Whenever I tell people that I cycle in London, the usual response I get is something along the lines of: ‘Oooh, I’d love to do that but I’m too scared. I’d be afraid I’d get killed or something.’
Yet I’ve managed to survive almost eight years of cycling on London’s mean streets without getting killed. I’d even say I’m a good cyclist. I’ve never had a major accident and just three minor accidents. Two of those were my fault, anyway (note to self: cycling in the snow is not a good idea, nor is stopping to pick up a fallen back light when there’s a bus behind me). I like to think that this isn’t just down to luck, but because I’ve learnt to ride safely and I know what I’m doing on the road.
However, I also know that, as a woman, I’m in the minority. Most of the other cyclists I see out on the roads are men. In fact, according to the Department for Transport, when it comes to cycling men outnumber us about three to one. The main reason for this is fear – cycling is generally seen to be quite dangerous, and we women do tend to be more risk-averse than men.
Bearing this in mind, I was really disturbed to read in this article on the BBC news website that – despite there being so many more men on their bikes than women – seven out of the eight cyclists killed by lorries in London in the past year have been women. Why?
Collisions with lorries are the single biggest cause of cycling fatalities in London. I know this, so I try to stay as far away from them as possible. I certainly would never, ever cycle up the left-hand side of a lorry (or other large vehicle), right into the driver’s blind spot.
Yet I’ve seen many other cyclists do this on a frighteningly regular basis. Or squeeze through a tiny gap on the left of stationary traffic, when there’s loads of space on the right. Or line up on the left at traffic lights, rather than move to the front of the traffic. Or cycle alongside a car with its left indicator flashing, rather than pull back and let it turn. All of these are just asking for someone to knock you off your bike.
Getting back to the numbers of people killed. I am, apparently, an anomaly amongst female cyclists; according to the article, women tend to be less confident cyclists, which could be the reason why so many are being killed by lorries. Maybe they’re right – I can’t say that I’ve been keeping tabs on whether there are more women than men doing the kinds of things I’ve mentioned above.
But if they are right, then it seems to me that there’s a screaming need for women-specific cycle training, to help them to spot these kind of dangers and to cycle more confidently. In theory, this would help women who already cycle as well as encourage more women to take up cycling, by making them feel safer. But would it actually put people off cycling? Does suggesting that you need to take cycle training in order to cycle safely make it seem more dangerous?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that anything that can reduce the number of women being killed in cycling accidents has got to be a good thing.