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How To Survive City Cycling


Let’s not beat around the bush: it’s a war zone out there. For the modern city cyclist, each new day represents a death-defying plunge into a screeching concrete maelstrom populated by cabbies who regard wing mirrors as purely decorative items and pedestrians who step brazenly into main roads with their eyes trained squarely on their smartphones. Everyone and everything is a potential gateway to a shattered clavicle (or worse), including, of course, other bikers. Two-wheeled recklessness is frequently responsible for insults, injuries and irate tweets that end ‘#stupidbloodycyclists’, and the past month has even seen calls for the implementation of ‘bike numberplates’, as well as countless think-pieces urging ‘Louts in Lycra’ to undergo safety training before hitting the road. With that in mind, allow us to present nine new guidelines every modern city cyclist should observe to ensure a safer, happier and wholly expletive-free commute…


"Run all you want. You will not leave me hanging"


To non-bikers, London’s Barclays Cycle Hire service – or ‘Boris Bikes’ to everyone not employed by Barclays – probably seems like a good thing. A healthy, environmentally friendly way for tourists to explore the city, and commuters to alleviate the rush-hour squeeze. What’s not to like, right? It’s only habitual cyclists who recognise this scheme for what it really is: the single worst idea in the history of humankind. Forget articulated lorries and psychotic cabbies; there is no bigger threat to a seasoned cyclist’s safety than a pissed-up account exec trying unsuccessfully to tame a Boris Bike on a busy road while simultaneously barking into his mobile and eating a burrito. Everything about these nightmare contraptions is dangerous, from their wildly unpredictable steering (they’re so heavy it’s like riding through six inches of treacle) to their very raison d’etre – they are bikes for people who don’t (and, often, can’t) ride bikes. Steer well clear.


"This game of tag has gotten out of hand"


To other road-users, your means of transport defines you. You ride a bike and, as such, you represent everyone else who rides a bike, and indeed has ever ridden a bike. Subsequently, you must remember that when a fellow cyclist does something bone-headed in your vicinity, you could end up taking the flak for it. Don’t be offended; this is an unavoidable side-effect of city cycling. I was once riding behind a biker who pulled out recklessly in front of a white van, and disappeared round a corner. When I extended my sympathy to the furious driver – via the medium of tutting – he rolled his window down and yelled, “Would it kill you lot to f*cking indicate?” and then drove off.



A stylish – and practical – Spandex jersey is perfectly acceptable, but going ‘full Lycra’ (shorts, silly little hat, leggings) on your commute to work is a bit like getting on the Tube wearing train conductor’s overalls and a whistle around your neck.


When a car comes within millimetres of mowing you down, you will naturally feel like tearing its driver a new one. Think carefully, though, about pursuing these feuds beyond just a waved fist or a flicked ‘V’. Before you start hurling insults or banging on windows, assess the situation. Remember that the kind of person who’s happy to mow you down in a car is probably equally happy to step out of said car and kick your teeth in. I once angrily asked a cabbie – after he’d nearly flattened me at 40mph – how he would feel if he ended up killing someone in a similar incident. He looked me straight in the eyes and replied: “I was in the Marines for 10 years, pal. I’ve killed plenty of people.” I responded – quite cleverly, I thought – by cycling off very quickly in the opposite direction.


"Oh, that's what I'm meant to do?"


Remember that bit in The Trip where Steve Coogan has his afternoon ruined by a bloke who insists on one-upping him with limestone-based trivia? This sort of situation is a permanent hazard for any cyclist sporting a flashy or expensive bit of kit. Stop at a red light beside a certain kind of bore, and you’ll find your gadgetry glanced at, briefly appraised, and then gleefully trumped by some newer-fangled version adorning your pal’s handlebars. Avoid these confrontations by spotting pimped-out bikes early, and staying as far away as possible.


There’s nothing wrong with timing your ride in, or trying to beat your personal best but, please, don’t forget that you are cycling to work, not competing in a major sporting event. On no account must you turn into one of those Lycra-swaddled middle managers who appear to have mistaken their morning commute for the final stage of the Giro d’Italia. In their minds, between 8.30-9am, these guys are Chris Froome. Perched on their ludicrously expensive racing bikes, they treat every red light like an Olympic starting line, eyeing the ‘peloton’ warily as it assembles around them, nervously ‘taking on fluids’ from their £100 water bottles, before tearing off towards the next set of lights at breakneck speed, where you inevitably catch them up again a few seconds later.


"I thought you were only popping out to get milk?"


As much as cyclists hate and are hated by motorists and pedestrians, they also hate and are hated by each other. This two-wheeled in-fighting is predominantly tribal; so, the Faux-Froomes – speed junkies, but sticklers for the rules – will hurl expletives at the surly couriers blazing past them to jump red lights. And, in turn, the couriers will offer a piece of their minds to the Brompton-riding beardies weaving slowly all over the road in an attempt to keep their artisan coffee upright. And, obviously, everyone hates Boris Bikes. Establish yourself as a conscientious objector in this civil war by a) displaying no obvious tribal affinities, and b) not cycling like a complete idiot.


Some cyclists – it’s usually the fixie-straddling creatives – do this thing at red lights where they try to stay balanced on their bike while motionless, keeping both feet on the pedals. Watching these guys wobble precariously on the spot, for no apparent reason other than to impress onlookers, you will feel an overwhelming urge to give them a gentle shove. Resist this urge, as the long-term repercussions will almost certainly outweigh the short-term hilarity.


Ultimately, the reason cyclists get so much bad press is that many of us are total, total pricks. This is a fact that you – as a non-prick cyclist – should keep at the forefront of your mind at all times. You are like a politician or a traffic warden or Piers Morgan; the public perception of you is not generally a positive one. As such, you must do your utmost to alter this perception, one person at a time if necessary. Give way to pedestrians with a smile, steer clear of gargantuan lorries, stay within your cycle lane. Leave passers-by thinking, ‘Hey, maybe cyclists aren’t so bad after all.’ Until another one smashes into them a few minutes later.

(Images: Radio @ B&A Reps/PA/Thinkstock)



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