Why can’t we be friends?

Increasing the number of cyclists in London is not solely reliant on better infrastructure. For there to be more cyclists, there needs to be more people that are happy and comfortable on the roads. They need to want to give it a try and then want to do repeatedly.

As a hardened urban cyclist, with plenty of experience of riding in traffic it’s a shame to admit that there are still days when I get put off. In fact, when I first moved to London I ended up walking more than cycling, because I just didn’t enjoy it.


Photograph: Adrian Brown/Getty

The reason? Not cars or scooters, not taxis or buses, but fellow cyclists. I remember getting so fed up with other cyclists cutting me up and overtaking me at traffic lights. To this day, the behaviour of fellow cyclists still boils my blood, despite my efforts to be more zen. It’s clear from speaking to other cyclists and reading the blog comments, that I’m not the only one that feels this way.

The bubble

I am pretty used to cars sometimes cutting me up and I find that it is easy to predict what they are going to do. Especially when they are doing something ridiculous. I can tell when a cyclist is going to do something that represents a hazard to me as well. I guess after cycling (and driving) around for nearly 30 years I have a well honed ‘accident sense’.

I understand that people are not all equal in terms of road skills and experience and ardently feel that should not stop people cycling. I do think that everyone should take a cycle training course though. Sadly, I also understand that everyone in this city wishes they were in a bubble, particularly when commuting. However, I am incredibly saddened that this selfish bubble extends to people who cycle commute.

Ideal commuter bubble

Cyclists often talk about an us and them divide between drivers and cyclists. Regardless of how unhelpful this rhetoric is, it is presupposing that cyclists are a united, cohesive group. I am not sure this is true.

I get that cyclists are all very different people, and we should not have to all have the same ideals, ethics and interests. To think otherwise is naive. But, we are all out doing essentially the same thing every day. Cycling in London is not as unsafe as it may seem if you just watch the news, but it is not the safest thing you can do in a day. (For the safest thing to do you should wrap yourself in a blanket, hole up in your lounge and watch Netflix reruns all day. But that’s only fun for a day.)

Despite our shared goal of getting to our destination, there are those cyclists that feel the need to zoom around and take every opportunity to overtake a bus, car, whatever. We are road uses and as such are held to the highway code as much as any other vehicle on the road.

Lead by example

Being an idiot on a bike to get to work a couple minutes quicker is not helping anyone. Cutting up a car or a bus because you think you have more of a right to be in the road and in front at the lights is not helpful. Drivers should not take things personally and get annoyed but they do, the same way we get annoyed and hacked off at drivers. Do not give them fuel to think that cyclists are in their way. Next time they try to speed past a person on a bike because you got in their way, it might not work out and someone could get hurt.

Filtering is often necessary in traffic if you want to get anywhere and not inhale the fumes from a whole tank of petrol. We all do it, and often it is safe to do so. Sometimes however it is not. The prime example of this is filtering alongside a lorry. We all know about this and it is probably the most talked about danger point on the road for cyclists. Just because there is an advanced stop box at a junction does not give you an automatic right to use it. It is there for the safety of cyclists. It is not there for you to weave through tons of cars to get to. Nor is it there for you to sit in front of traffic in the wrong lane and cut cars up. It is certainly not there for you to cut up other cyclists already present.

Selfish cyclists

It doesn’t matter if someone wants to cycle in the other direction, I must get past these other bikes! Even if there is a curb in front of me, better than a bike!

These behaviours all give drivers a bad impression of cyclists and this is not what we want. When I do occasionally drive a car I hate it when a cyclist cuts in front of me at a junction and is then in the wrong place. I fear a cyclist swinging out in front of me with out adequate signals and space. These things irritate and anger me and I am about as committed a cyclist as you get.

Think about others

I often hang back at a junction rather than squeeze my way to the front. Usually it is because it is not necessary to do so or it is not very safe. I will then sit there while 5 or 6 other cyclists cycle down the wrong side of the road to get to the front of the junction. They then hold up traffic and are slow to pull off, often needing to cut a lane or two to get to the correct place on the road. When I cycle through the city at rush hour I lose track of the number of times I am cut up at traffic lights and then held up by the same person pulling off very slowly and cycling very slowly.

I am all for people cycling at their own pace, I certainly am not a speedy cyclist. But I do not appreciate being overtaken at lights by people I had previously passed while cycling along. I also do not appreciate it when people jump the lights and continue to cycle slowly, meaning I have to play leap frog with them along a stretch of road. This puts everyone at risk. Yes queuing is irritating, but you will still be quicker than the cars even if you don’t cut everyone up.

