Sunday, 17 November 2013

Is cycling in London safe?

You bet it is! To be honest, I'm sick and tired of the media blowing things out of proportion. Yes, there were an increased number of deaths, and yes it's very sad and my heart goes out to the loved ones, but it doesn't mean it's not safe to ride on London's roads. I'm German, used to riding on the other side of road, and in separate cycling lanes; I came here in 2006 and started cycling again in May/June 2008, I believe. Wow, reading this, I can't believe I didn't cycle for about a year. Well, I worked in a pub close to my house and therefore didn't need a bike. It were wild times ...
Back to when I started to work near Old Street and lived in Stokey. After taking the bus to work every day, having to wait for ages until it came, having to stand, squeezed next to strangers' bodies, having to pay for this unwanted entertainment, and always being in a rush, I'd had enough and decided to buy a bike. Got myself a new mountain bike with locks, lights, and a high visibility belt (no helmet), and off I went. My gosh, how liberating that was. Being able to cycle from door to door--without any form of delay, not having to deal with someone's morning breath, or having to listen to anyone's stupid phone conversations on the bus. I enjoyed every second of the twenty to twenty-five-minute journey. After three months, the bike had paid for itself. And I felt vitalised and awake when I arrived at the office. In fact being back to cycling made me so happy that my manager, encouraged by my enthusiasm, got herself a bike, too. She loved it just as much as I did. Because the job didn't pay enough to pay for the bills, I had to take on another one at the weekends (sometimes during the week). This had me cycling in the evening and night (8pm/4am) to Soho and back. Whatever the weather, I cycled--even in the snow or freezing cold. It's not as enjoyable if it's really cold, when you need at least ten to fifteen minutes to get warm, but I still prefer it to public transport. I did, every now and again, take the bus, but every time I had to wait for 30+ minutes waiting for the often crammed vehicle, I thought to myself that I would have been home by then if only I had come by bike.
I've now been cycling almost every day since 2008, been from Finsbury Park to Hammersmith and other parts of the city and back, and never felt unsafe. Not once. I've since then got rid of the high visibility belt; although it's still hanging on a hook in my hallway. I've sold on my beloved mountain bike, for I changed to Viscount racing bicycles and am still enjoying every ride in and around London.
We had discussions on a forum where I firmly stand by my opinion that cycling in London is safe if you're experienced, know your abilities, and pay attention to everything going on around you. I still cycle without a helmet and even listen to music while cycling. It's not distracting me, but acts more like a white noise in the background. Due to my ADHD, I find I concentrate much better when listening to music. And I can still hear the traffic--even cyclists behind me. I'm also someone who takes 'calculated risks' such as weaving through traffic when there's a queue at a traffic light, or even--naughty me--jumping red lights when there's no pedestrian in sight. Yes, yes, all against the rules, but I'm hardly going to kill myself or someone else if there's nobody to run in front of my bike, is there? To be honest, there's a road nearby, where I have seen some near-misses that would probably have ended fatal when cars literally speed through red lights and the accident was only avoided due to the cyclists' quick reactions. A cyclists, who slowly rides through a red light when there's no pedestrian in sight, is harmless in comparison. It still doesn't make it legal, but you won't hear about pedestrians being killed by cyclists, right? And just to be clear, I never risk my life at any point, meaning, I would not go through a junction's red light. Unlike a bloke I observed, not only jumping a red light at a difficult to overview junction, but he did it freehand. That's just plain stupid.
My friend came to visit me in May and we cycled through London. She said she felt super safe with me as I was not only looking out for myself, but also for her. Next year, I've decided, we're going into the city, take it up a notch, and I'm sure she'll still feel safe. Experienced cyclists can adapt to anywhere; they usually know that once you rely on others' abilities to look out for you, you're closer to death than you wish. Cycling, not only in London, means you have to anticipate everyone else being an idiot. That, at least for me, has avoided a few collisions in the past.
If you are scared to cycle in the city or elsewhere, but would like to use the bike that's been rotting in your shed, please get in touch on Twitter (@stelladeleuze) or via e-mail. I'd be happy to help you find your feet (pedals) in London's busy traffic. And, of course, I'd not guide you through red lights, that goes without saying.

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