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Cycling tips for beginners: “I’ve cycled around London for years – here’s what you need to know”

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Hollie Richardson
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Cycling tips in London.

To celebrate World Cycling Day (Wednesday 3 June), one writer shares cycling tips for beginners who’ve bought a new bike during lockdown.

Unless you’re an NHS or key worker, taking the bus or tube feels like a thing of the past. Even when lockdown is fully lifted, it’s unlikely that people will be jumping onto public transport straight away. The packed Central Line and baking hot top-decks of red busses are not what you want to be travelling on unless absolutely necessary. 

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This probably explains why the bicycle industry has seen a surge in business in recent months, with bike company Brompton reporting a sales increase of around 15% in March. And it’s not just down to people avoiding using public transport. For many, a daily cycle is the new way to take advantage of the good weather (while limiting contact with others). It’s no secret that cycling, like all exercise, is good for releasing those feel-good endorphins and helping mental health.

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So it’s encouraging and exciting to see Sadiq Khan’s plans for increasing cycling in London tenfold. According to the mayor, Transport for London will work on three areas to make this happen.

  • The “rapid construction” of a strategic cycling network, using temporary materials, with new routes, aimed at reducing crowding on public transport.
  • A “complete transformation” of local town centres so that people can walk and cycle where possible, including widening footways on high streets so that people can safely queue outside shops.
  • Reducing traffic on residential streets and creating “low-traffic neighbourhoods”.
A woman riding a bike
TfL is making more space for cyclists in London.

I’ve been cycling around London for about four years. Although I’m no expert, I’ve experienced the highs and lows, learning a lot about cycling in between. I hadn’t once even entertained the idea of getting a bike in London, but then I went to Copenhagen and came back feeling inspired after zooming around the city on a bike all weekend. I’ve been on the saddle ever since. 

Here’s what I think you should really know about cycling in London. 

Buy a second hand bike

I felt pressured to throw money at a fancy bike, but a friend talked me down to reality and told me just to check Gumtree. There are some absolute pre-loved beauties on there and you can even try haggle down the price.

Or buy one through a cycle to work scheme

Pay for a new bike of in monthly installments by using the Bike2Work or CycleScheme through your employer. Oh, and make sure you invest in a decent lock. 

Wear your damn helmet

Sounds really simple, huh? But I’ve had moments of vanity where I’ve nearly left the helmet at home, and it’s just not worth the risk. Embrace that sweaty helmet hair. 

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Cycle with a friend

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: cycling around London for the first time is scary as shit. You need confidence, control and assertiveness. But it takes baby steps to get there. Ask a cyclist friend to tag along with them on a weekend ride. I used to think I really annoyed people by doing this but I absolutely love it when my pals ask me to help them get into cycling now. 

Claim your space on the road

If you’re as self-conscious as me, it might feel a bit weird sticking your arm fully out every time you want to take a turn. But after cycling sessions, which you can book for free through Gov.uk, the biggest lesson I learned was to take up space and make myself known to everyone around me. Just make sure you regularly look around and behind you to see what other cyclists, pedestrians and drivers are doing too. 

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Expect people to shout at you

People often get really angry at cyclists. Sometimes, it’s warranted – I’ve definitely made some not great decisions on the road (which I’ve always learned from). But the sad fact is female cyclists are twice as likely to be abused or harassed on the roads than men. I don’t have advice on how to react because the main thing is your safety and you need to do whatever you can to remain safe in each situation. The last time I was shouted at, I pulled over somewhere quiet and gathered myself before getting back on the saddle. Do your best not to let this put you off getting back out there. 

And expect your bike to get stolen

One bicycle is stolen every six minutes in the UK, and the most recent data shows that 21,745 bikes were reported stolen in London in 2017. It’s awful, but it might help to brace yourself for this potentially happening to you at some point. Insure your bike if it’s valuable but also be emotionally prepared for it (my bike is my baby, after all).

Enjoy yourself

Ah, I miss cycling to work – it used to really clear my head before and after a shift. But it’s also just so fun. I love setting off on weekend adventures and getting lost down pretty side streets of London that I’ve not discovered before. I revert to my childhood-self when zooming down the smooth cycle paths, like one of the boys in E.T. Yes, you need to stay alert and safe, but also enjoy it. 

You can find loads of information about cycle paths, routes, maintenance and more on the TfL website.

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…