Cyclists queuing

Maybe it is just London bike traffic that is disorderly?

I also find that I am undertaken by other cyclists regularly. I do not always cycle in the primary position, it is just not feasible on most roads. I also do not always cycle right in the gutter, I leave a gap so that I can see pedestrians and not get hit by car doors, as you are supposed to. I do not leave a gap for other cyclists to nip up and then nearly take out my front wheel getting in front of me. You should never undertake another cyclist.

What can we do?

When I am put in danger by a car when on the road it is bad. When it is a ‘fellow’ cyclists it is, to my mind, worse. We all have the same hazards. We all face the same problems from vehicles, and bad opinions from some drivers. Perhaps we should be a little more courteous to each other.

Lets try to be a community and not put people off becoming cyclists. Help each other out if you see an accident. If you can behave in a way that makes someones journey just a little better, do it. Say hello to each other occasionally, or at least make eye contact and crack a smile now and then. It won’t kill you or turn you to stone. It certainly won’t make you late.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

35 Responses to Why can’t we be friends?

  1. Roibeard 23/10/2015 at 9:45 am #

    “When I am put in danger by a car when on the road it is bad. When it is a ‘fellow’ cyclists it is, to my mind, worse.”

    In 2011 there were 2,772 cyclists killed or seriously injured in two vehicle accidents. Only 27 of these involved another cyclist. 15,164 cyclists received slight injuries from a two vehicle accident, and only 84 of these involved another cyclist.

    Objectively motorists are between 102 times (KSI) and 180 times more dangerous to a cyclist than another cyclist.

    Clearly other cyclists are annoying, but the danger they pose is not worse.


  2. tom 23/10/2015 at 9:51 am #

    I have occasionally felt similarly, but find this sort of article extremely frustrating as it encompasses many anti-cyclist views while being from a cyclist, and its misconceptions are very handy for those who wish to attack cycling.

    “When I am put in danger by a car when on the road it is bad. When it is a ‘fellow’ cyclists it is, to my mind, worse.”

    That statement is indefensible and equates occasional inconvenience or irritation with regular danger. There is a cultural acceptance of bad driving that has the potential to, and very frequently does, wreck people’s lives. This is not a blunder of etiquette – in no other area would people be permitted to use heavy machinery without care and attention, and if they used it to deliberately endanger or scare others, they would rightly be locked up. And yet not a day goes by without ‘punishment passes’ or deliberate aggression from car drivers

    Recent TFL research found that cyclists are no more or less law abiding than other road users.

    The article is of course absolutely right to point out the danger of squeezing down the left-hand side of lorries, and it can’t be said enough. But an awful lot of the fluid nature of cycling, and the sometimes unexpected or awkward behaviour of cyclists is due to lack of the sort of infrastructure that drivers take for granted (and the amount of driving that ignores the very clear, car-friendly infrastructure is in itself staggering).

    That is what makes this comment so frustrating:

    “When I do occasionally drive a car I hate it when a cyclist cuts in front of me at a junction and is then in the wrong place. I fear a cyclist swinging out in front of me with out adequate signals and space. These things irritate and anger me and I am about as committed a cyclist as you get.”

    Lack of infrastructure encourages poor behaviour and offers little alternative for the irregular or less committed cyclist for guided good behaviour. As with a lot of the rest of the article, this is very much a car driver’s viewpoint.

    I’m sure the article was well-intentioned and I don’t disagree that we all see poor cycling. My main dislike, not mentioned here, is cyclists who endanger pedestrians in the same way as cyclists are endangered by cars – treating parks like racetracks, or skipping across pedestrian crossings. But by far my experiences with other cyclists are positive and helpful, and I cycle daily.

    I’m not worried about the impression car drivers have of me, nor of having a very ‘umble attitude in case they get the ‘wrong’ impression – the amount of aggression I get for taking the lane in otherwise dangerous situations puts paid to that. I want to stay safe. Other cyclists are really the least of my worries.

    • Stefan 23/10/2015 at 10:43 am #

      I have to say that I too find fellow cyclists both frustrating and at times dangerous – not all by any means. I cycle daily and use a motorcycle regularly and a car and van occasionally and cyclists in my experience are responsible for more bad road use than other road users. HOWEVER the big difference is motor vehicle users when they use the road badly are more likely to cause serious injury rather than just ‘blood boiling’.
      And in the spirit of honesty I have ridden, and driven, badly on occasions, not deliberately but we all make mistakes and errors of judgement, perhaps a bit of humility from us all will help.

