I'm the MailOnline Travel Editor and began cycling to work seven years ago – since then I've clocked up around 1,000 pedal-powered commutes between my
I’m the MailOnline Travel Editor and began cycling to work seven years ago – since then I’ve clocked up around 1,000 pedal-powered commutes between my East Dulwich home and the Mail’s High St Kensington HQ.
I turned to pedal power mostly because I was struggling to find time to exercise as a father. Then it became apparent riding a bike to work was twice as fast as using public transport (30 vs 60 minutes) – and addiction to pedal power set in, despite most days featuring a hair-raising moment or two.
Over the years, I noticed a pattern regarding said hair-raising moments – they normally involved the same types of vehicles. Here I’ve listed the road users that scare me the least and the most, ranked from the least terrifying to the ones that put me most on edge – and included a helmet-cam video compilation of just a few alarming commuting moments. Why? Perhaps it’ll help cyclists stay safer and remind drivers to be extra careful around us pedal-power commuters.
A quick caveat – I’m not ‘anti-car’, I love driving, and obviously there are exceptions for every single category (I also know some very careful Audi drivers, for instance). I also know some cyclists don’t exactly cover themselves in highway-code-honouring glory. Do you agree with my list?
14. Other cyclists
Obviously the least scary – high-speed collisions are impossible because almost no cyclist gets above 20mph around London (I know this because I have a GPS computer on my handlebars). And they’re all far too concerned about staying alive to be a danger to other cyclists.
13. Police cars (not answering emergency calls)
I’ve cycled a handful of times down a perilous double-lane South London road with a police car just behind me and it was like having a force field. Not only does the presence of a police car calm nearby drivers (funny, that), but police drivers have only ever shown the utmost courtesy to me, giving me ample space to go around stationary buses in bus lanes (a rarity in London) and always overtaking with care and attention. The Holy Grail of vehicles to cycle near.
12. Black cabs
Apart from the occasional startling U-turn, using that famous turning circle, I find black-cab drivers have excellent road manners around cyclists and tend not to blast unnervingly from point to point. The fact that they know all the shortcuts probably lessens the yearning to hurtle around.
11. Superbike riders
Given how fast superbikes can accelerate, some may be surprised at their placement in the non-scary end of the ranking. But I’ve found superbike riders have impressive roadcraft and are hyper-aware of what’s going on around them. No doubt partly because they are fairly vulnerable. The ones I see on my commute constantly check their mirrors and rarely endanger anyone (apart from the one I saw haring down a segmented cycle lane on Embankment). Just one plea – please don’t rev your engines behind cyclists to let us know you’re there. It gives us a terrible fright.
They’re too small and slow to instil any serious terror, but most seem to treat London like a giant video racing game, brazenly running red lights and speeding down cycle lanes – and they have a proclivity for weaving in and out of traffic with worrying unpredictability. While glued to their GPS maps. (They do look like fun, though.)
9. Regular (non-Audi) cars
This car brazenly ran a red light by Chelsea Bridge, narrowly avoiding hitting road users further along
Images three, four and five in this selection show how close-passing is rife in the capital. Image four captures the moment when a driver overtakes a cyclist in front of him who’s simply in the process of overtaking another cyclist. The driver almost clips him, seemingly oblivious to just how dangerous his manoeuvre is
When you’re a cyclist in a city, any car has a base level of scariness – because it’s a car. It’s faster and heavier than a bike and capable of killing you in an instant upon impact.
But most drivers are well-behaved and cycling around them simply involves being careful and sensible.
8. Private hire cars
This private-hire driver ignored a stop sign in Kensington and rolled straight into the road as I was passing through the junction. The image above is from the video compilation and shows how the driver isn’t even looking where he’s going. He stopped after I nearly hit him and rolled down his window, shouting ‘why don’t you look where you’re going?’
Close shave: This BMW pulled out in front of me in Belgravia
When I see a private-hire taxi sticker in a window, I stay frosty. Because I know anything can happen. At any moment. I’ve seen private hire cars skid within centimetres of pedestrians walking across zebra crossings, they often approach side junctions at speed and immediately overshoot into the road ahead before stopping (a classic scare for all road users) and close-passing (not leaving a big enough gap between the cyclist and the car) is a regular occurrence.
7. Audi drivers
So often, when terror comes calling on my commute, an Audi is involved. Audi drivers can’t bear to be held up for longer than a micro-second and are constantly guilty of not allowing cyclists to go around stationary buses safely – they blast past often within inches of the bike as it moves out in front of them – and always seem to be in a remorseless rush, as if they’re in a giant racing game in competition perhaps with the mopeds.
This SUV shamelessly rolled through a red light in Camberwell, South London. The image above shows the green lights for cyclists and pedestrians illuminated. I was crossing at the same time as a family with a baby in a pram
The moment with SUVs I hate the most is when passing in opposite directions along a road lined with parked cars. Let alone be in control, many SUV drivers can’t even see over the wheel properly and seem unaware of the tarmac-obscuring dimensions of their vehicle, and simply barrel towards cyclists without even a hint of speed-checking.
There’s no chance of a David v Goliath ending for a cyclist versus an HGV and so I always pay very (very) careful attention to what I’m doing around them. Though most lorries in city environments can’t get up much speed – and I can out-accelerate any lorry in city traffic on my road bike if I’ve had my porridge – it’s best to take the grand total of zero risks around them.
One of the most alarming close-passes in all the years I’ve been cycling. This van came within about two inches of me as I headed into East Dulwich
This is a still from the video compilation above. The van turned left then immediately stopped, which the cyclist wasn’t quite expecting
Ted with his bike in the Lake District, where traffic isn’t such an issue
In life, I like vans. Mainly because they deliver things to my house that I need. But to cycle around? A distinctly mixed bag. I’ve been knocked clean off my bike by a van, which pulled into the road while I was gliding past. It hurt a lot. This wasn’t great PR for van drivers. But that aside, van drivers in general can be worryingly blasé about cyclists and often quite aggressive.
I love travelling on buses, especially with my daughter. Great places for a hearty game of eye-spy and they can reach parts of the city trains can’t get to for mere pennies. But I find them a menace to cycle around. I’d genuinely like to know if pulling across the road when a cyclist is alongside and forcing them to slam on the brakes or onto the wrong side of the road is part of a bus driver’s training. Along with pulling up on the right-hand side of cyclists while indicating left and then simply drifting over to the left lane, forcing cyclists to take emergency avoidance measures. Buses – this is seriously terrifying. Please. Stop it.
2. ‘Not in service’ buses
The not-in-service sign on a London bus is a signifier of danger. When I spot a bus sporting one of these, caution levels move to 11. They’re demonic. I can only assume the sheer thrill of flooring a double-decker bus is too hard to resist for drivers hampered daily by picking passengers up every 100 yards.
This double-decker coach gave me the fright of my life in Pimlico as it first tried to overtake me worryingly close to an island ahead, then attempted to undertake me
I loathe cycling around coaches. They’re too long and too fast – the drivers throw them around the roads with the sort of merciless abandon that makes my blood run cold. I once had a double-decker coach try to undertake me on a residential street in Pimlico. You read that right – undertake. Probably the scariest moment in seven years of cycling in the capital.
(Just a second National Express, don’t send that terse complaint – it’s not your drivers I’m thinking of, more the out-of-town leisure company coaches. They know who they are.)