Urban survival – know your enemy

Meet the five forces of disaster that you're up against

Urban riding

Okay – we know these folk aren't our enemies really. We all drive cars, most of us ride bikes, and we all walk places too (when we're drunk usually). And, of course, taxi & bus drivers are, generally, professionals with extra training and experience.

But when you're riding in town, these five forces of disaster are what you're up against. The general rule is to use your bike's advantages of small size, superb acceleration and nimble handling to give everything else a wide berth, and get on your way. Here's what to watch for from them, and how to avoid their worst excesses…

1. Cars

We'll be honest here – we're got no sympathy for you if you're driving a car through the town. Especially in really effed-up spots like London or Edinburgh city centres – unless you have no legs, or are delivering an enormous cake, you've no business using four wheels in the heart of town. Take the bike, man.

The big thing here is unpredictability. Car drivers in town are often unsure of where they're going, so will dart down a sidestreet or pull a U-turn as soon as their satnav tells them to. They'll often be distracted too: sitting in traffic jams is boring, so they drift off into the radio, daydream about the fit bird (or bloke) in accounts, or start texting on their phone in their lap (we can all see you!). So – treat with caution, be ready for anything, and get past them safely as soon as you can.

Huge, slow and always making stops – you'd think buses would be a big hazard. In fact, they're usually one of the better urban contenders – they often stick to their own bus lanes, and the drivers are trained to a higher level. They deserve respect though – don’t be shy about letting them out when needed, you'll be past them soon enough.

 You can use bus lanes on a bike in many places – but not all. In London, you can use 'red route' bus lanes all over, but local authority rules vary. Look for signs that include bikes in the permitted bus lane traffic.

The black hack cabbie of old tended to offer a higher level of driver skill and experience, but the growth of Uber and minicabs has reduced this significantly, down-skilling the industry overall. The bottom line is, the driver is always under time pressure – getting to calls quicker means more money earned, so they're likely to be a bit riskier overall. Watch for sudden U-turns from traffic when they get a call, random stops when the passenger remembers where they live, and a slightly more 'committed' level of driving. 

Some of our worst urban incidents have involved pedestrians: hitting a person on a bike is bad news, and you'll often come off second-best. In parts of London, they're the number one hazard – workers in commuting mode, or on lunch break, jet-lagged tourists who don't know what side of the road we drive on, drunks, people texting, with heavy shopping, prams – they all spill off the pavement onto the road with no concern for themselves or others.

Take extra care at crossings, and watch for 'amber gamblers' on foot. Finally, when filtering, expect the worst: people pop out from behind gridlocked buses, lorries, trucks, and they're not expecting anything to be moving.

This is one area where you want to be as visible and noisy as possible. An S1000R with a fruity pipe, revved to 10k will usually waken even the worst of these urban Walking Dead rejects…

A few years ago, no one really had a bad word to say about cyclists. But the growth of cycling, and the bad attitude of a minority (on both sides) has led to clashes on the roads (and on the internet…) In London and other big cities, there's been a massive growth in commuter cycling, so you need to watch out for them more and more.

Problem areas are where cycles bunch up at red lights – be careful to pick you way through when the lights change. Also, watch for bicycles filtering on the outside of stopped traffic. This area used to be the sole preserve of motorbikes and scooters, so it's a surprise when you first come across a Bolshie pedaller cycling down the outside of three lanes of stalled traffic…