  3. Ruth McKee 23/10/2015 at 10:03 am #

    I’m hoping you can help me out with this one. I commute to work every day – but I do so through a pretty cycle-free zone in the suburbs of London so I don’t encounter that many fellow cyclists.

    However, when there is a long line of cars at a set of traffic lights and it would be dangerous for me to wait, (angry drivers behind, potenital left turners and lane changers in front) I cycle up the middle of the road, behaving like a motorbike or scooter to get to the front of the queue so that no one squishes me by turning left or right or just ploughing straight through me.

    Is this behaviour wrong? It certainly feels safer as it means oncoming traffic can see me clearly and waiting drivers (who tend to use their right and wing mirror more) can see me better than if I was hanging back in their blind spot.

    When I am cycling in central London, sometimes those advanced stopping boxes are full of cyclists. If I am first there I try and leave lots of space behind – but then I’m a slow starter – so should I cling to the back line and tell everyone to stand in front of me? And you may be a quick starter – but if the only space in a box is a choice between in front of you and in the gutter beside a car or lorry then where do you expect people to go?

    Is there a code book somewhere no one is telling me about – is there a seeding/ranking system at work in those boxes? I ride a racer – but I’m always in a big gear and have to fiddle about with my feet sometimes – so should I maybe wear a number with my starting speed and then you would co-ordinate our starts according to who is faster cyclist?

    I will re-read the highway code and see if I’m missing something – and I am sorry if I ever jump ahead of you at lights – please don’t take it personally and curse me – I am simply trying to stay safe.

    • Jason 23/10/2015 at 10:43 am #

      Filtering up the middle of the road like a motorbike is fine – you have no option on certain narrow roads anyway.

      The ASL bit though…not sure what you are getting at.

      If you arrive at the ASL first then you should simply go to the front – if you are slow fair enough, faster cyclists (like me maybe) will find a safe place to overtake and all is good.

      What Emily is talking about (and what I experience all the time) is when a slower cyclist pushes in front of other cyclists already in the ASL to get in front of them (also known as ‘shoalling’) This is not acceptable – it is selfish and means we have to overtake again and again and again which may not be possible in heavy trafic or safe. Makes me annoyed too, especially when they move off so slow that cars have time to move off the same time as I do – my advantage from the ASL is totally gone thanks to selfish behaviour from another cyclist. It’s not worth losing your rag over but still, there’s no excuse.

    • Peter 23/10/2015 at 11:58 pm #

      Hello Ruth,

      I can say you are doing it very well. You can go up on the middle of the road, most of the experienced cyclists do the same. This is an advantage of cycling compared with a car, that you need less room, it it’s absolutely fine. If that red light changes, you already saved time and whoever you overtook, they noticed you.

      I’m a quick starter. But if I need to wait in the box behind other cyclists, that’s normal. Whoever gets there first have the first position. And after a few yards the quicker cyclists will overtake you. The experienced cyclists will never tailgate you or be aggressive, because there is no point. When I see the gap, I go up there. If it’s not there, I wait for it.
      Just keep it up! 🙂

  4. nilling 23/10/2015 at 10:30 am #

    Angry or rude people are just that; there mode of transport doesn’t matter. If I find myself with such a person I am usually extremely courteous and smile alot. I do not meet rage with rage, nor comment on somone’s cyclecraft but I remind myself of why I ride – but then again I don’t cycle in Londinium 😉

  5. remerson 23/10/2015 at 10:41 am #

    An awful lot of this can be boiled down to one simple rule: “SLOW THE F*CK DOWN”.

    You are not in a hurry. No — you really aren’t. Couple minutes late for work? That doesn’t qualify. Unless you’ve got a medical emergency or something like that, then *slow* *down*.

    • Jason 23/10/2015 at 11:24 am #

      Couldn’t agree more (and thats from a faster cyclist. If you’re in any doubt whatsoever of the situation…slow the f**k down!!!!!!!)

      • Martin T 23/10/2015 at 6:22 pm #

        Disagree, at least in ‘normal’ urban road use.
        Keeping moving at around the speed of most traffic (I’m not talking about other bikes here) is generally a safe way to ride, as you can take the primary position and get more time to know of and deal with traffic movements.
        On occasions when I have to cycle more slowly (through mechanical difficulties, a heavy load or being knackered, say) I often have to keep harder to the nearside, and even wait behind stopped vehicles, unable to flow in my usual way.
        So I prefer to keep it moving moving, whenever possible.

