I'll admit it: London tube was my first love in the British capital. Coming from a tiny Italian village with no buses, trams, taxis or any other sort of public transport, the mastodontic, capillary underground English system amazed me.
Photo Credits: Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash
It was only after 3/4 years of tube commuting, that I started having panic and anxiety attacks whenever I was to get on board a train. The silent crowds, the elbow-pushing professionals, the giant bags banging on my head...I could not stand them anymore and so I decided to go back to my childhood, countryside passion for cycling. Taking advantage of the Cycle to Work scheme, I got myself an amazing bike (the first of a series of four I later collected while living in the city) which quickly became my best friend and my main form of transport for getting from A to B in London.
Photo Credits: Dallas Kwok on Unsplash
But where did I find the courage to cycle in that crazy, busy, polluted metropolis?
Well, at first it wasn't easy, but after a few months, it was natural and I couldn't get off of my bike even when it was cold, rainy or even snowy.
But let's be honest, with such a high rate of cyclists dying in London every month, you must follow some rules in order to be safe.
Since, I am writing this, it means I am not dead yet, and I feel obliged to share my own tips and discoveries as a cyclist in London.
1. Lycra doesn't mean expert
Photo Credits: Simon Connellan on Unsplash
First things first. When you start cycling in London, you will be amazed by the amount of people wearing tight lycra t-shirts and pants. Hold on. Just because someone is wearing more Lycra than you, it doesn't mean they’re more experienced riders, it just means they love Lycra more than you do. Trust me when I say, I saw professional-looking cyclysts passing on red lights, cutting short on crossroads or even over-taking buses on the left.
DON'T EVER DO THAT.
Wearing Lycra or not.
2. Yes, Helmets ain't cool, but they save your life
Photo Credits: Roman Koester on Unsplash
I don't like to be brutal, but let me just say that there is a higher chance of surviving if you wear a helmet. It goes without saying that if you are planning to ride at night, you MUST have lights on, yup! Both in front and on the back. Ideally, also wear a bright jacket or put a high-visibility vest on or something similar.
3. The Number One Enemy: Pedestrians
Photo Credits: Eloise Ambursley
Man, if there is one type of Londoner I can't stand, it's pedestrians. Especially when I wasn't one of them and I was riding my bike :) I don't know why, probably they feel immortal and super safe, as they never look where they’re going. They cross the busy streets staring at their phones like they were the only humans on Mars. While riding around London, every day you will be amazed by the amount of times they will brush with death without even noticing. So, while you are on your bike, be careful of the pedestrians, they are your enemies and as such they must be avoided at all costs.
4. Watch out: Cars and Lorries won't see you
Photo Credits: Brunel Johnson on Unsplash
No matter how much Lycra you are wearing, how many flashing lights your bike has and how much bell noise you can make. They won't see you. As a child, I always wanted to be invisible and finally riding a bike in London gave me that magical power. No jokes.
Not sure how, but people behind a wheel suddenly feel like they're on an F1 racing track and they won't let you pass even when it's your turn, they will try to close you on the side of the street whenever they can. (Remember that they are probably on their phone talking, or worse, texting).
Taking the above into consideration, here are some practical tips against invisibility. A) At stop lights, get as far ahead of traffic and possibly stop right in front of cars and lorries, this why they can magically see you.
B) Don't EVER go up the inside of large vehicles. In this case, it is true that there is a blind spot where they won't be able to see you whatsoever and if they turn right there is nothing you can do. C) If you must overtake do it on the right or, even better, just wait behind. D) As a rule, you should think of yourself as a giant while cycling in London (or any major city): make yourself big and if there is no cycle lane, ride in the middle of the lane or at least stay a good two or three feet out from the curb.
Remember that cars are dangerous, even if they're parked, so don't ever ride in the door zone.
5. Plan your route ahead
Photo Credits: Brunel Johnson
If you're new to cycling or to London, you should plan a route with bike lanes and back streets rather than busy main roads and large junctions. It might take you longer, but it will get you to your destination safe and sound.
Additionally, knowing where you're going in advance will save you time rather than stopping on the side of the street to check your route every 5 minutes.
PRO TIP: Google maps gives the option to display directions for cyclists but there are also excellent routing apps you can download on your phone.
Safe and happy cycling in London is possible
Photo Credits: Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
If you follow the above rules, there is a high probability you will survive and enjoy your first year as a cyclist in London. It will be shitty scary, but you will feel like a super hero, day after day.
If you end up enjoying moving from A to B by bike, there is also a high chance you will get fitter and richer (since cycling is almost a cost-free form of transport). And if you are new to the town, I can assure you that you will discover places you would have never imagined or found by travelling by bus or tube.
I have to say that cycling is one of the most liberating things in the world, and doing it in London can be exhilarating too as you will feel cooler than all those sad, squashed commuters on the tube.
For more info about cycling in London, check out the London Cyclist Blog
Are you a tube or bike rider? Would you like to get more tips about riding a bike in London and the other Spotahome cities? Let us know in the comments below.
Read more about London:
10 Reasons Why You'll Fall in Love with London
Navigate London Transport without Getting Lost
Expat Diaries: Lessons Learned in My First Year in London
Best things to do in Soho, London
Neighbourhood Guide: Best things to do in Dalston
Neighbourhood Guide: Best things to do Clerkenwell
Spotahome Neighbourhood Guide: Best things to do in Brixton