Now that the clocks have changed and the daylight hours are aligned a little more usefully, another summer’s worth of commuters ponder whether or not to make the switch to pedal power. As someone who grew up cycling on the roads of London it’s never particularly been in question for me, but I am regularly asked how – and indeed why – I put myself through what is so often publicised as some kind of masochistic torture every day. Now I’ve had my fair share of bad riding experiences, but on the whole being able to ride to work is something I really value, and I honestly believe that (within geographical reason) there’s no need for anyone to be put off the idea. Allow me to elaborate.
Most of what I can discuss in reference to personal experience does relate specifically to London, but I have been given to believe that it’s not a million miles away from the situation in other cities around the UK, so hopefully this can be relatively universal.
Many people’s primary concern is, unsurprisingly, safety. But there are also the fairly prevalent issues the wonderful British weather, and the fear of ‘technicals’. But there are plenty of things to be done to limit any risk, and maximise enjoyment. Cycling is supposed to be fun, after all!
First of all – follow the Highway Code. This is something I feel pretty strongly about, and was perfectly summarised in a recent Tweet from Nick Hussey:
Sometimes I honestly believe that it’s not the motorised traffic that put me in most danger, but other cyclists being dicks. Jumping the lights, not having lights, riding the wrong way down one way streets – it might be easy to get away with when you don’t have a number plate to be caught on camera, but in the long run it’s massively unhelpful.
Secondly, while we cannot trust anyone else to do the above and essentially have to ride on the assumption that everyone is secretly trying to kill us, this does not mean riding gutter. By all means ride conscientiously and allow space where it is safe to do so, but it is in fact much safer to ride in a dominant position nicely away from the kerb. Not only do you reduce the risk of punctures by avoiding all the shit that ends up there, but should a car need to overtake, they will only be able to do so if it is clear on the other side. If they’ve passed a test, they should know this:
Remember – if they honk, at least you know they’ve seen you. This DEFINITELY still applies when using cycle lanes by the way; another key reason for taking up a proper position in the road is that you won’t take anyone by surprise pulling out to avoid parked cars, and parked cars love cycle lanes.
Choosing the right bike is important. Consider not just your level of fitness but also your route, and the road conditions. Right now the options are wider than they’ve ever been and there is a bike for everyone.
When it comes to auxiliary equipment, there’s no need to pack a workshop but it pays to be prepared. A flat on the way to work is never ideal, but it’s a hell of a lot worse if you don’t have the gear to deal with it. While most riders will be more than happy to stop and give someone in need their spare tube, this is based on a vague karma system so don’t abuse it.
Similarly, you don’t need to be a mechanic to keep an eye on things in the longer term. Check your tyres. Running at the correct pressure not only makes your ride easier, but also helps them last longer, protects your wheels AND helps to prevent punctures. Pull out any bits of glass or flint, because they will eventually work their way through to the inner tube. Lubricate your chain with a proper chain lubricant, and (if you use rim brakes) clean the braking surfaces. Keep an eye on the level of wear on both the brake pads and the wheel rims themselves. With these three tasks covered, you should at the very least be able to keep moving, and stop when required. Anything further can be dealt with via an appointment with your local bike shop, or waiting until the weekend gives you a little more time to take on the job yourself.
Finally – and this is something I know full well I’m not so good at – try not to let other people make you angry, remember a few things and enjoy the ride. Your bike doesn’t leave without you if you’re running late. You don’t have to share it with other people or their morning breath, you get to see the world outside the work-home-sleep-repeat monotony, and there’s no better way to rid yourself of a hangover. You can take a different route every day and explore more and more of your city. Why do it any other way?
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