In partnership with Evans Cycles & Gore Bike Wear, guest writer Millie Citton continues her blog series with the Coffee Stop. A keen London commuter and road cycling enthusiast, Millie will be sharing her commuting tips, essential winter kit bag and heaps of motivation over the coming months to keep you riding throughout the cold seasons.
In the second of this series, we find out Millie’s top 5 cycle commuting tips and a bonus suggestion for Coffee Stop readers…
The Road is a Jungle
Pedestrians can be found walking in a Brownian motion, strolling on cycling lanes and crossing roads, looking at nothing but their phones. Many drivers have developed the habit of pulling out, turning or changing lanes without properly looking. Cyclists are not any better at the best of times… Many ride at considerable speed because every kilometre counts (that can be me, admittedly) and others even cut red lights or ride on the pavement (not me, it’s my pet peeve!) because they know they can get away with it..
If you follow my adventure on Instagram, you’ll know that a month ago I was involved in a crash with a car. This blog has been in the works for a while now, as after the crash I debated for a long time whether to still write it or not. I put it off for a while because I thought: “Should I really be writing an advice article on how to commute in a big city, when I just had an accident?”. But the reality is crashes can happen as a cyclist – that doesn’t make you a bad cyclist and it doesn’t mean you haven’t learnt anything. In fact, quite the opposite is the case, crashing has taught me a bit more – so here are 5 things I learnt (plus a bonus tip) from my daily cycle commute in London.
1. Be Predictable
The number one thing you learn by being on your bike is that “Keep ‘em guessing” really doesn’t work. At least, not when it’s you vs cars. In traffic, make sure that you claim your space (head to British Cycling for details about on-road positioning) but without deviating too much. If you do need to deviate, make sure you give yourself (and other road users) plenty of time and indicate your move well in advance. Check your back, your front and your side before changing your position and only when it is safe to do so.
2. Make Eye Contact
This is going to sound like a really odd analogy, but bear with me. Have you ever seen The Silence of the Lambs? It’s my favourite movie, so the analogy comes easy to me. Do you remember when Buffalo Bill addresses Catherine Martin using the pronoun ‘it’? “It puts the lotion in the basket”, he says. The reason for the use of the word ‘it’ is because it helps him remaining detached from Catherine. My point is, making eye contact induces that human element and suddenly a ‘nuisance’ cyclist becomes a parent, a husband, a wife, a sister or brother. When you make eye contact with, say, a driver looking to cross, that person has acknowledged your presence and identified you as another person on the road. At that point, you can usually rest assured he or she won’t cut out in front of you.
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3. Obey the rules
Too many cyclists still cycle breaking all the rules of the road. This is at the expense of other cyclists who respect the road; it is normal that we get the negative comments of drivers for this reason, and the result is that all cyclists get labelled as rule-breakers, when actually there are a lot out there who do all things right. Remember, respect the rules if you want to be respected. Don’t cut red lights, it’s unsafe and it doesn’t look good.
4. Think for the People Around You Too
Commuting into work has a lot of benefits, and for me they will always outweigh any risks associated with it. However, I understand it can seem intimidating having to share the road with masses of cars, buses and even heavy vehicles because we are so vulnerable compared to them. Whilst I agree there is definitely room for improvement in terms of creating better cycling infrastructure there is something we can do now: Always check twice before you cross, exit or pull out – even if the light is green and even if it’s your right of way.
5. Keep Your Chin Up
Isn’t it nice to escape all the stresses of life and stop thinking of the rest of the world when you’re on your bike? Absolutely, but leave the daydreaming to your traffic-free rides. Commuting is a game for sharp minds. Pay attention to your surroundings at all times, don’t stare on the road as if you were following someone’s wheel. Keep your chin up, look in front, around you and use the full vision to try and be aware of everything on the road. Cars, potholes, other riders. You name it, be present in that moment and alert.
On a positive note, I would recommend not to always second-guess drivers and sometimes give them the benefit of the doubt. A couple months ago I was waiting at the lights to cross the road, and a black cab rider pulled out in front of me and rolled down his window. I immediately got grumpy, thinking “I have done nothing wrong”! Then he said to me: “I really like your kit, I want to get one too”. It made me so happy, and also I felt so guilty for having negative thoughts initially.
Bonus Tip: Quiet Routes
I am late to the party on this, so I you may know about these already… I can already see your faces going “Daaah girl, that’s no bonus tip!”. But I figured, if I was late to the party maybe other people are too. “Repetita iuvant”, as the Latins used to say. You’re probably aware that London has Cycle Superhighways. They are great, but have you heard about Quietways? They are TfL routes which are quiet and cycle-friendly. They are back roads, so not just for cyclists, but they are well indicated and maps can easily be downloaded for them. I would recommend checking if there is a Quiet Route near you and to take full advantage of it.
There are many more things to share, but these are the main five things that I wanted to share after my crash.
Stay tuned for more from Millie and follow her on Instagram here.