20 years, the numbers of Londoners commuting by bike has exploded and communities of cyclists have sprung up wherever you look. With some of the best cycling roads in the country and lots of parks and green spaces to explore, London is a surprisingly cycle friendly place to be. 580,000 cyclists make the daily commute by bike.
Unfortunately, with 8 million people living there, it’s a bit crowded. Traffic is not as bad as it was, but that is not saying very much at all. Fumes, congestion, angry Londoners, it can all make cycling in London a dangerous prospect. When 6 cyclists died in a 2 week period in 2013, Londoners came together to demand better cycling safety. Since then, things have improved a lot, but it can still be dangerous, so how can you stay safe on London’s roads?
Keep your Bike in Good Condition
Losing a chain in the middle of a junction is not just jarring, it’s very dangerous. A flat tyre equally so. And don’t even think about going out on the roads of London without working brakes. Traffic can move fast, there are pedestrians everywhere, and the city is not on a grid, so it can be difficult to navigate if you don’t know your way around.
Maintaining your bike is vital. It is your duty to have your road vehicle in road-worthy condition, if you fail to do so and injure or kill someone, you could be in a lot of trouble.
The good news is that London has over 300 bike shops to help you. Many are independent and are cycling community hubs. Getting expert and friendly advice from a bike shop on how to maintain your bicycle could save your life. It can make you a lot of friends too.
Your tyres need to be pumped up. Your brakes need to work well. Keep your chain and gears lubricated with the right lubricant (3-in-1 oil does the trick). Any spots of rust or corrosion need to be monitored and treated if possible.
Wear a Helmet
Everyone wears helmets these days. You will look unusual without one, not wearing one. The congestion in London makes it almost inevitable that you will have a dangerous altercation with a motor vehicle at some point if you live there. Drivers don’t always look where they are going, and the thousands of bicyclists who get knocked off their bikes every year (about a dozen sadly die in London) will agree: wear a helmet.
Regulations mean any helmet on sale in the UK should conform to high standards. You do not need to cough up much cash to get a helmet that can keep your head safe. It can be the difference of life and death, literally. Accept that helmet hair is a thing and get over it. Wear a helmet. Wear a helmet.
Get some Lights
It is illegal to cycle on roads at night without lights. So you need some. It’s not just the law, it’s common sense. Cars and lorries are much bigger than you and will win in any fight. At night, they won’t see you and you will get squished flat if you don’t have lights. You need a front facing white light and a back facing red light. USB charged LED lights do not cost much from the internet and will almost certainly stop people running you over.
You don’t just need lights, you need reflective clothing. Even during the day, having reflective strips on your jacket and trousers can make you significantly more visible. At night, it will make you stand out like a sore thumb, which is what you want when you’re faced with several tonnes of speeding metal heading towards you in the form of a truck. Again, they are inexpensive and will save your life.
Know the Highway Code
The Highway Code is the law. Disobey it and you might go to prison or face a hefty fine. Disobey it and you might get run over. The laws are sensible and are there for your protection. Cyclists are the most vulnerable people on the road, the laws are designed to keep you as possible.
Most cycling deaths happen at junctions. Particularly when turning left. Know your right of way and never turn on the inside of a truck or other motor vehicle. Stay visible and know where vehicles’ blind spots are. This is vital knowledge that could save your life.
Wear a Mask
Although cyclists might look like they get the worst of road pollution, it is in fact motorists who get more pollution in their lungs. However, a breathing mask can stop a lot of horrible stuff getting into your lungs, so they are worth looking at.