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A spotter's guide to London cyclists

Emily Gibson

Blogger Emily Gibson profiles the cyclists to look out for the next time you’re out and about…

About two years ago I started cycling to work. I made the switch because the idea of unnecessarily throwing money at Transport for London was starting to become nauseating. A few months after my wobbly debut into the gritty world of urban cycling, spring arrived and a gaggle of hibernating cyclists also took to London’s roads to escape the city’s muggy subways and grubby buses. Almost overnight, London’s commuter cyclist numbers increased tenfold. Since then, I've observed a number of different biker breeds, from the bumbling, be-suited ‘Boris’ bikers to the urban guerrilla types tearing through heavy traffic with all the self-preservation instincts of a lemming in canyon country:


Illustration by Carla Juniper

Road Warriors

These are the serious cyclists, the ones who not only cycle to and from work but also go extravagant distances on weekends, for fun, and expend exorbitant sums on ultra-absorbent full-body Lycra jumpsuits with padded seats and go-faster stripes. They are the people who carefully consider aerodynamics in their helmet purchases and carry three different Kryptonite D-locks around with them at all times, because even the wheels of their four-figure carbon-fibre beast cost more than a month’s rent. They are almost always really fit, which seems unfair considering their top-of-the-range bikes are designed to carry the rider as quickly as possible with minimal effort. It is ridiculous the number of times a Lycra-clad Warrior has sped past me, legs barely moving while mine pinwheel madly in an impotent frenzy. Gits. 

Illustration by Carla Juniper

Basket Bikers

The Basket Biker is the one pootling around on a contraption that was shit ten years ago and after careful 'restoration' was sold to them for three times its original value from a self-styled 'bicycle orphanage' in Shoreditch. Sporting oversized spectacles and/or some sort of hand-knitted garment of dogged but earnest craftery, the Basket Biker can also be identified by the vintage-look leather satchel slung over one shoulder or the ostentatiously twee contents of the wicker basket attached to the handlebars, like a bouquet of fresh wildflowers, or a small, horrible dog. Although there is nothing inherently evil about the Basket Biker, their overwhelmingly try-hard attitude and laissez-faire approach to the highway code often makes them a danger to themselves and other road users. Often they trundle down the centre of the road, nodding along to Belle & Sebastian in their little heads and oblivious to the swiftly-turning traffic around them, occasionally swerving back to reality when an irate motorist pips at them for hogging the lane.


Illustration by Carla Juniper

Penelope Pitstops

There are some girls who manage to rock a high-vis jacket and colourful brain bucket. I am not one of them. I typically encounter these women at traffic lights when cyclists congregate together in the cycling box at the front. I sit there, eyeing them sidelong with envy. Invariably they have long, lean limbs encased in Nike Dry-Fits, and lustrous, swishy hair. I, on the other hand, look like my arse is eating my own trousers. 


Illustration by Carla Juniper


London, with all its monster buses, complicated one-way systems and permanently enraged motorist population, is a potential death trap for even the most vigilant of cyclists. Call it an irrational fear if you like, but I spend my ride time permanently petrified of, as the Metro once put it, ‘being dragged under a bus and crushed like a cardboard box’. Despite this bowel-knotting prospect, though, some people apparently like to pretend their commute is a Kamikaze mission. I have seen people whizzing around wearing giant headphones, no helmets, no lights, and low-vis clothing as dark as the loneliness and despondency that surely rules their sad, suicidal hearts. Well, presumably they're suicidal. Either that or they’re just idiots. It's hard to tell.


Illustration by Carla Juniper

Boris Bikers

Boris Bikers fall into two camps. There are the businessmen who tuck their trousers into their socks and laboriously crank themselves to their commuter stations, ties whipping over their shoulders in the wind. Then there are the tourists, who spend about forty-five minutes trying to work out how to check one of things out and then cycle very, very slowly around busy intersections, slack-jawed with awe over St Paul's Cathedral or whatever else spectacular shit they're looking at. DO IT ON FOOT PEOPLE, you don't want those return flights to go to waste.

Illustration by Carla Juniper


What happens when cycling enthusiasts grow up and accumulate some ankle-biters? They buy some spawn widgets for their wheels, strap the little bastards on and carry on as normal, of course. This is almost exclusively the preserve of enterprising fathers who realise that walking people with very tiny legs to school can take a very long time. I've seen little seats that strap on the back, daddy-daughter tandems, sprog-sized sidecars and one man who cycles his small son to school on an ordinary bicycle, standing all the way while the kid is parked on the seat. Generally, I find Breeders to be pretty good cyclists. It's amazing what the fear of losing your shiny new spawn to an Eddie Stobart lorry will do, and they're all kitted out to be max with helmets and proper lights and reflective everything. Well done, dads, you're probably some of the safest cyclists out there.

Read Jonny Ensall's column on why he's a douchebag cyclist

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