When I first started cycling in London, Madonna was topping the charts with “Like A Virgin” and Norman Whiteside scored the winning goal in the FA Cup Final. Initially I was a broke student on a borrowed racing bike, then I became a daily commuter and I’m now a freelancer going across the city to meetings. In that time, and all the thousands of miles of pock marked roads that I’ve travelled, I’ve adopted the following guiding principles:
Don’t have too fancy a bike – it’s too tempting to the legions of thieves;
Wear a helmet. I’ve not had any accidents but at least one would have been pretty serious if I’d not been wearing protective headgear;
Don’t go out in visible lycra – you are heading down the City Road and into Moorgate, not on the final circuit of the Giro D’Italia;
Wear a reflective jacket, or light t-shirt, and attach functioning lights at night. Do you really expect a lorry to see you if you are all in supercool black, matey?
Wherever it is safe, and where I’m not intimidating pedestrians, I jump the lights.
What? You do what? You are one of those lycra louts (despite not wearing lycra)? The anger the people show towards cyclists who gain a little advantage the lights is out of all proportion to the perceived harm it causes. Yet IMHO the benefit to me in terms of safety, time and general well being is substantial.
Have a look at the roads. Car drivers complain about potholes, but they have four wheels with a foot or so of rubber touching the road on each. I’ve got two narrow strips keeping me upright. Avoiding potentially lethal potholes – usually left by utility companies not properly patching up after they dig up the road – is essential.
Despite some genuine improvements, such as the cycle superhighways, there are still some terrible junctions which demand the attention the drivers often don’t give (see below). If I can make a few seconds on the white van man behind me by heading off ahead of the lights going green, I will.
Check out the other road users. There’s lorries with mirrors too high to see cyclists, taxis suddenly making u-turns, van drivers gunning their engines on their way to their next scaffolding job, drivers on their mobile phones and, worst of all, minicabs. If you see a Toyota Prius or a Ford Galaxy, you can bet your bottom dollar that the driver is paying more attention to the Satnav than the road, and is only a moment away from a sharp breaking manoeuvre. Even worse if it says Addison Lee on the bodywork. Drivers will speed off when the lights change, even if it means turning into the path of cyclists. The only way to protect yourself if to anticipate their stupidity, which means cycling defensively, which often means jumping lights. This is not aggression, it’s self-preservation.
And then there’s pedestrians. In the law, those on shanks’ pony have right of way at all times, and by heck do they abuse it. Never mind that you are talking on your phone, texting, listening to music, watching videos or eating your lunch while going around the streets of London, don’t worry about looking out for cyclists, we’ll make emergency stops, possibly risking injury or worse, to account for your lack of awareness and consideration.
Talking about the law, cyclists are supposedly protected against dangerous driving and road rage abuse. However, the evidence of three decades of trying to interest the police in these cases show that only if you are a celebrity who has a video of the incident do they bother. Recently I reported a van driver for screaming abuse at me and then driving at me, and I had a witness. What action?
I hope any reasonable person reading this will realise that when I jump lights, I am protecting myself. I thank you for your support.