I'm a cyclist and these are the road users that scare me the most

I’m a cyclist… and these are the 14 road users that scare me the least and the most on my London commute (and my helmet camera has caught some of the most hair-raising moments)

  • Ted Thornhill has clocked up around 1,000 pedal-powered London commutes
  • He says he’s addicted to cycling in the capital despite hair-raising moments
  • READ MORE: Ted Thornhill tries to cycle up outrageous hills in the Lake District

I’m the MailOnline Travel Editor and began cycling to work seven years ago – since then I’ve clocked up around 1,000 pedal-powered commutes between my East Dulwich home and the Mail’s High St Kensington HQ.

I turned to pedal power mostly because I was struggling to find time to exercise as a father. Then it became apparent riding a bike to work was twice as fast as using public transport (30 vs 60 minutes) – and addiction to pedal power set in, despite most days featuring a hair-raising moment or two.

Over the years, I noticed a pattern regarding said hair-raising moments – they normally involved the same types of vehicles. Here I’ve listed the road users that scare me the least and the most, ranked from the least terrifying to the ones that put me most on edge – and included a helmet-cam video compilation of just a few alarming commuting moments. Why? Perhaps it’ll help cyclists stay safer and remind drivers to be extra careful around us pedal-power commuters.

A quick caveat – I’m not ‘anti-car’, I love driving, and obviously there are exceptions for every single category (I also know some very careful Audi drivers, for instance). I also know some cyclists don’t exactly cover themselves in highway-code-honouring glory. Do you agree with my list?

14. Other cyclists


Many drivers don’t indicate – or indicate once they begin turning.

Close-passing cyclists is rife.

Drivers hurtle up to junction stops and often over-run into the road ahead.

Buses tend to just bully their way around the roads, slowly veering right and left with their indicators on and just waiting for cyclists to take emergency avoiding action.

Most drivers can’t bear to be behind a cyclist for more than a few seconds and will power past even if there’s a queue of cars just yards ahead.

Drivers don’t tend to hold back to allow cyclists to ride around stationary vehicles.

Obviously the least scary – high-speed collisions are impossible because almost no cyclist gets above 20mph around London (I know this because I have a GPS computer on my handlebars). And they’re all far too concerned about staying alive to be a danger to other cyclists.

13. Police cars (not answering emergency calls)

I’ve cycled a handful of times down a perilous double-lane South London road with a police car just behind me and it was like having a force field. Not only does the presence of a police car calm nearby drivers (funny, that), but police drivers have only ever shown the utmost courtesy to me, giving me ample space to go around stationary buses in bus lanes (a rarity in London) and always overtaking with care and attention. The Holy Grail of vehicles to cycle near.

12. Black cabs

Apart from the occasional startling U-turn, using that famous turning circle, I find black-cab drivers have excellent road manners around cyclists and tend not to blast unnervingly from point to point. The fact that they know all the shortcuts probably lessens the yearning to hurtle around.

11. Superbike riders

Given how fast superbikes can accelerate, some may be surprised at their placement in the non-scary end of the ranking. But I’ve found superbike riders have impressive roadcraft and are hyper-aware of what’s going on around them. No doubt partly because they are fairly vulnerable. The ones I see on my commute constantly check their mirrors and rarely endanger anyone (apart from the one I saw haring down a segmented cycle lane on Embankment). Just one plea – please don’t rev your engines behind cyclists to let us know you’re there. It gives us a terrible fright.

10. Mopeds

They’re too small and slow to instil any serious terror, but most seem to treat London like a giant video racing game, brazenly running red lights and speeding down cycle lanes – and they have a proclivity for weaving in and out of traffic with worrying unpredictability. While glued to their GPS maps. (They do look like fun, though.)

9. Regular (non-Audi) cars


This car brazenly ran a red light by Chelsea Bridge, narrowly avoiding hitting road users further along

Images three, four and five in this selection show how close-passing is rife in the capital

When you’re a cyclist in a city, any car has a base level of scariness – because it’s a car. It’s faster and heavier than a bike and capable of killing you in an instant upon impact. 

But most drivers are well-behaved and cycling around them simply involves being careful and sensible.

8. Private hire cars

This private-hire driver ignored a stop sign in Kensington and rolled straight into the road as I was passing through the junction. The image above is from the video compilation and shows how the driver isn’t even looking where he’s going. He stopped after I nearly hit him and rolled down his window, shouting ‘why don’t you look where you’re going?’

Close shave: This BMW pulled out in front of me in Belgravia

When I see a private-hire taxi sticker in a window, I stay frosty. Because I know anything can happen. At any moment. I’ve seen private hire cars skid within centimetres of pedestrians walking across zebra crossings, they often approach side junctions at speed and immediately overshoot into the road ahead before stopping (a classic scare for all road users) and close-passing (not leaving a big enough gap between the cyclist and the car) is a regular occurrence.

7. Audi drivers

So often, when terror comes calling on my commute, an Audi is involved. Audi drivers can’t bear to be held up for longer than a micro-second and are constantly guilty of not allowing cyclists to go around stationary buses safely – they blast past often within inches of the bike as it moves out in front of them – and always seem to be in a remorseless rush, as if they’re in a giant racing game in competition perhaps with the mopeds. 

