Since I’ve been cycling into work, it’s surprised me how many people (even born and bred Londoners) have asked me with concern whether I feel safe on the roads. That makes me wonder whether there are more people than I expected being held back from hopping on two wheels purely because they’re too intimidated to take to the roads. Having looked into it a little more, it certainly seems that way and, unfortunately, one of the groups that appear to be particularly discouraged is women.
For those of you who might fall into the discouraged category or for those of you who are simply just concerned for my welfare (and thank you for that!), I thought it might be interesting if I wrote a short little blog to tell you about the realities of riding on the road and tips for staying safe, including pimping up my bike to resemble a disco ball (all explained below...)! Here, I hope to dispel some fears...especially my Mum's, who I'm sure is thoroughly unconvinced by my constant reassurances to her that I'm safe!
I might get knocked off my bike!!...
Every day, I literally can’t believe how many idiots there are on bikes riding around the roads of London. Now, I’m not talking about people who get a little bit overconfident once in a while. Hey, I’ve even been guilty of that myself! No, I’m talking about those people who seem to forget that a London bus is about a hundred times their size, choosing to weave carelessly in and out of the traffic, all the while not braking and not wearing a helmet! I'm well aware I sound like a health and safety bore but, quite frankly, I don’t care. I honestly don’t understand these people! I mean, nobody looks good in a helmet dude, so get over it!! See...
Anyway, rant over. The actual point I’m trying to get to is that, statistically, people who behave like that are more likely to get knocked off their bike (and I know because I've just read a ROSPA report about cycling accidents that I kind of wish I hadn't, eek!!). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so naïve and insensitive to assume that safety conscious cyclists haven’t also been unlucky enough to be involved in accidents. In fact, on one of my first days of riding I saw a guy get knocked off his bike when a car pulled out in front of him! He was fine by the way. All I’m saying is, we are the master of our own destiny (and all that jazz) and can take many steps to decrease our chances of that happening.
So yes, I won’t lie to you (Mum look away for this next bit). Getting knocked off my bike is a possibility. Of course it is. However, there are many things I can do to try to ensure that I fall into the percentage of people this doesn’t happen to. Being forever conscious that getting knocked off my bike can happen, is a good start to staying safe! So I always try to keep that firmly in mind on every journey and not become complacent.
I’d be too intimidated by the traffic!!...
At first, it can be intimidating to ride on a busy road with traffic all around, trying to avoid the wheels of the bike in front (and sometimes to either side!), and making sure to keep an eye on the pedestrians, who always look distinctly like they’re going to step out in front of you at any moment! Initially, I was definitely nervous about it and trying to concentrate on everything around me whilst not falling off my bike was certainly a new challenge. However, the majority of the routes I ride either involve very wide roads, on which I tend to have plenty of space to avoid being too close to the traffic, or they have designated cycle lanes I can stick to. Whether that's reflective of other commuter routes I'm not sure but I'd certainly be interested to hear from you guys on that!
In addition to the cycle lanes, at most main sets of traffic lights there are cycle boxes that allow me to make my way in front of the traffic (and consequently be more visible) before the lights turn green. Although some arsehole drivers sometimes do end up in the box, I’ve found that rarely happens and the boxes were a really good way when I first started cycling to create a bit of space between me and the traffic. If I was nervous or unsure of my route, it was a good time to collect my thoughts and sort my life out.
On that note, if you are about to start cycling and are at all nervous, I would certainly recommend you try to figure out the cause of your nerves. Are you nervous because you haven’t ridden a bike for a long time and think you've forgotten how to? Are you nervous because you have never ridden on the road and are intimidated about riding alongside the traffic? Whatever your reason for being nervous, do whatever you can to deal with that issue before taking to the busy roads at rush hour. You do need your wits about you on the road in order to stay safe, so if you’re not entirely confident riding your bike to begin with, go do some practice rides at the weekend (on quiet roads or off road if you really have no clue what you're doing!) or take time to plan a quiet cycle route for your first few weeks of commuting whilst you build up some confidence. Even if that route takes you slightly longer, it'll be worth it in the long run.
I couldn’t possibly ride in the dark!!...
This is a fair one. I was a little anxious when I first started doing this but it’s really not as bad as you might think!
As those of you who have been following my blog know, I started cycling during the summer, so at first most of my journeys (no matter how late I left the office!) were undertaken in the light. That gave me a lot of time in which to gain confidence and get to know my route inside out. Consequently, my first few journeys in the dark were absolutely fine. My advice to anybody who is looking to take up cycling for their commute would certainly be to make sure you do your planned journey in the light of day a few times before you tackle it in the dark.
Once I was ready to start riding at night, I made sure I was properly kitted out to do so. Although the streets and roads are fairly well lit in London there is actually legislation that dictates the type and the amount of lights and reflectors to have on a bike and where they should be placed. Law schmore though (said the lawyer!...), I just add all the lights I can to my bike, within reason! I figure that riding around on a portable disco ball will not only keep me safer, it also makes me feel much more confident because I know I'm more visible, which in turn makes me feel safer...and so on and so on! Plus it looks super cool, right?
As I said, I’m not naïve. I realise there are certain hazards or situations that sometimes can’t be avoided. Consequently, I know I can’t entirely rule out ever being involved in an accident, even if I do all I can to avoid it. However, as long as you do all that you can to stay safe and ride safe, cycling on the road is honestly nowhere near as intimidating as you might think. I’d therefore encourage anybody who has the opportunity to, to give it a go. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!!
I'd love to hear from you if you're about to start riding or have been doing it for a while and have any other tips! Also, for those of you who aren't cycling and don't intend to be in the near or distant future, I'm hoping (work commitments permitting!) that my next blog post is going to be ready for you in a fortnight. It'll be an interesting one for anybody short of time in the morning....so, erm, all of you then. Stay tuned!!