As useful, quick and handy the Tube can be, it has become quite the drain on the old wallet. Luckily, since I snagged a flat in zone 1, I’ve begun to realize that I should (a) start walking to school or (b) start biking. I completed my undergraduate degree in one of the most cycling friendly cities in Canada, Ottawa. So, especially during the summer months, I’d gotten used to the privilege of biking worry free on streets full of cyclists. Now London, that is completely different story.
Instead of a generic rambling, anxiety riddled account of my first bike ride through central London, I’ve complied a list of ten insights which I think will come in handy for those considering maybe biking as an option for commuting. Disclaimer: some tips are actually useful, and some tips are just my neuroses.
1. Ignore your intuition.
- At least for those of us who grew up driving on the right – not left- side of the road, your instant gut reaction will be to swerve right. Bad, bad, horrible idea. Completely abandon the voice inside your head and adopt the mantra “left, left, left, I will stay on the left.”
2. Buy a U-lock with a cord.
- It’s pretty sad walking down the high street only to see sad, abandoned bike frames rusting after months of missing their wheels. We don’t want our bikes ending up with the same fate. Lock your baby up!
3. Buy an obnoxiously coloured bike.
- I found my bike of gumtree and the woman who sold me her bike – which happens to be a shade of horrible silvery-pink – said that the colour alone saved her bike from being stolen at least five separate occasions. I’ll take an awkward looking bike over no bike any day.
4. Get a basket.
- Whether it’s to carry your lock, laptop, bag or groceries, if you decide to use your bike as your main mode of transportation, you’re going to need a basket. Baskets are key, especially if you need to carry stuff, i.e. anything.
5. Do not be afraid of the bus or taxis.
- Well, at least have a level of caution. Maybe high level of caution when biking near taxis or buses (i.e. literally every street, everywhere). If you decide to change lanes, go for it, don’t waver because then everyone’s confused and that’s how accidents happen.
6. Do not trust Google’s bike maps.
- On one too many occasions, I’ve plotted a route, memorized the street names, and gotten half way, only to realise (a) the street is a one way; (b) the street doesn’t exist; or (c) the route was a completely roundabout, 15 minute detour from my actual destination.
7. Don’t expect bike lanes to actually be usable.
- Sure, like naive, pre-bike riding Natalie, you may think: “London seems to have so many bike paths on streets! Surely it won’t be hard to bike to school!” Oh wrong. So, wrong. Most high streets do have bike lanes, but 90% of the time, there’ll be some delivery lorry, taxi, or other inopportune barrier blocking the entire path, in which you’ll have to swerve into on coming traffic. This is where bravery comes into play.
8. Be visible.
- I am the worst at this. I constantly forget my bike lights, reflectors and everything bright. Yes, of course, I feel stealthy, and silent like a ninja bike riding at night all in black. Sometimes I pretend my coat is a cape and I am a super-villain. But all that aside, lights are pretty key. Considering we haven’t seen the sun in months.
9. Don’t think you’re going to look cool.
- I thought, oh ya I’ll buy a beautiful cruiser bike with a basket and I’ll put flowers in it and I’ll look Dutch and stylish and everyone will compliment my bike riding abilities Oh so, so, wrong. Yes, my bike has a basket, but it’s cuteness ends there. I end up sweaty and stressed and dirty once I get to my destination. But maybe that’s just me.
- Plan your route, know where you’re going, and be decisive.
Hopefully some of you will feel bike riding a bit more realistic after reading this entry. I know it took me six months before I felt even remotely capable of biking in this crazy city. But with the money I’ll be saving I’ll take mild anxiety over 81.50 pounds a month any day.