I just came back from the third round trip to work this week. It wasn't pleasant. The only rule about cycling in London you should know about: there are no rules. Ignore the red lights, take the sidewalk whenever you want, drive on the left, right or center, it doesn't matter. Take up a whole lane when it's convenient or squeeze yourself in the tightest spot when you have to. I am not exaggerating when I say that, as a cyclist in London, anything goes. Back in Japan I used to think my cycling behaviour was a bit on the aggressive and rule-ignoring side. Now that I'm cycling in London I can safely say that I am a very timid cyclist.
I was stuck in traffic for most of the time today. Two lanes full of cars and buses crawling along at a shit pace, and hardly any space left, right or center to pass. It was mostly zigzagging from lane to lane, sometimes crossing over on the oncoming traffic lane because it was simply too fucking crowded to move anywhere. This is NOT what cycling is about. Why anyone would tolerate this is a mystery to me. Cycling is about long-distance travelling in the countryside, not getting stuck behind buses and dump trucks in a dirty city. I've thought this before, and not just in the cycling context: Why do people choose to live in London when there are so many better places than this?
Anyway, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's talk about helmets. People who know me know that I am the most unorthodox cyclist you can imagine. My bike is shoddy and old and makes creaking noises when you press the pedals too hard, I have hardly any pro cycling clothes (and I would never wear that tight spandex stuff) and I most certainly would never even consider the thought of wearing a helmet. Coming from Holland where everybody cycles and nobody wears a helmet I find the concept ridiculous. I've cycled half of Japan without a helmet and never for a single moment felt that I was in any danger. Simply put: before this week, the word 'helmet' did not exist in my vocabulary.
Obviously that changed. The very first time I drove in central London this week I was amazed by the chaos, and perhaps slightly overwhelmed by how it all seems to work without any accidents. The second time I got used to the traffic flow, knew where the dangerous points were and was able to prepare for them accordingly. The third time I nearly got hit by a fucking bus.
It was indeed no fault of my own. It's happened many times this week that a car, taxi or bus came a bit too close for comfort and I had to prepare to take evasive action. But today I really nearly died. The bus driver really did not see me at all and just cut me off so sharply that if I didn't come to an immediate halt, I would've been crushed. I've had only one closer near-death encounter in my life, and that was when in Japan when I switched lanes from sidewalk to car road, and that was entirely my fault. This one was entirely not my fault, and it made me realize that this thing can happen very easily. Given the complete and utter lack of skill drivers in London have it is not an exaggeration to say that there are at least 10 times per trip where the chance of sustaining serious injuries is just too high. If I am to continue cycling in London, I need a helmet.
But, given that I now convinced myself that I need a helmet to cycle here, perhaps this is just not the place for me.