Stop at red lights.
You may think that you are not hurting anyone by jumping the red light. Many times you're not. But you might be leaving other traffic and pedestrians in a dangerous situation: unable to make turns, or cross the road, stranded in the middle of traffic. Is it really worth those extra 30 seconds you gain? Also, breaking the rules makes everyone else more antagonistic towards cyclists. Start playing by the rules and stop giving cyclists a bad name.
Mind the gap.
Do not squeeze through that tempting gap between a bus and the kerb, or a lorry and a lane of traffic. Just don't do it. The big vehicles can't see you, and they will squash you like the filling in a custard cream. Basically, never go down the left hand side of a big vehicle. This has sadly been the cause of death in a few cycling accidents in London recently.
Stay in line at the lights.
Known as shoaling in the States, this is the practice of overtaking the line of cyclists at the traffic light and parking your butt right in front of them. Stay where you are in the line. The process of cycling natural selection has placed you at the back and there is no shame in that. Stay where you are, take your time and set off safely when it's your turn. That way, speedier cyclists don't have to put themselves at danger to manoeuvre around you again.
Keep your eyes on the road.
Sounds simple, but two friends of mine have ridden into the back of cars because they've drifted off. Schoolboy error. I often find myself drifting. Concentrate and keep your eyes on the road.
Expect the unexpected.
Watch out for drivers nipping into bus lanes, passenger doors opening in the traffic light queues, gaps in traffic where drivers are letting oncoming traffic through, motorcyclists zipping past you in the bus lane. Also look out for drunk Polish plumbers who step into the road in front of you and knock you off. (This happened to me.)
Get involved in the traffic.
I find that hanging back and being cautious is actually more dangerous. Take your place in the traffic, be confident, let people know you're there, take your time and don't be rushed. Ignore impatient white van men and taxi drivers: you have as much right as they do to be on the road and you are more vulnerable. Get in front of the traffic, signal properly and regularly, even make eye contact with drivers at the lights to let them know you're there. Then you're good to go.
ALWAYS wear a helmet, bright (ideally reflective) clothing and have lights with powerful batteries. Make sure your bags are tightly closed, strapped in, your basket or pannier is securely attached, you don't have dangly laces or scarves, that there's air in your tyres. Carry a lock (Abus make good locks) but don't expect your bike to be there when you get back if you leave it in a London street.
May the force be with you.
As hard as you may try, the unexpected will happen. Some idiot will do a U-turn and speed straight towards you, or someone will start reversing at high speed through a quiet square. (Both of these have happened to me.) All you can do is keep your wits about you.
Good luck, and don't forget to enjoy yourself. I find whizzing past bus stops packed with bored commuters to be the best reminder that cycling rocks. The mornings when you see a baby fox, spot a wading bird in a river, or freewheel downhill with the sun shining in your face more than make up for the frustrations. It's scary at first, but I can honestly say I no longer feel nervous on my bike. It just takes practice. And good luck. And more good luck. Go safe, dudes!
[Photo by Kevin Meredith]