        • Jason 27/10/2015 at 1:18 pm #

          I think remerson was talking about people rushing around at junctions/side roads/overtaking and so on – times people need to slow down and look/consider the situation properly as opposed to driving/riding overly aggressively.

  6. Maitrida 23/10/2015 at 11:01 am #

    I was pleased with the sentiment s behind the article. Like some others I think simply trying to be more patient and perhaps slow down and enjoy our rides would contribute to a better vibe. We are not just cyclists, we are also pedestrians and not infrequently drivers too; we share a busy potentially hazardous space with others and we can only benefit by being more aware of that. We can’t make other people safer but we can try to be good examples. Enjoy your ride!

  7. Danny 23/10/2015 at 11:14 am #

    I’ve been commuting for about 6 months now, suburbs into London, about 13miles. I’ve found that 99% of drivers on the road are fine, fairly patient & accommodating. The odd wave of thanks seems to make everyone happy.

    I filter a lot, but will sometimes just sit in lane with the cars, if the ASL box is packed or the left lane is for left turners, or if filtering looks like a pain or means passing a bus, scaffold lorry etc.

    I’m sorry to say that in my experience so far, a far larger portion of cyclists are complete wallys. Charging through lights, even when people are crossing. Generally in a mad rush. Admittedly I’m not going for the fastest times, I put safety over speed, but even given that I tend to be relatively fast in relation to everyone around me.

    I really think that in general cyclists seems to give themselves a bad rep.

    • Jason 23/10/2015 at 11:23 am #

      I know what you’re saying but you’ve become blind to the law and highway code breaking drivers around you – how many obey the speed limit? (really) how many speed up through amber lights? (same as red light jumping if they had the option of stopping) how many are on the phone? how many pass closer to you than a cars width? how many fail to look properly at junctions/side roads? how many park illegially? and so on.

      We are all as bad/good as each other 😉

    • Kie 24/10/2015 at 9:59 am #

      Cycle up Ridge ave in Enfield, you’ll find over 50% of drivers driving badly if you choose not to cycle in the door zone, ‘must get past’ is endemic amongst Enfield drivers, with under 1% cycling in Enfield they just don’t behave correctly.

  8. Vincent 23/10/2015 at 11:24 am #

    The crux of the problem is that the UK, like all other countries except the Netherlands and Denmark, refuses to decolonize its roads from motor vehicules.

    If the UK had similar bike infras, riding a bike wouldn’t be so stressful, and everyone would be a lot more calm.

    A video from Utrecht:

  9. Vid 23/10/2015 at 12:58 pm #

    The clue is in the title “London Cyclist”. It would be the same if it was London pedestrian,London car driver.

  10. Rebecca 23/10/2015 at 1:12 pm #

    Agreed – we are a special breed us cyclists, we need to help one another out

  11. Alan Southern 23/10/2015 at 4:22 pm #

    I am a social cyclist but I used to cycle regularly in Cardiff’s rush hour. I cycle defensively (I want to live for the next few birthdays!). The group I cycle with on Thursdays and Saturdays will often cycle though red lights if turning to the left (as is allowed in Germany but fortunately not here) but I will wait at the stop line until green. And one friend treats parks as a race track weaving in and out of pedestrians and other cyclists including us. There is enough bad press about cyclists’ behaviour without me adding to it. But there is one thing in common with our group – we all drive cars. Fortunately I don’t believe any of them would exhibit their cycling behaviour when driving cars!

    • Kie 24/10/2015 at 10:01 am #

      I bet they don’t stick to under 30mph on all city roads.

      • Matt 24/10/2015 at 10:57 am #

        Speed limits don’t apply to cyclists (unless in parks).

        • Ree 26/10/2015 at 7:43 am #

          Pardon? If you’re in a 20 zone, then you can be ticketed for doing 30… Of course speed limits apply.

        • MJ Ray 26/10/2015 at 10:35 am #

          Read the law Ree. Strictly speaking, posted limits do not apply to cycles or horses… however, if you ignore them, you leave yourself open to charges of furious or wanton cycling.

