Posted by: Ian | February 8, 2012

Rage, danger and stupidity – a London cycling safety quiz

This morning while cycling along The Mall I got pulled over by a police motorbike for shooting through a pedestrian crossing on red. I couldn’t argue: I’d clearly committed a violation. As the policeman said, a red light means Stop and not Give Way. Luckily, he acknowledged that as there was actually no one on the crossing (which is why I hadn’t stopped) there was “no harm done” so he didn’t hold me up much and let me go with only an admonition not to do it again.

There’s a cell-level biochemical difference between those people who get steamed up by behaviour such as this victimless red light skipping and those of us who don’t. One day they’ll find the gene, which will only confirm the futility of any hope that we might bridge our differences. I know already, without the confirmatory science, that I’ll never see eye to eye with anyone who gets more upset about my minor highway code faux pas than, say, Israel bulldozing the crap out of (and otherwise violently abusing) the residents of the West Bank.

The road user’s true enemy isn’t primarily law-breaking but inattention, or simple stupidity. This evening I was cycling along Tavistock Place when I heard a scream followed by the sound and sight of a cyclist slamming onto the paved cycleway. I went over to check that she was okay. It was evident from the conversations that a pedestrian, who following the accident was standing there silent and inane, had walked into the cyclist while she was riding along the cycle lane with front and rear lights and wearing a super-high-viz jacket.

Yesterday evening the same thing nearly happened to me. I was cycling through Hyde Park and ahead of me I saw a guy with an iPod plugged in walking slowly towards the cycle path. As we converged I felt sure that he would pause before crossing the busy bike path but he just kept on walking and I had to swerve to miss him, causing me to fish-tail over a patch of residual snow.

For true danger, though, while pedestrians present the London cyclist with the greatest likelihood of an accident it’s the heavy stuff that’s scary. I’ve written before about the van that reversed right into me last year. And this evening while cycling down Lombard Street I watched as a number 25 bus raced through a red light – not an amber light but a light that was clearly red when he accelerated to shoot it – out across one of the most treacherous road junctions that I regularly tackle, at Bank. It was criminal.

It’s tough to assess the level of danger in how we ourselves ride. On Tuesday night my friend Steve and I cycled back together from the Queen Elizabeth Hall to Notting Hill. Afterwards, he opined that the speed at which I took some of the turns can barely have allowed me time to take in what might lie round the corner. Fair enough. To me, of course, my cornering speed felt fine. In contrast, I could not imagine cycling around central London while listening to an iPod as Steve was. Not only could he not hear what I was saying to him, he mostly couldn’t hear that I was talking to him. So I guess he wouldn’t hear another bike, or someone running, or a bell, or a shouted warning; or maybe even a horn or the screech of tyres.

My cycling safety was elevated last week by the guys at Condor. I’ve been running my Tempo for about a year with a functionally useless rear brake and asked them whether or not I needed a new calliper. They fixed it there and then, which was a 40 minute job, without charge. That’s customer care!

Here’s a quiz to gauge your cycle safety smarts…
1. Is cycling in London more or less dangerous than cycling on narrow country lanes?
2. Is it ok to shoot over a zebra crossing as someone is crossing the road?
3. Is it ok to creep over a red light before it changes to get going before the big metal?
4. How many bike lights do you need at night time?
5. How many brakes do you need on a fixie?
6. Should you leave the bike at home when there’s snow and ice on the roads?
7. Do London’s bike lanes offer the cyclist protection from traffic?
8. Is it safe to cycle while listening to an iPod?
9. Rank the following in order of threat to the cyclist (worst first): bus, car, cycle, horse, motorbike, pedestrian, taxi.
10. Am I any kind of authority on road safety?

1. No.
2. It’s uncool to harass people but harmless if they’re well clear.
3. Yes, yes it is.
4. Two or three is about right, but don’t base your safety policy on other people seeing you.
5. At least one if you plan on walking in old age. Two is better.
6. No need if you have a fixie and/or appropriate tyres.
7. What a joke! Go round the outside of traffic instead.
8. No, no it really isn’t.
9. Horse (in the countryside), Addison Lee taxi, pedestrian, bus, van – big, big gap – car, black cab (you know that never indicate in advance, right), motorbike, horse (regal or military), cycle.
10. Absolutely not.



  1. I like your line about the cell-level biochemical difference between cyclists on the subject of red light skipping. Personally I don’t jump them because it provides ammunition for the cyclist-haters, and anyway I don’t mind stopping, but I can see how for many people it might actually be safer, and yeah, in the larger scheme of outrages (to your example of bulldozing the crap out of the West Bank, I’ll add the US forever wars, now with added drones), it’s pretty meaningless.

    As for cycling while listening to music, I’ve been doing it in London for years and consider it to be safe (google “Why I’m an iPod Cyclist”), but I understand that everyone has different tolerances.

  2. Why is it that posts on this site are very lengthy??

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