I remembered why I normally make sure I'm on the road by 7.45am when I got stuck in never-ending bumper-to-bumper traffic at 8.45am today! Yes, I left the house very late this morning. I wasn't quite with it and left my sunglasses behind. I went back to get them, only to get out on the road to find I wasn't wearing my gloves! Well, too bad. I wasn't going to return for those as well or I'd be really late to work!
Mind you, I don't see that many cyclists wearing gloves. I don't know how people commute without them, to be honest. Perhaps they just think it's too hot to wear them?
I've said all this before, but gloves have multiple uses, even in summer. They make it easier to grip the handlebars, they help soak up the sweat and, if you have gel ones, they absorb some of the road shock. And, if you fall off, they might just save your hands from a nasty case of gravel rash.
Which reminds me, I think it's wonderful that so many people are out and about cycling, but some of them need to seriously re-think their footwear. I have seen countless people, men and women alike, cycling in flip flops and slides. How is that a good idea, particularly when you are cycling in heavy traffic? You only have to get your flip flop caught underneath the pedal and you're in trouble, and if you put your foot down too quickly, say to save yourself from an accident with a vehicle, you'll seriously stub a toe or shear off a layer of skin. Ewww.
(I know everyone in Copenhagen cycles with flip flops, as someone is bound to point out, but London isn't Copenhagen, and bikes here fight for road space with everything from double decker buses to motor scooters: I believe you need to dress appropriately for the conditions.)
On another note, I got told off by a fellow cyclist on my route home tonight. She was quite right, because as I merged into the traffic I did not see her and almost collided into her. The thing is, I had seen the chap in front of her and let him go by, but I did not see her at all even though I looked.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" I said, as I swerved to avoid her.
"You should look where you're going," she said in a very calm, posh voice, as she whizzed on by. I mean, if the situation was reversed I would have been effing and blinding, but she was so darn polite about it all, I kind of felt like I'd been told off by a school marm.
It was only later on as I tried to analyse what had happened that I realised I had not seen her because she was wearing dark clothing and cycling in the shade. I had seen the cyclist in front because he was wearing high-viz clothing, but I missed her completely. I know this doesn't alleviate me from responsibility, but it does prove my point that cyclists need to be highly visible on the road at all times and in all conditions.
When I got my driver's license (in Australia way back in 1988) I was taught to not sit behind vehicles that block your view. If it was safe to pass, then you should overtake them, or if it wasn't, you should drop right back so that your ability to read the traffic ahead was not obscured.
I adopt pretty much the same approach when I am cycling. Usually, the vehicles blocking my view are London buses, but in recent days it has been tall cyclists.
Now, I don't know whether you've made the same observation, but there seems to be a lot of tall cyclists out there. I never used to notice them, so I'm not sure where they have all come from.
But then I'm not quite sure whether they are tall people or whether it's simply that they are sitting on high-mounted seats. But most of them look slightly awkward because they seem so far off the ground.
The worst bit is that if you are trundling along behind them they block your sight lines so it's impossible to see what's going on ahead -- are there traffic lights coming up, tricky junctions to negotiate, pedestrians you need to be watchful of, etc etc. And if they are wearing a bulky backpack, good luck in being able to take a sneak peek around them.
So, if you get stuck behind a tall cyclist, my advice is to treat them with the same respect as you would for a bus or a truck: overtake them if safe, or drop back so you can see the view ahead instead of getting an eye-full of some tall chap's sweaty back for the whole of your commute.
And finally, back in early 2007 I interviewed a handful of commuter cyclists from London and beyond in a series called Cycling 10. These provide great insights into what made people decide to cycle in the first place. Those interviewed include:
A group of London cyclists has now created a new blog -- Cycle Safe London -- in response.
They have also created a flyer to download and print off for distribution among fellow cyclists which recommends the following:
1. A ban on very large lorries (HGVs) from the current Congestion Charge zone during Congestion Charge hours. 2. Compulsory installation of the latest ‘blind spot’ mirrors and more training for drivers on how to use them. 3. Removal of dangerous cycle lanes. 4. Tougher punishments for drivers and lorry companies convicted of negligent driving.
