Now, bear in mind that having had a bike for less than two weeks, I'm a bit of a novice at this cycling in London business. I lived in Cambridge for three years where there's really no other sensible way of getting around, but hung up my helmet when I came to London due to a fear of London traffic. The only thing that got me over that was cycling in Java - if you can deal with Indonesian traffic, London traffic's a walkover. Having said that, cycling in London is not for novices. London drivers are not patient folk and will cut you very little slack. Many are also not used to looking out for bikes and do daft things like pull out in front of you. And of course, cycling is, like everything else, something with inherent risks. These, however, can be minimised. Getting a helmet and getting lights should be mandatory - you're daft to cycle without them. A bell also helps as pedestrians, like cars, have a way of editing bikes out of their vision and walking out in front of you. Kids are especially bad, in particular the ones that stand in the gutter to cross the road. On top of that, I would highly recommend a Sam Brown belt - one of those reflective things that goes round your waist and across your chest, and if you can get it, a bike wing mirror. I have one of these and it's a godsend - no more looking over my shoulder for me. Now to the good stuff. Travelling in London is exhorbitantly expensive. Even a short hop tube ticket is £1.50 these days. By the time you've bought your ticket, waited for a train, got stuck in a tunnel and battled your way onto the street again, it's not very fast either. For short hops, cycling is the business. Its much faster than driving as you can weave past cars stuck in traffic jams - a great feeling - and will get you from a to b much faster than you imagine for zero pence. Nor need the bike be expensive (mine was £80) - in fact, getting a second hand bike is actually a very good i
dea, as spanking new ones are much more likely to be nicked. And, of course, it's good for you. I've only had a bike for ten days and already I've lost a couple of pounds, my legs feel stronger, I have more energy and I feel great. No expensive gym fees or time consuming exercises - cycling is the perfect way to incorporate fitness into your day to day life without taking time from anything else. And you're doing your bit for the environment too. So long as you don't act like an idiot, you can't go wrong. Invest in an A-Z, a good bike lock and off you go. UPDATE Um, just wanted to ram home that get a helmet thing I was banging on about earlier. I witnessed an accident just yesterday involving a pedestrian walking out into the road without looking and getting hit right behind me - ten seconds earlier and it could have been me. An intact head is no small reward for enduring a squashed hairdo.
I just thought I should give a counter view to the other opinion. I've been cycling in London for a few years now, and am currently commuting from Clapham to Shoreditch (about 6 miles) most days. And maybe I'm just lucky and/or charmed, but I've only ever had one incident that could be called an accident, and that caused more damage to the car than to me. I think that if you take sensible precautions, wear high visibility clothing, always use lights at night, obey standard traffic laws (which oh so many cyclists seem to disregard) and just keep your eyes open, then cycling can be perfectly safe. You just have to always assume that cars havn't seen you and behave accordingly. Seeing the way some cyclists behave, I'm not surprised there are a lot of accidents and that other road users find them a nuisance. But that doesn't mean cycling should be entirely discounted. It's cheap, as environmentally friendly as you can get, a good form of excercise, healthy (as long as you wear a smog-mask!) and generally faster than any way of getting around. And it can be safe if you're careful. And maybe the more people that decide cycling is a good way of getting about, the more likely we are to get decent cycle lanes, as in other countries.
Whilst I agree that it is extremely difficult for cyclists in London, due to the varying degrees of disgregard from all the larger vehicles out there, I have to say, I havent yet come across a cyclist who has any regard for pedestrians. There seems to be some unspoken rule that traffic lights are to be used at the cyclists convenience - if they're green, they can go - if theyre red - they can still go - and woe betide anyone who happens to be crossing the road at that particular time, having being gullible enough to believe that a little green man means they trot on across with no fear of being mowed down. I realise this is possibly due to the glimmer of opportunity at getting away before the bus behind rams up their a..., however those green chappies are there for a reason. I'm not unaware of the stupidity of pedestrians either. If they choose to cross the road when they shouldnt or even when they should but they havent bothered having a wee glance to check, well its just not very clever is it. Not in this town anyway where a lack of concern in general for anyone but yourself is prevailant. But for those who put their faith in the traffic system, it would be nice to think everyone was at least taking some notice. And that cyclists didnt consider themselves some sort of pedestrian hybrid.
While using a bicycle in London may seem a quick and easy way to get around London, not to mention being the "green option" - I certainly would not recommend it. There are few cycle lanes and these are largely ignored by buses and cars making them unsafe, infact the general attitude and lack of care taken by car, taxi & bus drivers towards cyclists is quite frightening. Every year many cyclists in London are seriously injured or even killed, there are also all the exhaust fumes to worry about. This is not a method of transport in London that I would recommend to anyone. It's highly dangerous and damaging to your health.