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A-Z guide to cycling in London

Posted at 10:00 am, July 8, 2014 in Fun London, Outdoor London, Transport
Cyclist. Photo: RobinLDN

[Photo: RobinLDN]

Seeing London on two wheels is one of the best ways to experience the city. Not sure about your pedal power? Eddy Frankel has compiled a handy guide that covers everything you need to know to get rolling.

Don’t be a tool, but do carry one. In fact, carry lots. The smart cyclist always has an adjustable spanner, a handpump with a pressure gauge, a puncture repair kit and a multitool with allen keys, screwdrivers and tyre levers. Try Park multi-tools for ruggedness or go all swish with something from Full Windsor.

More Boris Bikes stumble into southwest London

Barclays Cycle Hire bikes are the tanks of the pedalling world. You could take a sledgehammer to one and the sledgehammer would come out worse off. They’re cheap, they’re everywhere, and we love them.

Not all bikes are created equal. Plenty of bike shops will offer to build exactly what you want. Condor in Holborn will even measure you up to make sure everything is a perfect fit. Brick Lane Bikes, Kinoko Cycles, Oak Cycles and Mosquito are some of the other shops who’ll build your dream machine for you. But you don’t have to splurge on a new one: there are lots of cheap secondhand bikes in London too; though if you’re getting them from online classified ads, be wary of buying stolen goods.

Bored of riding on the road? Hit the dirt. There are BMX tracks all over London that are more fun than you can imagine. Haggerston Park, Burgess Park and the Olympic Velopark are just a few of the looping, stunt-ready facilities you can go wild on. Go to www.londonbmx.co.uk for more info.

You basically rely on two senses when cycling. That’ll be sight and hearing (you can’t really taste oncoming traffic). And they are vital for road-awareness. Listening to music means you lose out on hearing cars – and that makes you a dangerous doofus.

Scared of the road? Good. It’s dangerous and you should approach it as you would a wild beast that you must tame. Transport for London offers free cycling proficiency lessons to cyclists of all levels to help teach you how to deal with the road like a boss.

Gears were an innovation that helped make cycling easier. And then everyone decided that riding single-speed and fixed-gear bikes was the best thing since sliced bread. ‘But we’ve invented gears! You don’t need to live like this!’ the detractors yelled. London’s lack of hills, however, makes it an ideal place for gearless cycling. It’s about personal preference.

Wearing a helmet isn’t the law in the UK and it’s a contentious issue. The London Cycling Campaign and the Cyclists’ Touring Club believe riders should be able to choose while the British Medical Association advocates making helmets compulsory and some campaign groups (including the people behind the Highway Code) think cycling without one should be a criminal offence. To wear or not to wear, that is the thorny question.

A sensible thing to get. Companies such as Cycleguard specialise in bike insurance while the London Cycling Campaign has its own scheme. Perfect if you plan on crashing a lot or having your bike pinched.

These days, any new bike shop worth its chain lube sells coffee too. Look Mum No Hands, Rapha Cycle Club and the awesome Kinoko Cycles are some of the shops that double up as cafés, selling cups of Joe to help keep you awake on those long rides home.

The London Bike Kitchen is a non-profit enterprise that wants to show you how to fix your own bike (and save a ton in the process) with regular classes in everything from wheel-truing to complete bike-building, as well as giving you access to its workshop and tools. Courses are £12 (£10 for members).

Yep, I’m afraid there really is no avoiding those big, clunky bits of metal that stop thieves making off with your beloved steed. Wimpy little cable locks will not do: this is London and thieves are ruthless. Invest as much as is humanly possible in heavy D or U locks and always make sure you secure the frame and both wheels. True, it’s annoying, but nowhere near as annoying as having your whip stolen.

They are a courtesy not only to your own bum – you don’t want soggy undercrackers all day – but to other cyclists, helping to minimise sprayback as they cycle behind you. Mudguards are cheap. Hell, you can even make ’em yourself out of a plastic bottle.

Welcome to London: your bicycle is about to get nicked. Well, probably. Here’s some stuff you should do. First, get your bike stamped by the police and record its details with BikeRegister. Then photograph and note your frame’s serial number – you could even stuff your name and address into the handlebars. All this can help prove the bike’s yours if the police recover it or if you find it down a market or on Gumtree. And always report a theft to the police’s Cycle Task Force.

Olympic cycling

Laugh at Lycra-clad uber-commuters all you want, but you know what you have that they don’t? A sore bum. Those stretchy shorts are padded for comfort, buddy. Not so stupid now. Okay, a little bit stupid.

They are evil. They exist only to make your life as a cyclist a living hell. And they must be stopped. Fortunately, there’s an app for that. It’s the council’s responsibility to fill in potholes, so report them with the FillThatHole app and it will pass on the details to the relevant people, so you can cycle without fear of falling into a bottomless chasm in the road.

Quick-release mechanisms on wheels, the skewers that allow you to whip off a wheel in seconds, were invented to help with changeovers during a race. You aren’t a professional racer, and waiting at the lights at Clerkenwell Road is the closest you’ll ever come to a peloton, so don’t bother with them. They just make your precious wheels easier to steal, and a bike without wheels is just an expensive and uncomfortable chair.

Red for adventure, red for glamour, red for… a £50 fine. Which is what you will get if the fuzz catch you jumping a red light. You’ll still do it; we’re just here to warn you of the consequences.

In many ways, London’s cycle superhighways are glistening, slippery death traps, filled with parked cars and slow cyclists. But they are still a damn sight better than most of the travesties that pass for bike lanes elsewhere around the city. More of these please, Boris.

Winning medals in track cycling comes as naturally to Brits as complaining about the weather. We’ve dominated these events for years, and the 2012 Games saw Victoria Pendleton, Chris Hoy, Laura Trott and Jason Kenny all bring home the gold. The Olympic velodrome recently opened to the public, so you can give it a go in Stratford, and the Herne Hill velodrome is still going strong after more than 100 years. Built in 1891, it remains the best place to get a taste of track cycling in London.

Good news, USB chargeable lights are now totally a thing, and that means you can wave goodbye to spending oodles on batteries or letting your lights go dim for months because you just can’t be bothered to change them. Simply recharge at your desk and hey presto: eye-meltingly bright lights every night. Blackburn and Lezyne are both brands that are well worth trying.

Around 57 percent of cycling fatalities in the UK in 2013 were caused by drivers not seeing a cyclist. So if you want to stay safe, stay visible. Wearing high-vis and making sure you’re well in front of cars and HGVs keeps you alive. Use the cycle boxes at red lights: if a car encroaches on it, you are legally allowed to get in front. Whatever you do, don’t wait on the inside of an HGV or bus at a red light.

Bradley Wiggins in action

Kilburn’s Bradley Wiggins is the greatest British cyclist of the modern era. He’s won loads of gold medals on the track and road, and the yellow jersey in the 2012 Tour de France to boot. What’s more, he’s done it all with sideburns that are nothing short of an ‘up yours’ to aerodynamics.

Why is Bow Roundabout our letter X? Because you should ‘cross’ it off your list immediately: it’s the site of numerous cycling accidents and fatalities, and is arguably the most dangerous place to cycle in London. Either be incredibly careful or, more sensibly, get off and walk.

Because cycling has benefits. You probably won’t read another book again now that you’re not taking public transport, but you will get more exercise, reach work in half the time, save a bundle and you won’t have anyone cough on your neck on the tube.

Yes, they do apply to cyclists too. Stop for pedestrians, you total bastards.

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