Last August I made a decision to ditch the Tube and use Barclays Cycle Hire in London (better known as Boris bikes).
This was partly to save money (around £500 over 12 months) and also in a quest to do some regular exercise.
Over the past 5 months, I’ve used Boris bikes pretty much every weekday, at least twice a day. This has given me a great insight into what you really need to know to get best out of them and cycling in London.
So here go my top tips:
1) Don’t expect to cycle fast
To put it bluntly, using a Boris bike is like riding a tank. They only have 3 gears and even in top gear, you’re likely to be overtaken by a baby on a tricycle. Sure, the bike will get from A – B, but add on about 10-15% to your journey time, compared with a normal bike ride.
2) They’re a bugger to handle
Because the bikes are so heavy, not only are they very slow (see point 1), but are also cumbersome to manoeuvre and prone to tipping you over. Be careful!
3) Learn your Highway Code (someone has to)
Obviously, there’s no official qualification needed to ride a bike in London (or anywhere for that matter), which is possibly an oversight. I passed my Cycling Proficiency Test when I was 12, which at least qualifies me to know when to stick my arm out and signal left or right.
However the real reason for knowing the Highway Code is because most bus drivers and quite a few other car users don’t seem to know theirs.
You will regularly be cut up and experience near misses, when someone forgets their turning or doesn’t signal. This is part and parcel of cycling in London. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Get used to it.
4) Don’t jump red lights
It can be so tempting to go through a red light when there’s clearly no traffic around. Resist the urge. Yes, you will see others doing this, but they are idiots and obviously in so much of a rush that saving 2 minutes means the world.
Plus, the police are likely to pull you over. It happens… a lot!
6) Check your bike before starting
Boris Bikes are all the same, right? Absolutely not. They vary wildly.
– Always try the bell: you will need it without a doubt (see point 7).
– Move the saddle to a comfortable position. It’s easy to do and will make your ride far easier.
– Spin the back wheel to check it doesn’t make any horrible noises. Many do and advertise your presence in the most unwanted way.
– Get yourself sorted out before unlocking the bike. This will save you 5 minutes of faffing.
7) Pedestrians are thick
Remember I told you about the bell. You’ll need this to clear stupid people out of the way who avoid cars, but can’t seem to see bikes and step off the kerb right in front of you.
You are quite within your rights to swear at them too. It will make you feel better and hopefully leave them feeling foolish and chastened.
Also be careful at pedestrian crossings. Walkers have an innate ability to try and cross just as you come round the corner.
8) Don’t expect to start and stop where you’d planned to
Although bikes get moved round town on big trailers, you will often arrive at a docking point to discover all the spaces empty.
Even more galling is getting to your destination and discovering there’s nowhere to park your bike. In this case, use the electronic post, as you’re allowed to extend your journey by up to 15 minutes in order to find a suitable docking point… you may need it.
9) If you’re not comfortable cycling in busy traffic, take the side roads
Use TFL’s Cycle Route Plannner and use the Easy Route to avoid the busiest roads. Although you might take longer to get somewhere, you’ll steer clear of the bus- and van-filled main roads.