  12. Matt 23/10/2015 at 8:06 pm #

    Hmm, filtering on the right, I’m a fan of it, as a driver I was taught to look to my right for overtaking traffic, not on the inside, so drivers expect it. Having had cycle safety lessons you realise how much of riding is psychology… Not pedalling as you come to a junction (even passing side roads) means that drivers may assume that you’re slowing down and about to turn, keeping pedalling means to them that you’re going straight on.
    Again comments about slowing down and enjoying the trip are counter intuitive, a driver may possibly try a dangerous manoeuvre to get around someone who’s “holding me up” or wobbling about erratically rather than holding back for someone who travels consistanly and at a similar speed and the statistics back this up.

    • Sheridan 30/10/2015 at 12:47 am #

      Nice theories about the psychology of attitudes towards pedalling – I’d be interested in seeing any evidence to back them up.

  13. Kie 24/10/2015 at 9:47 am #

    ” It is not there for you to weave through tons of cars to get to. ”

    Yes, it is. One moment you’re saying filtering is ok, the next you’re saying it isn’t, it’s not cyclists fault if the ASL is not big enough for them all to fit into the left-hand-side of the box.

    I can’t say what’s going through the heads of slow cyclists who insist on weaving in front of quicker cyclists, I weave to the front because I haven’t met a cyclist that accelerates away from a junction faster than me yet, but I try to stay out of the way of motorbikes and I don’t have a beef with them being in the ASL.

  14. MJ Ray 24/10/2015 at 10:39 pm #

    Second dud article in a row 🙁

    This article is so wrong and full of self loathing, I don’t know where to start disagreeing. So I won’t go into detail. I’ll just suggest calming the heck down and maybe varying your route through a nice pretty park or something until you’re calm enough to share the road nicely 🙂

  15. Demon D 25/10/2015 at 10:03 am #

    Irrespective of how much truth in this article, ultimately it is unhelpful. Every time a respected cyclist runs an article like this, the anti-cycling lobby hijack it and start sending it around as if it were somehow proof that they are right. Which is how I found this…

  16. peter walford 25/10/2015 at 11:16 pm #

    I’ve been thinking of fixing a little sign to the back of my bike asking overtaking fellow cyclists to leave me as much space as they’d like an overtaking car to leave them, (which shouldn’t really be necessary if just a modicum of consideration was shown)

  17. Ree 26/10/2015 at 8:53 am #

    My beef about cyclists is that they consistently break the rules. I have met one or two who, like me, give pedestrian priority on shared paths, stop at red lights and pedestrian crossings, slow down when needed, are considerate around children.
    Recently, I was abused by a cyclist who was trying to squeeze between me and the edge of the canal path. He shouted ‘Left’ at me and at first I thought he meant he was going left around me. But when he kept shouting ‘Left’ at me, it was quite clear that he wanted me to go left, because I was in his way. He was pushing past on the right where there was barely enough space before falling into the canal and he was angry at me for ‘being in his way’, when in reality there was enough space on the left, which on a shared path is not undertaking. He was shouting so loudly and consistently that he was turning pink. OK, so this may be a unique experience, but how many cyclists feel like this towards each other? There is a pecking order of fastest to slowest and I think is what needs to change and that is what should have been addressed in this article. It is moments like this when I think that number plates on cycles would be a good idea because I would have reported him to the police.

    • MJ Ray 26/10/2015 at 10:34 am #

      Surely you can’t expect to be taken seriously if you claim that cyclists consistently break rules and then immediately point out some who aren’t consistent with that?

      There will always be a few idiots riding bike. Generally, they are less deadly than if they were driving a car. Number plates for bikes do not seem like a valid solution because number plates for cars have not even stopped motorists killing, let alone overtaking badly.

  18. Jake 27/10/2015 at 11:50 pm #

    Spot on article! I have little problem with cars, taxis or buses on my commute to work, but others on bikes….. One day I won’t be the only one on a bike sitting at a red light while others just go through, only for me to catch them up one the light goes green. Now it is dark, just how dazzling bright does a bike front light have to be? (If indeed they have lights at all).

    I’ve had close and unexpected passes by others on bikes, both sides. At least the cars are predictable

  19. Liz 06/11/2015 at 1:45 pm #

    Great article. I found it interesting though that the image captioned as “Maybe it is just London bike traffic that is disorderly?” is actually of Oxford – a junction I pass through twice every day!

    • MJ Ray 10/11/2015 at 5:26 pm #

      I think the author is suggesting that Oxforders queue neatly while the Londoners in the earlier pictures are swarming, jumping the line and so on.

  20. MJ Ray 10/11/2015 at 5:25 pm #

    Why can’t we be friends? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DmYLrxR0Y8

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