Written by Claire Smith. – Claire built a bike with us around 18months ago and has been commuting from East London into Central.
5 Life lessons for London Cyclists
- Take your Time
I have the misfortune of living on the central line and regularly use my bike for commuting rather than a leisurely amble, so appreciate the need for a certain level of speed and functionality. However take your time as there is little to be gained by rushing ahead to the next red light. There are also buses, cars, other cyclists, pedestrians who walk out into the road without looking and several other impedes to speed – meaning that you can only go so fast without having to break hard anyway. Aside from all this, choosing cycling over public transport is meant to break up the daily grind yet rushing will only result in you failing to notice a beautiful sunrise, appreciate an architectural feature you’ve not seen before, or spot a new pub that might become a favourite.
- Cycling attire
I’m all for safety and take no issue with a helmet or even a high-vis jacket/waistcoat. However when cycling through a city (let alone London) with stable conditions, minimal inclines and plenty of opportunities to stop and buy urgent snacks or bike parts if necessary – why do people feel the need to dress like they’re taking part in the Tour de France? What edge will an aerodynamic Lycra outfit afford you in London? Will wearing shoes with grips help you get to the next set of traffic lights faster? And does carrying a spare set of clothes and getting changed once you get to work ultimately save you any time?
Evolution has taught us to be wary of red. In nature, the colour evokes danger, poison or to approach with caution, and I believe the same rules should be applied to cycling near buses (aka my nemesis!). They are long, wide, diagonally pull into stops hundreds of metres ahead of when they need to, and are seemingly oblivious to everything around them. Singularly they are a pest, but they often travel in a small pack or in twos or threes – far too long an obstacle for the average cyclist to takeover and move past safely. I am also fast developing a theory that bus drivers were bullied at school and now that they are in control of such a large and powerful machine, they wield it to their advantage as they are finally ‘the big boys’. Sadly there is little escape from them in London, so approach and navigate your way around them with extreme care!
Or to be more specific… the right bag for cycling. I have tried all sorts; backpacks, side bags, a cotton tote, pannier bags, a bum-bag amongst others, but nothing quite meets all the requirements. All backpacks regardless of whether they are a sports rucksack, fashionable leather backpack or specially designed cycling one, result in a sweaty back! And all other forms fail by being too small to keep daily essentials (phone, purse, keys, bike lock, book, bottle of water) in, or simply get in the way of cycling by constantly falling off your shoulder or hitting your moving knees!
Last but by no means least, the damp conditions that plague the city. Despite it being summer there are numerous occasions when I have been caught out by London weather. I am familiar enough with the city to know that a dry morning may not equate with a dry afternoon/evening, however I do not expect rain to kick in just ten minutes into a journey when the BBC, Met, and AcuWeather forecasts have all stated bright sunshine! It is impossible to cycle whilst holding an umbrella (I’ve tried!), and whilst macs protect you from the elements they are also created from sweat-inducing materials leading to an uncomfortable ride. I hear bike ponchos are the answer, but am reluctant to ease into autumn just yet and make that purchase!