Learning to cycle in London

Many of the Rococo team members are avid cyclists (our founder, Chantal even rode to Paris for charity). They bikes both to commute and to make the most of London, preferring to see the views top-side rather than missing out underground.

Cycling is a brilliant way of getting about the city without complicated changes, great for fitness and environmentally-friendly. Bikes bring freedom and joy, and people who commute by bike statistically live longer. So why don’t I do cycle in London?

Short answer: I’m scared.

I sit on at the front of the bus and see how some vehicles behave towards cyclists, and how some cyclists increase antagonism by breaking road rules (particularly running red lights, often into groups of pedestrians). Then there’s the intimidating packs of sometimes-aggressive cyclists whizzing down the blue cycle superhighways at rush hour, rolling their eyes at the less fit among us and overtaking with very little room.

And those superhighways? They may have been a great idea but the reality is not so super, what with the parked cars, buses weaving in and out and the notorious accident blackspots on Cycle Superhighway 2. I’ve cycled in cities in The Netherlands, and it’s wonderful. I don’t know why anyone bothers with cars in cities there. It’s road cycling in the UK that’s terrifying, and London in particular.

That’s what I told Chantal when she asked why I didn’t cycle, and she agreed with all of my concerns but was adamant that it’s the best way to get around London. ‘You don’t have to use those big roads, though,’ she said. ‘I use quieter back roads and cut through parks when I can, and you can get free or cheap lessons from the council and free cycling maps.’

So after an online form and a phone call to arrange an appointment, an instructor turned up at my house (something I was very grateful for, having not felt confident about even getting myself to the nearest tube or train station to meet). He loved teaching cyclists and had done it for years, he told me, putting me at ease as I tried to remember what to do with my borrowed bike. How do you work gears again?

We spent half an hour or so on very quiet back roads practising road position, turning safely, roundabouts, learning about hazards and establishing that checking over your shoulder without veering to the right is much harder than it looks.

‘Okay, that’s lovely!’ I chirped, hoping desperately that this was it and I wouldn’t actually have to go out in traffic.

But that, of course, is the whole point of the lesson, and the instructor cheerfully ignored my reluctance and took me onto roads and roundabouts before culminating with turning right on a 3-lane road. Twice.

He was incredibly patient, stopping at each point to go over what we’d learned and how to deal with each obstacle. More than anything though, he took pains to point out that cyclists have every right to use the road, and that riding timidly in the gutter is less safe for everyone, cars and pedestrians included, than cycling according to established guidelines and making sure you have space to stay safe.

Would I cycle in London now? If I’m honest I’d like to take a few more lessons to have an experienced cyclist as a guide to get accustomed to traffic, but I learned a huge amount and feel confident enough to cycle on quiet roads. The best thing about this was that it got me started and reminded me of the joy of cycling, and I now know where to get all of the information I need to keep going. The Mayor’s vision for cycling in London outlines major investment and improvement planned by 2020, so we hope that cycling in London will become more appealing in the coming years.

 

5 hints for novice cyclists:

  1. Never come up along the left-hand side of a large vehicle at a junction. See this for help on staying safe around lorries.

  2. There are times when it’s safer to take the lane (ride in the middle of the lane so that no cars can pass). Don’t feel apologetic about doing so, or about leaving a broad margin around cars.

  3. Constant vigilance! As a cyclist you need to be aware of every other road user and where they are, and riding accordingly. Motorbikes whizz up surprisingly quickly, pedestrians step out without looking properly and people open car doors without seeing cyclists.

  4. Wear appropriate clothing and lights to make sure other road users can see you.

  5. Take special care at junctions, and if you’re a nervous or inexperienced cyclist it’s okay to get off and walk around an obstacle.

 

Resources for cycling in London:

Apply online for free or subsidised cycling lessons

Alternative cycling training providers

Free paper cycling maps (London)

Online cycling journey planner from TFL

Cycling routes online from Cyclestreets, which allows you to choose from the fastest or quietest route, or something in between

Local London Cycling Campaign groups

Barclay’s cycle hire map

TFL‘s cycling page

London Cycling Campaign – a charity working to improve London for cyclists

Bikeability – cycling proficiency for the 21st Century

CTC – the UK’s national cycling charity

Skyride – big group bike events, guided and social rides

London Cycle – an app with maps, routes and Barclay’s cycle hire docking station availability, plus a timer so that you can see how long you’ve had your bike.

 

 

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