Article reviewed: 2013/01/18 | Next review due: 2014/08/06
One thing to remember is that if you come from a country that drives on the right side of the road, it is best to walk around the city for a couple of weeks to get used to the traffic coming from the other direction. I have seen many expats looking left first and then right as they cross the street simply out of habit, as they would at home. Likewise, it has been known for an expat to turn a corner and start heading down the right-hand lane, as they go into ‘autopilot’ as they usually would on the roads of their own country.
Also, you must be aware of the rules of the road, see the following link for details of the Highway-Code (roadsafetyni.gov.uk/index/highwaycode.htm).
Specifics to note:
- Cyclists CANNOT ride on pavements in England
- It is still illegal for a cyclist to go through a red light in traffic. However, you will see many cyclists doing this. If you do so, please note that this is at your own risk
Cycling is all about sharing space with other people. The hazards don't come from the roads but from other people. It is easy to get infected by other road users' pushiness. Remember this and you'll be halfway to becoming a safe and more comfortable city rider.
One of the best things about city cycling is that you can travel without getting in a panic. It is one of the most reliable, healthiest and entertaining ways of getting around: smile and be courteous to other road users even when they aren't!
Observation and assumption
Keep your eye on the horizon, and then remain calm when a car, truck, bus or pedestrian does the unexpected. Soon you'll be able to read the traffic confidently and you won't be surprised if a pram suddenly appears in your peripheral vision. Concentrating on one task can make you oblivious to other more dangerous things around you, known as inattention blindness.
Nine out of ten drivers involved in fatal collisions with cyclists say they never saw them. Visibility is vital, so wear reflective and bright clothing.
Position in the road
If you make drivers aware of your existence they are more likely to respect your space. Your road position is your body language and safety margin, so ride far enough out from the kerb to avoid drain covers and nasty cambers; and allow at least a full door width's clearance between you and parked cars.
Making eye contact with drivers as they try to shimmy in front of you at a junction should tell you whether or not they have seen you. Often just looking into their eyes is enough to make a pedestrian or driver hesitate in making the particular manoeuvre that was about to cause you concern.
Just as it's important for road users to keep an eye out for cyclists, cyclists must also take steps to ensure they are seen by motorists. How aware are you?
Smooth and assertive
You shouldn't be jittery about London traffic, just more aware of it. Cyclists who ride nervously are more likely to be cut up or forced into compromising situations by other road users. Some drivers are more likely to bully a cyclist or pedestrian if everyone else is doing it.
The clearest example of this is creepage. Creepage is when the driver at the head of a road junction wants to pull out onto the street you are riding along. They're not going to ignore your approach and end up causing an accident; but equally they are in too much of a hurry to wait for you to pass.
So the car creeps forward, nosing further out into your path as all the cars behind it consolidate the advantage, making reversing out of the question.
Remember there is a clear difference between riding aggressively and assertively.
Things to watch out for
- Black cabs swerving to the kerb to pick up/drop off passengers
- Pedestrians stepping out into the road without looking (and most of us do it on occasion)
- Passengers hopping on or off buses without looking
- Vehicles turning left across you - even more serious if it is a bus or truck
- Car doors being opened into your path
- Vehicle creepage at junctions
- Delivery vehicles parked in cycle lanes
- Drivers failing to indicate properly
- Vehicles doing impromptu u-turns
Heavy Goods Vehicles (buses, trucks, lorries, etc.)
More than half of all cyclist deaths in London are caused by collisions with Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs). Risk can be minimised if lorry drivers and cyclists alike are aware of each other and behave responsibly. You can help by:
- Taking particular care along the left side of HGVs and near the front wheel
Moving to a position well in front of the cab to ensure you are seen
Taking part in training on offer via local councils
Staying in front of the cab or staying behind vehicles at junctions
Your visibility with reflective clothing and lights.