Cycling is evidently having a moment. As offices slowly reopen, many people looking to avoid taking public transport are replacing their regular commute by biking to work instead.
But what if you’re new to — or a little daunted by — a two-wheeled commute? The FT’s Rebecca Rose signed up for an urban cycling lesson to gain the skills and confidence to give it a go, prompting many FT readers to share their top tips for cycling in the UK capital. We’ve picked out some of our favourites.
Be visible — and communicate
I note that the instructor is wearing a high-vis vest and I would strongly recommend this at all times, both as a cyclist and a motorist myself — it really helps drivers see you at a distance — even in broad daylight.
At night-time, I had two front lights and two rear lights: one of each on a constant light, and the others flashing. I don't recommend those really dazzling front lights, as it makes it difficult for other road users to judge the speed at which you are approaching.
My other tip, to add to the one in the article about steering clear of parked cars to avoid being hit by a door opening, is to have a loud bell — and use it: another hazard is pedestrians stepping into the road without looking, because they're used to listening for the sound of a vehicle engine. — Age of Reason
Don’t cycle in brown clothes. They make you virtually invisible to oldies like me. Good luck. — Sramsram
Try practising looking behind you and [master] the art of the look before you indicate. If you make eye contact, most drivers will let you out but just putting up your hand and expecting the traffic to part is not wise. — High flyer
Get to know your route when it’s quiet
Try the route on a Sunday to familiarise yourself with it before a weekday journey. As on the tube, all commuters assume you are au fait with the pace, directional nuances and informal rules of the peloton! — Cities Licker
Bring a change of clothes if you need to
There is simply no way you can cycle to work without a change of clothes . . .
1. The road is wet 10-20% of the time — that'll get your clothes wet and dirty
2. Rain is rare but the threat of rain is constant. So if you're going to not cycle when rain threatens, you'll be off your bike 50%+ of the time. That's still better than never but, psychologically, I find most people who cycle to work can only do so if they go “all-in” and do it pretty much every day — or else it's always tempting to use the excuse of possible rain and dodge the bike
3. Showers . . . you need to shower after a bike ride, particularly if you're a bloke. You can smell someone who cycled to work and didn't shower. You might think it adds to your commute time but it's time you're saving at home, so it balances out. It's not that huge a deal — keep stuff at the office and use a dry cleaner next to the office for shirts etc. — A Fund Manager
Depends on where you live and the length of your commute. Anything under 30 mins, where you can ride gently, you don't need a shower. — Deluded rationalist
Use a mirror for additional visibility
As a seasoned cyclist in London, I feel the biggest safety feature on my bike is the rear-view mirror. No car driver would feel comfortable without mirrors and I use my bike mirror constantly. Surprised that so few cyclists have them. — NickinHP
Wear protective gear
First, buy rear and front lights and make sure you are seen. Second, buy some gloves. A lot of accidents are at slow speeds and not serious but grazing your hands on the road can be painful. For £10 or so, protect your hands. My third tip may be more controversial: please, please get a helmet and then wear it (done up). I don’t want to put people off but accidents do happen and I personally can’t understand anyone who doesn’t wear a lid. — High flyer
Always be checking your surroundings
Use the main part of the road, don't just timidly hug the double yellows. You are a valid road user, and it's important to be noticed . . . But look for opportunities to let vehicles overtake.
Look out all the time. Read the road ahead, around you, check over your shoulder frequently. Stay sharp.
Obey traffic lights and signals. If you start to think that you can cut corners, that's when BAM! Game Over . . . So be a good road user! — Bai Zhan Bai Sheng
Use Transport for London’s route mapper
Once you start cycling in London, it will quickly become your primary mode of transport as it’s faster than the tube for all but the longest cross city trips. Which means you’ll often be trying new routes.
Google Maps is (at the moment) pretty useless for cyclists in London as it doesn’t know about much of the infrastructure — such as roads closed at one end to motor vehicles but open to cyclists or where there is a segregated bike lane.
Instead, use TfL’s route mapper — it knows all the bike lanes and gives you three options (easy, moderate and fast) according to whether you prefer quiet back roads or just want the fastest route.
And invest in a waterproof phone holder for your handlebars — easier than stopping every five minutes to fish your phone put off your pocket to check the route (especially if you’re wearing gloves). — Misterpies
Use bus lanes and backstreets
Started commuting by bike in London in mid-1980s, still cycle everywhere. Cycling is fastest, nicest way of travelling within at least a five-mile radius of Charing Cross . . .
Get and use front and back USB-charged lights, and carry the cheapest tiniest spares in case you lose one or they get nicked. As the nights draw in, and you have to leave late, or end up having a drink — it will get dark! You will be so happy to have lights.
Use your lights all the time (modern car regulations dictate running lights for a reason): whatever the weather, whatever the time . . .
Use quiet streets. Bus lanes are quiet (bus drivers and black-cab drivers are by far the best drivers for respecting cyclists); they are wide and thinly populated. They run in one direction. One-way cycle lanes such as the new post-Covid ones on many big roads also count as quiet. Backstreets and parks are quiet, and it’s fun finding new and unknown routes: cycling is the best way of learning and enjoying a big city like London.
Never, ever listen to music, podcasts, talk on a phone, or in any other way diminish your natural awareness of your surroundings.
Panniers get the weight off your back (very important for regular cycling), have space for laptops and shopping, and lower your centre of gravity. They also act like cat’s whiskers: if they brush the traffic, you’re too close.
Lastly, puncture? Drunk? Scared? Lost? Late? A black cab can take a full-size road bike in the passenger compartment. The AA of the London cyclist. Ask if it’s OK (it will be) and suck up the cost of an occasional disaster/your peace of mind. — Jim Gilchrist
Assume the worst?
To be safe, I always assume that all drivers are lunatic and drunk! — Risky business
Read about Rebecca Rose’s urban cycling lesson through Transport for London’s cycle skills scheme
Are you planning to start cycling to work? Or are you an avid cyclist and have tips to share? Share your thoughts in the comments
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