As the capital of the UK, London is one of the largest cities in Europe, making it extremely busy. Naturally, this can make cyclists (and potential cyclists) nervous.
However, statistically, cycling is a relatively safe activity. When Cycling UK looked at police figures, road traffic reports, population statistics, and the National Travel Survey, they found that the risk of injury whilst cycling was only 0.05 per 1000 hours of cycling (source). And the number of people cycling in London has actually been increasing at a higher rate compared to Great Britain as a whole.
So how can you stay safe while you enjoy cycling in the capital? Read our guide to cycling in London to find out.
Safe cycling is as much about preparation as it is about riding the bike itself. Get into the habit of checking your bike is in working order before you set off, and put some time aside on a regular basis for a more thorough inspection.
Plan your journey – especially if you’ve never completed it before – and look for local traffic updates in case you need to allow more time. Rushing can stop you from thinking clearly and this can lead to costly mistakes.
The charity Sustrans recommends you carry out what they call ‘the M check’ when you want to inspect your bike thoroughly:
The more frequently you ride, the more frequently you should do a full inspection of your bike.
For a quick, everyday check, look at the air pressure in your tyres, test the brakes, and make sure the crank is tight and the chain is clean.
Get into the habit of planning your journey before you leave. Not only will this help you feel calmer and more prepared, but you’ll also be able to spot any potential disruptions to your route. Transport For London regularly update their website with the latest traffic news, or you could try downloading an app like the ones below.
Citymapper gives you the best route to your destination, including how long it takes and where you can lock up your bike once you arrive. It also shows you where there are docks with bikes available to hire.
Availability: Free to download on iOS and Android
A route planner made especially for cyclists, CycleMaps helps you decide on a route according to your preferences – calm and quiet along smaller streets, or faster journey times on bigger roads. Once you set off it calculates your speed, route distance, and time remaining. The app is kept up to date with the location of cycle lanes, and it even shows your position on a moving map.
Availability: Free on iOS
London Cyclist is an app that focuses on bike maintenance in the city. It shows you bike shops, bike rentals, mobile repair centres, and cycling cafés, along with essential information like opening hours and contact details.
Availability: Free on iOS
Make sure you are able to secure your phone safely on your bike, and don’t get carried away trying to look at what’s on the screen. If you’re not sure which direction to take, stop as soon as it’s safe to do so and check the map when you’re not moving.
There’s still a way forward if you’re interested in cycling around London, but aren’t sure you want to buy your own bike just yet. London’s public bicycle hire scheme, Santander Cycles, allows you to pick a bike from one of the 750 docking stations around the city on any day of the year.
You pay for a 24-hour hire period, which then gives you access to as many 30 minute cycle periods as you like. You start to get charged if you don’t dock before the 30 minutes is up. You can pay by bank card (including contactless) or by downloading the app.
Many of the best practices you need to follow to cycle safely in London are the same as those you’d abide by in other areas: use clear signals, cycle decisively, and stay aware of your surroundings and other road users, for example. Others are more specific to the city.
It’s tempting to ride close to the pavement. However, the more space there is on your left, the more space drivers are likely to give you when they overtake. You will also be further away from car doors, which can be dangerous if opened when you’re riding past them, and you won’t have to suddenly swerve out of the way of drains and litter (such as broken glass).
Just as it’s tempting to ride close to the pavement, it’s tempting to stop there, too. However, by doing this at a junction or traffic lights, you give motorists more room to pull up tightly alongside you, which means you’ll have difficulty moving away when the time comes. Don’t be afraid of waiting in the middle of the lane, and look out for designated spots for cyclists at some sets of traffic lights.
London Cyclist also suggests riding in the centre of the lane when you’re at cross roads, approaching roundabouts, and overtaking parked cars.
It’s vital that you know what’s going on around you – especially in the busiest areas of the capital, where traffic is often flowing in multiple directions. Look over your shoulder at regular intervals so you’re aware of what’s happening behind you, and don’t be afraid to make eye contact with motorists. They are more likely to give you space if they can see you’re making an effort to be vigilant.
Pedestrians may well be looking out for cars and larger vehicles when they cross the road – which means they’re less likely to see you. Beware of anyone who hasn’t noticed you in order to avoid a collision.
Cycling decisively is much safer, since it makes it easier for motorists and other riders to see what you’re doing, or are about to do. Check behind you before you gesture, then extend your arm fully so it’s clear that you intend to turn off.
All vehicles have blind spots, including buses and lorries. This makes them especially dangerous, since they’re larger and can potentially cause more harm. It’s safer to stay back and wait for them to move away, rather than moving past them through any gaps.
Remember: Never undertake a bus or lorry, even if there’s a cycle lane. This is one of the worst blind spots for the driver and you won’t be able to move if the vehicle starts to turn left.
The more you get used to cycling, the quicker your reactions will be. But even so, in a busy, bustling city like London, there are bound to be unexpected moments while you’re on your bike – being ready to brake means you’ll react quickly if you need to.
Wearing bright clothes and making sure your bike has the correct, legal lights goes a long way to making sure motorists and other cyclists can see you clearly.
Getting back into cycling? Practice on quieter roads before venturing into busier areas of London. It may even be worth looking into a cycling training scheme for adults to build your confidence.
Encouraging Londoners to cycle has long been a priority for both Transport for London and mayors of the city. Providing safe and enjoyable routes is one way of doing this, whether they’re quick and practical for commuters, or more scenic for those cycling for leisure.
Travel website Culture Trip recommends the 7.5-mile Tamsin Loop in Richmond Park for cyclists of all abilities, or the little-known route along the River Lea to the Olympic Stadium or Victoria Park.
For a bigger challenge, try making your way out of Central London to tackle Box Hill, which was part of the Olympic route in 2012. It’s also worth seeing if you can make the East-West Cycle Superhighway part of your everyday route. It was designed with cyclists in mind and takes you through some of the city’s nicest parks.
As cycling becomes more popular, more people know they need to invest in private cycle storage, so you may already have somewhere safe to keep your bike.
As well as the cycle parking available at train stations, offices, and university campuses, Transport for London lists six cycle parking locations:
Safe, secure cycle storage is a significant factor when people are deciding whether or not to ride their bike on a regular basis. Be sure to browse The Bike Storage Company’s range of BREEAM-compliant cycle storage today and see how we could help to enhance your commercial project.