Whizzing past in their high-visibility vests, cyclists look rather an intimidating bunch. But as London prepares for British Bike Week, Sarah O’Meara finds out how to join the gang
Author and cycling enthusiast Helen Pidd is used to people wincing with fear when she describes how she gets to work. “People think of kamikaze cyclists squeezing between buses and lorries to get to the front of the traffic lights,” says the author of Bicycle: The Complete Guide to Everyday Cycling (Penguin, £14.99). “Yet the joy of cycling isn’t about speeding to the head of the queue; it’s about dawdling through back roads and enjoying cycle paths along canals.”
Transport for London say almost half a million journeys are made by bike in London every day. Yet frightening stories of fatalities continue to stop many of us taking the plunge. But while the number of cyclists on our streets has more than doubled in the last 10 years, the rate of serious injury and fatality has actually declined by a fifth, says Mayor Boris Johnson.
And as Helen points out: “More people die each year in gardening accidents than cycling.”
The benefits hardly need to be stated. Once you’ve got the gear, it’s free, good for your health and environmentally friendly.
Cycling in a big city is as safe as you make it. Helen suggests riding confidently but not recklessly, in a visible position towards the middle of the road, so cars aren’t tempted to squeeze past, and far enough away from parked cars to avoid being ‘doored’ – which is what happens if someone opens a car door in your path.
- :: Never undertake a lorry or car. They may turn left and not see you in their mirrors.
- :: Be aware of other road users; new cyclists often forget the rest of the world exists as they focus on their own journey.
- :: Don’t be too timid.
- :: Contact the National Cyclists’ Association to find out information about cycle training and local bike clubs: www.ctc.org.uk
- :: Invest in a top quality lock and don’t attach your bike to anything it can be lifted over, such as bollards.
- :: Make sure you can be seen. Buy high visibility clothing, such as a jacket, reflector body strap and high-spec bike lights.
READY TO ROLL
- :: Women’s Mira Jersey: Beat the sweat and the fashion police with this sexy cycling top, £34.99, www.specialized.com
- :: Men’s BG Elite Shoe: The perfect performance shoe. Attach yourself to the bike with cleats and enjoy the ride, £89.99, www.specialized.com
- :: Women’s Vita Sport: Light, pretty and fun to ride, this smooth-looking bike will make other female cyclists green with envy, £449.99, www.specialized.com
- :: The Hump: Not a euphemism for cycling rage, this high-viz waterproof backpack cover will keep you and your rucksack safe from harm, £24.99, www.respro.com
- :: Men’s Sport Short: A no-nonsense introductory piece for all cyclists – this entry-level short balances high-quality fabrics with a friction-free ride, £34.99, www.specialized.com
- :: Bicygnals: Hi-tech lighting system that means whether you’re turning right or cycling in the dark, you’ll always been seen, £44.99, www.firebox.com
- :: Samsonite Pro-DLX3 Backpack: Don’t assume that work and play can’t mix. Pop your laptop in this stylish bag and cycle into the rat race, £128, www.samsonite.co.uk
- :: Specialized S-Works Helmet: No one likes a hot head. Invest in the world’s lightest certified cycling helmet, with ventilation and comfort guaranteed, £129.99, www.specialized.com