6. SUVs

This SUV shamelessly rolled through a red light in Camberwell, South London. The image above shows the green lights for cyclists and pedestrians illuminated. I was crossing at the same time as a family with a bay in a pram

The moment with SUVs I hate the most is when passing in opposite directions along a road lined with parked cars. Let alone be in control, many SUV drivers can’t even see over the wheel properly and seem unaware of the tarmac-obscuring dimensions of their vehicle, and simply barrel towards cyclists without even a hint of speed-checking.

5. Lorries

There’s no chance of a David v Goliath ending for a cyclist versus an HGV and so I always pay very (very) careful attention to what I’m doing around them. Though most lorries in city environments can’t get up much speed – and I can out-accelerate any lorry in city traffic on my road bike if I’ve had my porridge – it’s best to take the grand total of zero risks around them.

4. Vans

One of the most alarming close-passes in all the years I’ve been cycling. This van came within about two inches of me as headed into East Dulwich

This is a still from the video compilation above. The van turned left then immediately stopped, which the cyclist wasn’t quite expecting

Ted with his bike in the Lake District, where traffic isn’t such an issue

In life, I like vans. Mainly because they deliver things to my house that I need. But to cycle around? A distinctly mixed bag. I’ve been knocked clean off my bike by a van, which pulled into the road while I was gliding past. It hurt a lot. This wasn’t great PR for van drivers. But that aside, van drivers in general can be worryingly blasé about cyclists and often quite aggressive.

3. Buses

I love travelling on buses, especially with my daughter. Great places for a hearty game of eye-spy and they can reach parts of the city trains can’t get to for mere pennies. But I find them a menace to cycle around. I’d genuinely like to know if pulling across the road when a cyclist is alongside and forcing them to slam on the brakes or onto the wrong side of the road is part of a bus driver’s training. Along with pulling up on the right-hand side of cyclists while indicating left and then simply drifting over to the left lane, forcing cyclists to take emergency avoidance measures. Buses – this is seriously terrifying. Please. Stop it.

2. ‘Not in service’ buses

The not-in-service sign on a London bus is a signifier of danger. When I spot a bus sporting one of these, caution levels move to 11. They’re demonic. I can only assume the sheer thrill of flooring a double-decker bus is too hard to resist for drivers hampered daily by picking passengers up every 100 yards.

1. Coaches

This double-decker coach gave me the fright of my life in Pimlico as it first tried to overtake me worryingly close to an island ahead, then attempted to undertake me

I loathe cycling around coaches. They’re too long and too fast – the drivers throw them around the roads with the sort of merciless abandon that makes my blood run cold. I once had a double-decker coach try to undertake me on a residential street in Pimlico. You read that right – undertake. Probably the scariest moment in seven years of cycling in the capital. 

(Just a second National Express, don’t send that terse complaint – it’s not your drivers I’m thinking of, more the out-of-town leisure company coaches. They know who they are.)

Follow Ted on Strava at www.strava.com/athletes/16377946. You can find him on Twitter at twitter.com/tedthornhill.


Here are some top cycling tips from the London Cycling Campaign:


Bike lights. At night it’s a legal requirement to have two bike lights (white on the front and red on the back).

Clothing – your everyday clothes will be fine for almost all London journeys! There are no laws about what you have to wear to cycle in the UK. A waterproof coat and gloves will be useful in the winter, and some people choose to wear high-vis. If you wear a helmet, check it fits properly.

Bike locks (if it is your own bike). Make sure your frame and both wheels are secured, and it’s also worth getting your bike security marked and registered.


There’s an increasingly large network of safe and pleasant cycling routes in London using cycleways, bike lanes (many built thanks to LCC campaigning) and quiet back routes that keep you away from busy motor traffic. 


If you haven’t cycled for a while then start with short journeys on quiet roads to grow your confidence. The free cycle training sessions available from London councils are a great idea for all riders, not just people new to cycling. And try London Cycling Campaign’s Cycle Buddies scheme, which pairs you with an experienced cyclist in your area.


Look‚ signal‚ manoeuvre – Before making any move on the road‚ look around and over your shoulder, then make a hand signal to let people know where you are going.

Eye contact – Look drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists in the eye‚ rather than just at their vehicle. That way, they will see you as a person too.

Keep away from the kerb – Ride at least one metre away from parked cars (to allow for doors opening), the gutter (which can be full of drainholes and broken glass) or any other edge of the road space.

Take the lane – the new Highway Code encourages you to ride in the middle of the road where needed. For example, if there’s not enough space for a vehicle to overtake you safely‚ or you’re approaching a side street, ride in the middle of the lane to prevent vehicles passing. 

Be extra careful near lorries – most of the worst cycling collisions involve HGVs. Lorry drivers often can’t easily see to the left of or immediately in front of their cabs. They do not always indicate. They often swing right before turning left. The gap between the kerb and the lorry will decrease or disappear as it turns.


It’s a legal requirement to stop at red traffic lights and you should be familiar with the Highway Code. Riding your bike on the pavement is not allowed in the UK unless you see a sign allowing it. If you are cycling on a space shared with pedestrians‚ go slow and keep an eye out for others, particularly the young, old or disabled. In busy areas people may walk out into the road without looking, so again slow down and take care.

For more visit lcc.org.uk/advice/lcc-advice.

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