Tree-huggers good; kerb-huggers bad

Guest Blog by the London Biker 

Were you aware that free cycle lessons are available to every person who either lives, works or studies in any of London’s 32 boroughs.  Is that an amazed look I see etched on your face?  You have every right to be amazed -  the only place you are likely to see an advert for such altruism is on the back of a London bus in Shepherd’s Bush (the only place I happened to spot one a few months ago). Why is there not more advertising?  Well, that unfortunately goes above my pay grade. But it’s a very good question for TFL to answer, as the paymasters of the scheme. I am just the bloke who provides these life-changing/enhancing (insert positive adjective here) lessons to you, the lovely cyclists of London.

I am a National Standards Cycling Instructor. That means I know a thing or two about staying safe on London’s dangerous, hairy, crazy (insert Evening Standard-inspired hyperbole here), roads. Before that I was one of those much-cherished cycle couriers who, according to  some Taxi drivers, thought I had a death-wish. They couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Apart from dodging Black Cabs, being a courier taught me how to ride like a demon. By demon, I don’t mean cutting red lights and weaving through traffic like there’s no tomorrow. I don’t know where you got that idea from! I mean being able to predict what other road-users would do. Also, from copying the motorbikers, I quickly learnt that if you wanted to survive on two wheels in London you do not want to be hugging the kerb as if it were cyclists’ BFF. Instead, at junctions you want to be out in the middle of the lane, forcing the drivers to stay behind you. I know to a few of you this new-fangled idea of ‘taking the lane’ farts in the face of what you were taught: stay by the kerb at all times. Do not deviate from the kerb. Do not pass go and collect £200.  

However, as I will  explain, deviating from the kerb is oftentimes the safest thing to do!  Hopefully a little fictitious story about a cyclist reaping the benefits of her cycle lesson will do the trick of persuading any kerb-huggers to detach themselves from said kerb. 

Meet Charlie. She is 31, lives in Borough and works at the Bank of England. Having found riding to work a hair-raising experience, she decided to have a bike lesson. Shown the ropes by the uber-confident Ellie, on a decidedly wet Tuesday morning at 8.15 Charlie embarks on her 20 minute pootle to work down Borough High Street.  After London Bridge she meets her first major junction, The Monument, where she’ll veer left onto King William Street.

It’s the peak of rush hour. The lights are red. Dozens of other cyclists are swarming all around her as she approaches the junction. A  44 tonne HGV is in the left-hand lane behind the Advanced Stop Box, signalling left. She sees most cyclists squeezing between the kerb and the lorry, with only a handful joining her in the middle of the lane behind it.  Amber then green. There is a roar as the traffic speeds off in myriad directions. From behind the lorry, Charlie has the perfect vantage point to witness the chaos . As the lorry crunches left into Cannon Street, multiple cyclists are only centimetres away from having the perfect view of its undercarriage. 

Charlie  laments to herself: if they’d only taken the lane behind or in front of the lorry, instead of squeezing next to it, they would have done themselves a huge favour.  

With the lorry trundling its way west, Charlie continues to take the lane through the junction and sets off down the narrow King William Street. Before her is a stationary line of multi-coloured metal. On the kerb-side of the road is a cycle lane, no more than a metre wide, being used by the majority of cyclists. Charlie though, not for the first time this morning, is in the know. She presently checks over her right shoulder for any on-coming cycles or motorbikes before moving into the middle of the road to filter past the traffic. 

It  is a common myth that the middle of the road is a no-go area for cyclists, far from the ‘safety’ of the cycle lane. On the contrary: there is often the room to fit a bus down it, the visibility is far greater, and there is no chance of viewing any HGVs from below. 

As Charlie carefully cycles north, checking for any suits, not looking as they dart across the road, she is almost taken out by another cyclist attempting to filter down the middle of road too. Unlike Charlie, however, this rogue didn’t make that vital right-shoulder look before taking his position. “Look before you pull out!” Charlie yells as she squeezes the brakes. “Sorry!” 

B ut he doesn’t seem to realise he nearly caused a serious accident.  Aware that a traffic jam on a rainy Tuesday morning is no place to enlighten him, Charlie carries on. This time she checks every gap between the vehicles, just in case .

In the distance she sees the impressive stone walls of The Bank. All she has to do is negotiate the ‘notorious’ Bank Junction - the Evening Standard’s adjective - and take a right into Threadneedle street.  Though traffic light-controlled, there’s no built centre so she has to take the lane.  With Ellie’s advice reverberating inside her head, Charlie signals before setting off at the lights, making sure the Transit stays firmly behind her. Pedal set, she waits in the middle of the junction until there is a gap in the oncoming traffic, wide enough for her to turn right. Although a Black Taxi is bearing down on her she knows there is enough space to safely make her turn. Making eye contact with the driver, to slow him down, she accelerates into Threadneedle and pulls up on the left... when it is safe to do so, of course. 

A taxing day in the office awaits her but Charlie’s spirits are at least buoyed, for now, by the adrenaline pacing through her. Though it is only a matter of time before her sodden clothes put paid to that! 

 

 

Dean Wicks has been National Standards cycling instructor since 2009. Most of his work is in schools, teaching 7-11 year-olds bikeability levels 1 (off-road, including absolute beginners), level 2 (on-road);  and ages 11-adult level 3 (major roads). In addition to this, he teachs the cycling part of the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) which all HGV drivers, and other commercial drivers, in London have to complete. His would love to help make sure many more people in London feel confident riding on the roads.