It adds: "To make this happen, we need to tell the government officials and the lorry companies about the problem and demand that they take action." A list of recommended politicians to write to is included.
I think it's a great idea, but I also think it's important cyclists educate themselves about the dangers that HGV pose, which is why I particularly like this flyer, also listed on the site:
I'd like to add one important tip of my own: if you have stopped at traffic lights and you cannot make eye contact with the driver of a HGV near you then bloody well move! If you can't see him up there in his driver's cabin, how the hell do you think he can see you? (Note, this also applies to buses and coaches.)
Finally, Cycling Plus magazine in calling for recommended EU legislation on
HGV blind spot mirrors to be brought in to save an estimated 18
cyclists a year. It has set up an online petition which you can sign if you are a British citizen. The closing date is December 6, 2008.
In the words of British band the Kaiser Chiefs, "oh my god, I can't believe it!"
Yes, after yet another extended hiatus (almost 6 weeks -- a combination of annual leave, yet another upper respiratory tract infection, back pain and sheer bloody laziness) I finally took my poor trusted treadly out of storage and trundled into work this morning. I'd forgotten how exciting it is to battle with London traffic, but by goodness where did all you cyclists come from? Honestly, I've never seen so many two-wheels out and about at 7.45am -- normally the influx doesn't hit the roads until after 8am.
I have such mixed feelings about seeing more cyclists on the road. Yes, it's wonderful that so many are ditching motorised vehicles (or the tube), but I can't stand all the idiots who ride their bikes as if the entire world revolves around them.
Here's some handy tips you newbie cyclists might like to take note of:
WATCH WHERE YOU ARE GOING!! OR, MORE IMPORTANTLY, WATCH WHERE OTHER CYCLISTS ARE GOING -- DON'T EXPECT THEM TO GET OUT OF YOUR WAY BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T SEE THEM!!
DON'T WEAVE ALL OVER THE ROAD -- TRY TO KEEP A STRAIGHT LINE
DON'T CUT OTHER CYCLISTS UP (SEE ABOVE)
USE HAND SIGNALS -- WE'RE NOT ALL MIND READERS, YOU KNOW
DON'T OVERTAKE BUSES WHEN THEY HAVE THEIR INDICATORS ON (UNLESS YOU FANCY BECOMING SOMEONE'S DINNER)
TRY TO TAKE OFF FROM THE TRAFFIC LIGHTS AT A FAST PACE; WHEN YOU PUTTER ALONG IT CAN PUT OTHER CYCLISTS BEHIND YOU IN A DANGEROUS POSITION.
DON'T WEAR YOUR FRIGGIN' iPOD -- HOW CAN YOU HEAR WHAT'S APPROACHING IF YOU'VE GOT AMY WINEHOUSE PUMPING INTO YOUR EARS AT 20 DECIBELS?
There. Glad I've got that off my chest.
See you all tomorrow for more tales of commuting across the capital!
Total distance: 12.28 miles | Ride time: 1hr, 13min and 31sec | Average speed: 10.64mph | Top speed: 18.5mph
I don't often buy a newspaper these days, preferring to get all my news online, but this morning I picked up a copy of the Guardian and discovered an ad for a new book I plan to order. Two Wheels is by Guardian journalist Matt Seaton, who is...
... an out-and-out bike nut who rides to work during the
week, races at the weekend, and has even been known to attend transport
policy conferences in between. There's really nothing about bikes and
cycling that doesn't interest him. Based on the success of two
years of the Guardian's weekly Two Wheel's column (since imitated by
other newspapers), this collection, revised and updated, will contain
something for all bicycle owners - whether commuter or racer,
recreational rider or cycle tourist.
This news comes hot on the heels of two cycling fatalities in London this past week involving young, female cyclists.
The article does not claim to have any answers as to why women are the ones being killed in these accidents, other than to suggest that men ride more aggressively, so are less likely to get trapped on the inside of a HGV.
Personally, I'm not sure that riding aggressively is the answer. How about riding defensively instead?
