Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in London
Today in London, London Underground workers are on strike. I actually don’t know why, but they seem to have done it a lot recently, and each time, there are more inexperienced cyclists on the road than last time.
You don’t really need another blog giving information about cycling in London – there are plenty of other places to get that information – but I thought I’d give a run down of what I reckon what you need for safe cycling in town.
Forget a little tingy bell, a whistle will get attention! You can use it when pedestrians step out in front of you, and you can also use it to alert cars and buses to your being there. It works, where a bell probably wouldn’t. The best brand is Acme – I think it’s what football referees use – and the little ball inside won’t stick and cause it to make a pathetic peeping sound when you need it most, like the free ones you pick up at Pride. Don’t ask me what the legal status of not having a bell is (ask at the UKcyclerules blog if you really want to know) but I’ve often had people – including police – stop beside me to say what a great idea.
This is a disputed one, because some people will tell that helmets can, under some circumstances, cause more harm than good. However, as someone who’s failed to stop in time to avoid hitting the back of a Transit van, I can tell you it really hurts. Lots of blood pouring from a head wound looks pretty cool and gets you a ride in an ambulance, but the long wait to be superglued back together (yes, they really did use glue) is pretty boring. A helmet would’ve prevented that.
I realised my bike is pretty much invisible at night from the side, so I bought a roll of reflective tape and covered the frame with it. This isn’t so different to wrapping electrician’s tape round it, like couriers do, but it’ll make you a lot more visible. Probably not as cool as electrician’s tape, but then nor is a van ploughing into you as you wait at a junction.
City streets are usually well lit, but at night you’ll still need lights. It’s true that drivers are expected to look out for you, but if they crash into you and you don’t have lights on, the first thing they’ll say is that it’s all your fault for not being lit up. Any excuse.
You’ll need a flashing white one for the front and a flashing red one for the back. Flashing’s better because it’s more visible to others – why else would ambulances use flashing lights to let you know they’re coming through, instead of regular steady ones? Make sure they’re pointing towards the people who need to see them – so they should be pointed straight ahead, or straight back. There’s no point sticking one to your bag so it points up, or having the back one behind your panniers so no-one can see it. My Fibre Flare is great – it can be easily seen from behind and the side, and again has received lots of positive comments from other people.
Make sure you learn how to adjust your brakes so that the levers don’t travel too far or rub against the rims and stop the wheel moving properly. It’s pretty easy, and if you go into a nice bike shop like Velorution and talk to the workshop staff, they’ll often show you how to do it.
Couriers would argue that having a fixed rear wheel counts as a second brake, and some even get rid of the front brake and have only the rear wheel to brake with – not for the faint hearted!
This means you need to carry a pack of sticky patches, tyre levers and pump with you all the time. Learn how to repair the puncture yourself, as it’s a lot cheaper and quicker than taking it into a shop. Small pumps these days can be really effective and expel air as you pump in both directions.
There are some punctures which you won’t be able to repair. The valve can fail, or you could get two holes next to one another or too near a previous repair. In these cases, just bin the old inner tube (I’ve still not found anywhere to recycle them) and replace it with a spare, also to be carried all the time.
Wobbling along at the side of the road will cause other road users to take advantage. You’ll also be riding in all the grit and broken glass which gets washed to the side every time it rains, leading to an increased risk of punctures. If, like me, you’ve ever learned to ride a motorbike, you’ll know that the first thing they teach you is about dominant road position. Ride in the middle of the lane if you need to – make the bastards overtake properly or not at all! Take a cycle proficiency course – a lot of local authorities offer them free or low cost.