I worked as a dispatch rider, on and off (literally) for five years, as the metalwork in my left ankle shows. Back in the late ’80s when I was dispatching, there was a bit of wisdom doing the rounds: “If you can survive the first month, then you’ll be OK”. There was something in that, but even so you could still expect to be injured every so often.
You, as a tourist, don’t need to ride like a dispatch rider. You don’t have somebody yelling into your helmet: “Delta 59, are you clear on Old Street?” or “Are you walking there or riding there?” So take it easy and enjoy.
Ride with your wits about you
London drivers expect London riders to have high levels of observation.
Don’t bob in and out of traffic
If you are going to pass, try to do it in one. Don’t play Russian Waiters – that is, rush in to a gap and then wait in it. Look down the road, to where you want to end up, not just where the gap is. But take it easy – this is a leisure day. Enjoy it.
Do your best to know where you are going
Bimbling about lost in London wears thin after a while. Sat nav is good but can be thrown by the tall buildings, so a central London map in a tankbag (or, if you have a pillion, taped to your back) can be a lifesaver. If lost, pull up (avoiding the red and double yellow lines) and check it.
Black cab drivers know what they are doing
They will often tuck in for bikes, but if hailed by a pedestrian will throw an unexpectedly tight U-turn. Acknowledge polite give-ways from other road users, or they might not do it again.
Don’t race off the lights.
The rule is first rider there pulls away first.
Give way to smaller motorcycles in traffic
Live and let live. London cyclists are brave and fit and can be suicidal. If it gets a bit lively with a cyclist, you will have a pack of them around you. A favourite trick is to grab the keys out of your ignition and cycle off if it all gets a bit shouty. Then you’re buggered.
Check bus lane signs
In most you can use a motorcycle – but in some you can’t, and a trip in an off-limits bus lane can cost you £130.
Your feet are vulnerable
Second most at risk in an urban off are your hands. In a low-speed spill your feet go down first and your hands try to break your fall. You’ll see some dispatch riders in T-shirts when the weather is really hot. But even they will have their boots on.
Part 5, Courier riding secrets, combat biking in London
November 2013 Issue