Head buyer at Evans Cycles, Joel Natale has spent the last 10 years riding in, out and around London. He’s ridden over 10,000 miles in 2013 so far, many of them travelling in the UK but he’s also ridden rush hour in major US, European and Taiwanese cities.
In that time, he’s learnt a few lessons about riding in traffic. After the recent string of London tragedies, we asked him to share his personal knowledge:
“My experience is that as with most things, what is in your head is number one, how you play the game is number two. I’ve split my advice into ‘Attitude’ and ‘Flashpoints’…
This is the most fundamental thing on the road. Cycling is a lot of fun, but riding in traffic is not really a game.
1) Responsibility. When I first moved to London I hit 3 pedestrians in the first 9 months. Each time it was their fault, each time I had to repair my bike and myself. This was a good lesson in responsibility – it doesn’t matter who’s to blame in an accident. Protect yourself by taking responsibility to avoid accidents and ride defensively even if it’s going far beyond what the law or the Highway Code requires of you
3) Public Enemy Number One. You’ve got to assume that everyone else on your journey is trying to take you out. Whether it’s a dog walker who’s let little Snowy off the lead or white van man changing direction at the last moment. Don’t rely on basic things like road position or indicators from vehicles as gospel.
There are actually a limited number of points where you’re at real risk on a bicycle.
For the most part the fact you can accelerate, decelerate and change direction quicker than a vehicle means you’re incredibly safe. However, to my measure there are four major flashpoints all cyclists should be conscious of:
1) Traffic turning left.
This is the easiest to avoid. You’re filtering past slow moving traffic and there’s a junction on your left. Only pass by the vehicle if you can be clear of it before the junction starts. If there’s any doubt – wait. If the traffic is stopped and it starts moving, risking you being in front of the junction – stop. Whatever you do, don’t enter junction alongside a vehicle – either get in front or wait. Period.
2) Traffic arriving from a minor road to your left.
Make yourself visible – bright clothing, good lights, and sit wide in the road – right in the middle of a bus-lane if necessary so you are in the driver’s line of sight. When you are filtering past slow traffic you have to be really careful. If there’s a junction and a car arriving or waiting at it – make sure they’ve seen you, be prepared to stop if necessary – never assume they’ve seen you and just roll on. If there’s any doubt, slow down.
3) Traffic from the opposite direction crossing the oncoming vehicles -this is split into two depending on the speed of the traffic you’re in:
Static or very slow moving – there’s a junction coming up on your left. There’s no vehicles approaching from your left. Now look for a gap between cars that you’re filtering past. If there’s a gap – slow down. That gap may be a helpful driver letting an oncoming vehicle turn across the traffic. If your view is obscured by a van, bus or truck you’ll basically need to come to a complete stop. It’s not worth speeding through here; it’s too easy to end up on a bonnet. The cyclist behind you may swear as you slow down but they’ll thank you when that little red Fiat pulls across the traffic!
Steadily moving traffic – this is about as indefensible as you get on a bike. You’re just off the back of that Ford S-Max, invisible to the white van attempting to turn right. He spots a gap between two cars and is about to dive for it quickly. This is really difficult and in my experience there are limited options. The best is to move to middle of the road when you’re in the gap between two vehicles so the oncoming vehicle can see you. Helmet mounted lights are good as they may lift the beam of light high enough for him to see. Alternatively you can push on and try and get right behind the S-Max or lastly, prepare to turn left into the junction as a final bail out! This one’s hard, you’ve got to look through the S-Max’s windows to see the stopped vehicle on the opposite side of the road and then make a call on what to do.
There’s no formula for avoid danger on a roundabout, but there are steps you can take:
If the roundabout is light controlled, line yourself up like a vehicle at the front in the middle of the appropriate lane, take the route around the roundabout that a vehicle would take disregarding the traffic as much as possible.
If it’s not light controlled your best bet is often to follow a vehicle travelling in the same direction or as a minimum sit in the middle of the lane.
Treat traffic approaching the roundabout as you would from a junction – make sure they’ve seen you and be prepared to stop as a rushing driver often doesn’t notice a cyclist – slowing on a roundabout may seem daft but I’ve watched plenty of cars enter roundabouts completely disregarding my presence over the years.
I don’t think traffic is dangerous – I think there are a lot of major roads where you’re much safer than minor ones. You’ve got an incredible amount of freedom on that bicycle, combine it with a clear head to control it and a bit of thought around your circumstance and you’ll be safe and happy!”
We’re supporting the London Cycling Campaign and Space4Cycling. To find out how you can help bring safe cycling the forefront of political discussions, visit: www.space4cycling.org.