The scariest moment I’ve had cycling in London

Cycling in London is a real pleasure and my favourite way to get around. However, there are close calls that remind you why people are often hesitant to travel by bike.

These moments are sometimes my fault and sometimes the driver’s fault, the important thing is to learn from them. With that in mind there’s a incident I want to share with you. I hope you’ll learn from it and I hope you’ll also share your experiences with me in the comments.

The situation

I was cycling along Euston Road in rush hour a couple of years ago, trying to make it to work on time.

A lorry was in front of me and I made a quick judgement call that I had time and space to pass.

I started to cycle on the inside of this heavy goods vehicle, but being in the blind spot, the driver hadn’t seen me and so started to move into my path. I almost instantly found myself in a tiny gap between the enormous wheels and the railings on the left of the road.

My handlebars wobbled and I could see how close I was to clipping those wheels. I applied the brakes and fortunately the lorry narrowly skimmed passed me.

Shaken by the incident I pulled up at the side of the road to catch my breath.

I am aware that things could have been very different and I had a lucky escape. In the last few years there have been a large number of cyclist deaths from collisions with lorries – 104 in the last 5 years in the UK. Further, 94% of fatal cyclist collisions with lorries between 2008-2014 in London occurred on the front left side, exactly where I narrowly avoided getting hit.

Who was at fault?

It is easy to try to blame someone for the situation I found myself in. The lorry driver should know I was alongside him and not try to cut into another lane. The car behind should have given me space to pull back. I do have to shoulder some of the responsibility too. Squeezing past traffic and riding along the inside of the lorry, I was putting myself in a potentially dangerous situation.

In the last year there has been a rising awareness of the size of a lorry’s blind spot – the area alongside the vehicle which is unseen by the driver using standard mirrors. Lorries driving in London are now required to have extra mirrors which substantially decrease the blind spot, but they cannot remove it completely and it’s tough for drivers to consult all the mirrors at the same time.

What can you do?

There are several ways to avoid getting into such a terrifying situation.

Avoid going up the inside of a lorry or other large vehicle when it is stopped at a red light. Even if it is going straight on you may run out of room, and if it is turning left it could be disastrous. The little bit of time you may save on your journey is not worth the risk of getting crushed.

Secondly, a lorry has quite a large blind spot behind and in front of it. You may think you will accelerate away from the lights quicker than the vehicle, which may be true, but you are not in complete control of the situation, someone may get in your way or the lorry may move off before you. Therefore, you should wait and let the lorry go first at a left hand turn to avoid a potential collision.

Cycle training

It is worth considering taking a cycle training course, even if you are a regular cyclist. I have taken one and it was very useful. In my case, I found I had developed a few bad habits. I was also reminded that I should be 1 metre way from the kerb and to stay out of the door zone of parked cars, another common place for accidents to occur on London’s roads.

Many people are eligible for free one-to-one cycle training. You can find out who to contact in your borough by checking on the TfL website or looking at Cycle Confident.

Exchanging Places

There is a program running at the moment by the Met police to provide lorry drivers with cycle training so they are more aware of cyclists on the road. A part of this also involves cyclists sitting inside a lorry cab to see the blind spots and mirrors for themselves.

I have done this and it’s pretty alarming. The new mirrors certainly help increase visibility but there are still substantial areas around the vehicle that cannot be visualised. There are also an alarming number of things to check and look at and the mirrors are not very large.

From this experience, I’ve found a new understanding of how hard driving such a large vehicle through London traffic must be.

Just avoid them

Avoiding lorries seems to be the best bet for staying safe. Don’t try to squeeze past them, even if you see another cyclist doing it.

I typically also try to avoid roads such as the Euston Road. There are other great cycle routes and quiet roads in London.

For more tips and advice, check out our comprehensive safe cycling guide!

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10 Responses to The scariest moment I’ve had cycling in London

  1. Will 24/10/2016 at 11:09 am #

    Avoid them, that is the most sensible advice. Why on earth you would go on the inside of a lorry that you know may not see you is a crazy move. I am glad you were ok but really there is absolutely no point in taking that risk – Just dont do it. Whenever there is a bus, or big lorry, take the extra time to stay behind them until you know you can pass safely on the outside. ITs not worth the little extra time you think you’ll save by going on the inside.

    • Kie 28/10/2016 at 10:17 am #

      Old street/city rd roundabout heading from north to south, a v’big lorry comes up my right, and then CHANGES HIS MIND ON A F**KING ROUNDABOUT, starts turning left across my path. I had to turn left sharply (no time for shoulder checking) and risk getting hit from traffic coming from behind, I had zero choice, it was either be run over by a large lorry or potentially be hit from behind.

  2. nightoil 24/10/2016 at 5:46 pm #

    Good post, Andreas.

    Never go up the inside of a lorry waiting at lights (unless you’re *absolutely* certain you can get ahead of it and into the driver’s field of vision well before the traffic starts moving).

    May sound a bit soppy but I think one of the best ways of staying safe on a bike in London is to treat other road users as human beings. 99% of the time they act totally rationally. They do read your body language. They know when you’re being thoughtful.

