GUEST BLOG, HENRY JEFFREYS: BORIS BIKE SCHEME OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING & LOVE ROAD USERS

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Henry used to be my hugely tolerant and entertaining assistant manager when I ran a branch of Oddbins, way back when. It was hell. Honestly. Ask us about it. HELL.

Henry used to be my hugely tolerant and entertaining assistant manager when I ran a branch of Oddbins, way back when. It was hell. Honestly. Ask us about it. HELL.

He’s gone on to much better things and is now a hot shot big time bells and whistles publishing publicist and writer. He’s retained and augmented his love of wine and writes about it (often very funnily) here: http://worldofbooze.wordpress.com/

He’s on Twitter at @henrygjeffreys and he’s a cyclist and everything! Thanks for the blog Henry. We are honoured.

Henry Jeffreys guest blog

I don’t normally have a lot of time for government cycling initiatives. The ineptly designed cycle lanes of the last few years have actually made things less safe. Anyone who has tried cycling along Tavistock Place will know what I mean. I would rather be in the road where the cars can see me. I do, however, have a soft spot for Boris Johnson’s free bike scheme. What struck me about the riders in the photos on the TFLwebsite http://cyclestories.tfl.gov.uk/index.shtml are that some of them are not wearing helmets. Can you imagine how many meetings they had making sure that all ethnic, religious and demographic groups were represented? At one of these meetings the helmet issue must have been raised and a conscious decision made to have some of the featured riders helmetless. This is because, whisper it, CYCLING IN LONDON IS NOT THAT DANGEROUS. Traffic moves very slowly, I feel far safer cycling in the city than in the countryside where you may be overtaken at 60 mph. If you cycle sensibly, confidently and make sure you can always be seen, then most road users are accommodating. It is not a war zone out there.

Have you ever wondered why cycle messengers dress like extras from Mad Max in order to deliver letters? This is because they see do see London as a battleground and perhaps if your goal is to get around as quickly as possible ignoring the Highway Code and any danger to yourself then it is. I once subscribed to this tribal view. I rode a very lightweight French racing bike (a Vitus 992 for those who are interested), I swore at taxi drivers and generally behaved like a hooligan. I would arrive at work filled with hate for other road users including cyclists. Then I had an epiphany: these tribal divisions are false. I cycle to work but I am also a pedestrian, public transport user and car driver. Why not slow down a little and be courteous to others even (or especially) when they are at fault? I swapped my impractical drop handlebar racer for a bike with a more upright position and started trying to be nice. The first time the snarl of hatred on a motorist’s face dissolved when I smiled and said sorry, I knew there was no going back.

With the new cycle scheme more and more drivers will know not only the pleasures but also the worries of cycling and hopefully next time they are behind the wheel they won’t see cyclists as the enemy any more. Cycling will stop being a political statement and simply be a convenient way of getting about. There will still be a few extremists both on bikes and in cars. The majority of us, however, will learn a comfortable compromise on the road and here manners will be invaluable. Next time someone does something stupid, smile and wave. Spread a little love; at the very least you will feel better.

Readers may note that I have not mentioned buses or lorries. They are dangerous and my advice to anyone new to cycling to London is to always assume that they have not seen you. Oh and avoid the Elephant and Castle, the Embankment, and Old Street roundabout. . . and don’t get me started on builders in white vans . .

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