Biking in Glasgow

BikeI have been biking in Glasgow since mid-March (so, two months). Here are a few observations. First, though, you should know this about me.

a) I am Danish and have been biking since I was two or three.

b) I grew up biking in a small rural community in Denmark with no cycle paths.

c) I spent the majority of my adult life biking in Copenhagen which is an enormously bike-friendly city.

d) To me, biking is not a sport or leisure activity. Biking is a mode of transport - a way from getting from A to B.

Some background:

I moved to Glasgow in 2006. The six years between moving here and me getting a bike are the longest I have ever gone without a bike. Initially I decided against getting a bike due to traffic running in the left lane rather than the Continental right and then I was unable to bike for a number of health reasons. However, I had been toying with the idea for some time and I eventually bought my bike in March 2012.

What made you decide to get a bike?

We don't have a car in our household which means I had become reliant upon public transport. Public transport in Glasgow is not great: bus routes are frequently illogical, you cannot transfer from bus to subway without getting a new ticket, and prices have shot up in recent years. Add to that some rather unfortunate incidents on my most-used bus route and I had had enough. Time to get a bike.

So what is it like biking in Glasgow?

It is both better and worse than I expected.

Good bits:

  • Cycle paths are readily available. I really enjoy being able to spot deer, foxes and swans on my daily commute rather than grim bus drivers.
  • Navigating left-side traffic is not terribly difficult and it is far less terrifying than I had expected.
  • Due to the nature of Glasgow, it is easy to find short-cuts and unexpected routes. You don't need to use heavy traffic roads unless you have a strange desire to do so.
  • People are easily impressed. 'I bike to work' is mostly met with dropped jaws and compliments - even if biking to work only takes me 20 minutes. I am now an exotic creature!
  • I feel an enormous sense of freedom. I don't have to wait for buses or trains. I don't have to plan my day around timetables. I can run my errands without any hassle.
  • And I am losing weight! A nice side-effect.

Bad bits:

  • Biking provokes people. I have had snack wrappers thrown at me from a passing car with matching verbal abuse. I have also had verbal abuse from random pedestrians. Also, teenagers have jumped in front of me trying to make me swerve into oncoming traffic which was an new and exciting experience.
  • Cycle paths are not always ideal - for my money, cobbled streets are the work of the devil - and occasionally interesting to bike down (there is one part where I'm likely to fall into the canal if someone tries to pass me).
  • Cars will often park right across your cycle path leaving you few options where to bike safely.
  • Cars will also stop and block your way without any indication - and drivers will also open their doors without notice. I have had this in Denmark too although not to same degree.
  • People associate biking with sports, so most of the gear available is decked out in florescent colours and is very over-priced (presumably because it is marketed as 'high-tech'). I sometimes wear a skirt when biking - this confuses many of the other cyclists who are mostly wearing Lycra.

Any tips?

  • I try to make myself as big as possible when I bike on normal roads. I don't crawl along the kerb as I believe this'll make drivers less careful around me. Instead I bike maybe 3 feet away from the kerb and I make sure to exaggerate any arm indications I am making.
  • I do not wear big florescent jackets  for the same reason as above. I believe wearing these jackets will actually make drivers less careful around me as the 'safety gear' indicates a certain level of invulnerability. I wear my normal clothes but add florescent strips at night (as well as lights, of course).
  • I wear a bike helmet. I see people without helmet and while I used to be one of them, I wouldn't do that here in Glasgow.
  • Get in touch with Sustrans who can provide you with info on local cycle routes.
  • Assess your local landscape before buying your bike. I wish I had bought a bike with five or more gears, but I opted for a three-gear bike before I realised just how hilly Glasgow can get on a bike. I love my bike to bits, but it is not as practical as I would have liked.
  • Be prepared to justify your existence on the road. Biking is not as much of an integral part of your average lifestyle (unlike Denmark) so you have to be prepared for some offensive comments and behaviour.

Finally, would you recommend getting a bike?

Yes. It is the best thing that has happened to me in a very long time.