When I first started cycling I was terrified of them. I found their size intimidating. And because I wasn’t very fit, I was too scared to go past them, knowing they had more speed than me.
For the first few weeks I’d see a bus in front of me and my heart would start hammering in panic. And if you’ve seen the number of buses that travel along Hammersmith Road and Kensington High Street during peak hour, you’d realise my heart hammered for the first two miles of my commute!
However, before long, I realised that buses were nothing to worry about — as long as you treated them with respect.
Over the course of the past year I cannot recall one incident in which a bus driver put my life in danger. If anything, I find them remarkably patient and courteous on the road.
It helps if you are observant, and put yourself in the driver’s shoes. I always consider the fact that bus drivers have a lot to concentrate on when driving — and that they don’t need the added grief of having cyclists do stupid things, such as:
- travelling too closely behind the bus. If you can’t see the bus driver’s rear vision mirrors, he/she can’t see you either. So it pays to drop back a bit to increase the driver’s awareness of you. It also saves you breathing in those horrible black fumes that come out of the exhaust! If you are crossing an intersection, it’s even more important to hang back, as it allows other vehicles, particularly those travelling head-on, to see you. If you are right up against the bus’s bum your visibility is practically zero.
- squeezing up alongside a bus so that you have nowhere to go if the bus driver hasn’t seen you and wants to get closer to the curb. This is particularly dangerous if there are two or more buses in a row, because your chances of getting out of a (literal) tight squeeze are even rarer. It is also illegal to squeeze up on the inside of a bus if it has stopped at a bus stop, because passengers getting on and off have right of way.
- overtaking a bus, that has stopped to pick up passengers, when it may be dangerous to do so. I find that it helps to check the number of passengers in the queue as I approach any bus that has stopped. If the queue is relatively long then it’s likely I will have plenty of time to get past the bus before the driver puts his
indicator light on. If the queue is short or non-existant, I slow down and sit a safe distance behind the bus, because I know the driver is going to pull out into the freeflow of traffic within seconds. Remember, buses have right of way when they pull out from the curb, so as soon as that indicator light comes on, you need to let them into the lane. Considering their size and weight it’s not worth quibbling with them! Hanging back to let them by might be annoying, but it’s not going to hold your journey up for more than a few seconds.
Along with the above tips, there will be local traffic situations you will need to take into account. It is only through experience that you get to learn these. I know that there is one intersection I must pedal like hell to get through, in order not to be trapped behind a steady stream of buses pulling into a busy bus stop. If I get a clear head start I can leave them, and the ensuing madness, far behind without putting myself (or the bus) in danger.
I have also learnt that it’s not safe to hug the curb too closely when cycling south over Westminster Bridge, even while riding in the dedicated cycle lane. This is because the buses flying past generally leave little room and the subsequent noise and ‘vacuum’ they create is as scary as hell. (The first time one whizzed past me, I thought I was going to get sucked into the actual bus, bicycle and all, without the bus doors opening for me!) Although it feels ‘wrong’ I now tend to cycle a few metres from the curb, on the outer-border of the cycle lane. This means the bus has to move into the next lane, which gives both of us plenty of space and stops me from being sucked under its wheels!
As with all urban cycling it pays to keep your wits about you, but you should never let buses put you off. The above tips, which I’ve garnered through experience, should help!