I know that we cannot predict accidents, but you can help avoid them by not putting yourself in danger. Sidling up alongside a big vehicle, whether it be a truck, bus or van, in which the driver has limited visibility of what is sitting next to his left fender (or right fender if you are in the North America/Europe) isn't exactly wise, is it?
Fortunately, I have very little exposure to HGVs on my normal commuter route, but on the odd occasion when I have seen them on the road I have made a point of not sitting alongside them, because I know the driver is not going to have a clue I am there. It's better to either hang back and sit (a good distance) behind them, or get so far in front they cannot help but see you. If in any doubt, it's always wise to make EYE CONTACT with the driver.
In fact, I think this is the quickest, easiest solution for preventing accidents with either car drivers or HGV drivers: all it takes is a look and a nod, and you know that your presence on the road has been noted. While I'm sure it would definitely help if HGV drivers were more conscious about the presence of cyclists on the road, us cyclists have to take some responsibility for our actions too.
It might sound silly, but staring into the eyes of someone behind the wheel of a vehicle might just save your life. It's a pity that all those female cyclists killed in accidents involving HGVs in London didn't make a point of doing this.
This hat rack is adorned with two pairs of trousers, one cardigan, one jumper, one shirt, one long black coat and a velvet scarf. Doesn't leave much room for my colleagues' coats and scarves, does it?
Ever since I started cycling, my colleagues have taken great joy in ribbing me about the fact I have turned the office into a veritable wardrobe. I have suits and trousers and jumpers and scarves hanging off the communal hat rack, there's a mountain of shoes under my desk and if I ever get wet on my cycle in there'll be tights and fleeces and gloves drying on the heaters.
Little do they know I also have a secret stash of clothes (and socks) hidden away in one of my desk drawers, along with a collection of washroom stuff -- perfume, deodorant, face wipes and moisturiser.
But let's get one thing straight: I am no fashionista. All these clothes hanging around are just the consequence of my cycling. I don't wear my work clothes while riding my bike, so I have to lug them into the office somehow, and if it means keeping them near my desk -- or strewn under it -- so be it.
I'm fairly fortunate in that our office
has a fairly relaxed policy about work attire, so there's no need for me to get too
dressed up. I can get away with wearing some nice trousers and a
smart-looking shirt or jumper. But cycling does mean I have to plan ahead.
I tend to keep several pairs of trousers in the office, both of
which are dry-clean only. As soon as
they need cleaning I whizz them around to the dry-cleaners -- a short walk away -- so I don't ever need to take them home!
Ditto for a smart black jacket, which is a permanent fixture on the
back of my chair. I don it whenever I need to smarten up my "look" for
meetings or unexpected outings.
But the rest of my "kit" -- shirts, jumpers, skirts etc -- has to be
taken with me. I do this by either taking a bundle of stuff with me on
the tube (I catch the tube up to twice a week) or I pack a small bundle
in my bike's carrier bag each day. The stuff I bike in I don't usually
wear that day: I let it hang up in the office so that any creases drop
out and then I wear it the next day. So I have a weird little system of
working out my outfit one day ahead. See what I mean about planning?
Unfortunately, because I am one of those paranoid people that lives
in fear that my clothes might unexpectedly go walkabout thanks to a
light-fingered cleaner or colleague, I make sure I've got a secret stash
locked away comprising a spare pair of trousers and a t-shirt. I also
have a collection of jumpers, because our office is notorious for being
cold when you least expect it.
But on the whole, I don't find the clothing thing too much of a problem. Although my colleagues might disagree!
This is my drawer containing spare socks, a few cycling t-shirts, a scarf and a bunch of washroom stuff. I didn't bother taking a photograph of all the shoes under my desk!
Mental note. When you ask someone to tighten your brakes, make sure you go for a short ride on your bike to check they feel okay. Do not wait until your morning commute to discover that the back one is rubbing, making it feel like you are cycling through 2-foot high sand drifts. Honestly, talk about an extra tough workout for my legs! They are going to be oh-so sore tomorrow!