    Occasionally, in my experience, drivers (and sadly cyclists too) do do really crazy things. I was recently waiting in the outside right-turn filter lane southbound in Finchley Road to go down to the O2 Centre when a car in the left lane suddenly floored it and did a U-turn across all three outer lanes. Pure fluke that he crossed within inches of my front wheel. Looked up at me with a f***-you expression and then zoomed off north – no remorse or apology – nothing.

    Lesson: always expect the unexpected. Always see everything before it happens.

    But I do love riding in London. No doubt, it’s THE best way to get around and stay fit and be alive!

  3. D. 25/10/2016 at 9:30 am #

    Whilst I do agree with your comments about avoiding them, there is the flip-side of it that we have allowed such massive and dangerous vehicles to drive around in busy, congested areas knowing that they have such enormous blind spots.

    On a building site or yard, for example, large vehicles have to have a ‘banksman’ (equivalent to the old ‘man with red flag’ that used to accompany early motor cars).

    And yet we’re happy for HGVs to drive through our towns and city centres, inches away from pedestrians and mixing it with cars and cyclists…

  4. Sarah 26/10/2016 at 9:15 am #

    My near miss experience:

    I’m always extremely cautious of ever going up the inside of an HGV (although I’ve been shouted at countless times by cyclists for not doing so!) but in this instance there were two lanes, one for straight on and one for turning left. I held back for a while to check the HGV wasn’t going into the turn left lane that I was in but they changed lane suddenly without checking or indicating whilst I was half way along having suddenly realised they were in the wrong lane (the straight on lane had a red light). To my left were railings. Stopping would’ve put me in the path of the HGV. I couldn’t pedal fast enough to get ahead of the HGV. I waved my arm in the air and pointed my flashing bike light upwards at the wing mirror. They braked and I got in front.

  5. Neil Illing 26/10/2016 at 9:30 am #

    Best avoided, though difficult in London I guess. I tend to ride behind in the primary position, making sure I can see the drivers side mirrors so hopefully he can see me.

    Though sometimes it does not matter when a lorry pulls alongside or close passes!! 😟

  6. Michael 26/10/2016 at 10:50 am #

    Of course the obvious answer is to never go up the inside of stationary traffic.

    However it is a glib answer, firstly that’s where our piss poor cycle lanes are painted, that’s where they will deliver you. Secondly, it takes a very brave confident person to filter on the outside of stationary traffic; a manoeuvre which is not without its own dangers such as on-coming traffic and the predicament of what to do once the stationary queue starts moving.

    Thirdly, you have to recognise that if you are going to make progress on our city’s street, in their current design, the cyclist will have to filter. Otherwise if you behave like a car and queue in the traffic jam. you may as well take your car and enjoy the radio and air conditioning.

    Once you accept filtering is going to take place then it is your job to manage that risk. Keep assessing when the queue is going to move, keep assessing where your emergency escape routes might be, look in drivers’ mirrors to see if they are looking at you or their phones. Decide whether filtering on the nearside or offside would be better.

    It’s a constantly changing environment and there is no one definitive answer.

  7. Helen 27/10/2016 at 10:41 pm #

    I’ve done the Met “sit in a lorry” experience and it was horrifying – I knew they had limited visibility on the nearside, but didn’t realise quite how bad it was. If you are in the bus lane and they are in the next lane over, they still won’t be able to see you. If they’re in the right hand lane (i.e. Two lanes over) they might not even be able to see you then. As a driver who has driven plenty of transits, minibuses and tail-lift vans around central London, I would be scared shitless behind the wheel of an artic.

    For practical purposes, assume they can only see out of the front of their cab. Limiting access to built up areas is a good idea.

  8. Kie 28/10/2016 at 10:18 am #

    Solution is either autonomous vehicles or mandatory collision detection in all vehicles.

  9. Brian Roy Rosen 29/10/2016 at 3:30 am #

    I just don’t try wriggling along the nearsides of vehicles, especially large ones, unless they are evidently at complete standstill. Even then, I always take a ‘worst case scenario’ view when I’m in a traffic queue, especially at lights when there’s no reserved area for cyclists to wait in, so left hooks are a constant menace. In the S.Ken, Chelsea and Victoria areas I go through to get to work, there is no almost no provision of any kind for cyclists, and I have to treat every junction as a tactical manoeuvre to make sure I’m in good space and can be seen. But I also use routes that avoid the worst junctions and am not too proud or too rushed to get off and push my bike over crossings.

    When I’m in a bus I see a quite a few cyclists ducking and weaving in all directions and lanes in heavy traffic often without looking round or signalling. I daresay they’re brave and happy but to me they seem completely bonkers, or completely untrained, or perhaps they feel that as cyclists, they have some kind of right to do this because cycling is more ‘environmental’ than motoring.

    The most dangerous vehicles on my regular route are not only the big ones, but ‘white vans’ and small trade trucks. The drivers seem to either hate cyclists or are simply too ‘gung-ho’ to notice them. Their vehicles being smaller than buses and HGVs, they can move into dangerous situations much more suddenly.

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