There's very little etiquette in the world of urban cycling. Although cyclists will all sit down in the pub and talk as though they're part of some great fraternity, there's actually rarely any solidarity among us when we're out and about in town. Not in London, at least.
When I pull up alongside fellow cyclists at traffic lights, most of them look no more happy than the miserable drones on the Tube, and are more likely to flash me a frosty glance than a brotherly (or sisterly) smile. And, in truth, I'm not even very surprised at this. The reality is that urban cyclists are a diverse bunch – with little in common beyond the fact they favour the same mode of transport.
The problem is that as the number of us on city streets begins to grow, there's an ever greater need for some kind of code of conduct – something to ensure we can all co-exist safely and harmoniously. One good example, where it's never quite clear what's acceptable, is "drafting", where one cyclist sits in the slipstream of another, shielding them from wind and helping them to preserve energy.
In road racing, drafting is standard practice. In fact, they say it can be 40 per cent more efficient than riding out on your own – and there are even aerodynamic benefits for the leader. But contrary to some cyclists' behaviour (including my own, I should confess), the commute to work is not a race. Furthermore, the majority of cyclists on city roads have never competed and may have never attempted drafting – and so many become nervous when a stranger latches themselves on to their rear wheel. On more than one occasion, I've been scowled at for sitting in someone's slipstream.
When you're riding at fast speeds on open roads, drafting makes perfect sense. But in a busy city, it's quite possible that you'll have to brake suddenly when a car or motorbike pulls out of nowhere. Although you might trust yourself to stop in time, you're not so sure about the stranger who's hanging on your wheel. And if their reactions aren't as good as yours, they'll plough straight into you.
So perhaps we need to develop a hand signal to express whether drafting's OK. And once we've done that, maybe we should draw up an informal code for two-wheelers – a Debrett's for cycling if you will. Send me your suggestions for what to include, and I'll get to work on a first draft (no pun intended).