On yer Bike!


At God’s Own Junkyard, Walthamstow

I have been cycling in cities, mostly London,  for about 20 years, now, and by dint of a quite miraculous level of caution on my part, I am not dead!


I live in North East London, and my most common cycle route is down the roman road which morphs from  Stamford Hill to Stoke Newington High St, then Kingsland Road, then maybe Shoreditch High St. Anyway, thankfully I don’t go that far, because it really gets a lot more dangerous with every change of name. There are a lot more cyclists on the road now, so we are all having to improve our skills of Phalanx cycling, a la Chinese, and I find I am joined by a lot more biking women these days, so welcome, ladies, and non-ladies to

Rachel’s Guide to Cycling Survival:

  1.  Be Highly Visible : my bike is yellow, my hi-vis jacket is yellow, my panniers are, yes, they’re yellow. When I replace my recently stolen helmet, I am tempted to buy a yellow one.
  2.  Don’t ever assume that the driver of a car has seen you, because there are any number of things they could be looking at, both inside and outside the car, such as their phone, their sat nav, their lunch, their radio settings, attractive people walking along the road, shops, the inside of their eyelids etc. Even if you are a blazing ball of fluorescent yellow, still, be ready to slam on those brakes at any second. You tube is full of entertaining little helmet-cam films of  drivers making life-threatening mistakes.
  3.  If you keep only one thing on your bike honed for maximum performance, make it your brakes, for mine have saved my life on many an occasion.
  4. Don’t trust other cyclists : YouTube is full of entertaining little windscreen-cam films of cyclists making life threatening mistakes. I’m sorry, but we have all seen people riding with headphones on, overtaking cyclists who are overtaking other cyclists, not looking behind before changing turning or pulling out, or indeed, ever. To be fair, many of them are new to two wheels, and haven’t passed cycling proficiency, as I have. Ok I failed first time for not looking behind after an emergency stop, but it was only because the instructor had emphasised its importance so much that I thought doing it would show an embarrassing lack of initiative.
  5. Remember that most car drivers neither know nor care how to ride a bicycle. For example, I regularly get beeps and indignant gesticulations for waiting in the middle of the junction to turn right. Yes, you and I both know that’s the correct position, but honestly, I think we are alone.

I have noticed, though, that since the Olympics in 2012, there are a lot more bikes on the road. It wasn’t the inspiration of British medal success, because it happened before, when ‘they’ did something to traffic to make it more difficult for people to drive. I’m sorry I don’t have more precise information to support this, but I have always cycled, even when I was almost the only woman I ever saw on a bike in London, and everyone thought I was mad.

I had to travel on the Overground before 9am this morning, and based on that experience, I think we are on the verge of a revolution in cycling in London : how people can bear to start their day crushed in with everyone all up their aura like that I don’t know. If only they knew the joy / knife edge of London on a bike. We need to reach the tipping point, though, when so many people are cycling that vehicle drivers no longer feel able to cut us up / side swipe us / overtake and turn left, and that means numbers! Get that bike out of the shed and give it a spin!


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