When I tell someone what I do for a living, they almost always want to have the argument about how couriers all jump red lights, and are a bad influence on other cyclists, and a mortal danger to innocent pedestrians. If I try to protest, they tell me about how they were very nearly run over by a cycle courier once. It’s an conversation I have all too regularly, and I find it both highly frustrating and deeply boring.

But isn’t it true that couriers are, by and large, dangerous hooligans with little regard for the law and less for the lights, who will run you down as soon as look at you?

See what you think.


I was heading north on Red Lion Street yesterday afternoon, when a woman stepped off the pavement, about two feet in front of me, without looking. I managed to swerve round her and, in a fairly conversational tone, said:

“Careful – look where you’re going!”

The man she was with gave me a filthy look.

You look where you’re going!” he retorted, and muttered “How cheeky!” to his companion as they strode off. He sounded appalled, as though I’d said something disgustingly rude to him and he couldn’t quite believe my audacity. I didn’t get the chance to point out that they were bloody lucky I had been looking where I was going. And where they were going too.


A couple of months ago I was accelerating through a green light when, at the last minute, a fairly elderly gentleman began to amble across the road, straight into my path. I yelled “hey – hey!HEY!” and braked for all I was worth. He finally spotted me, panicked and luckily managed to flinch in the right direction. My front wheel missed his feet by mere centimetres.

Stop at the lights!” he squeaked, in absolute outrage.

I managed to swivel round to check as I sped off. The lights were still green. He hadn’t even bothered to look.

He sounded like he’d just had the fright of his life. He was probably back in his office within minutes, being asked why he was so pale and shaky, and telling the tale of the hooligan cycle courier who’d jumped the lights and come within inches of running him down.


Just before Christmas, I was riding along King William Street when a man stepped out from between two cars. He wasn’t looking where he was going – he was texting someone on his mobile phone. There wasn’t enough room to brake or swerve, so I went straight into him. He managed to remain upright – I ended up sprawled on the road, with a nasty bump to the head, that left me dizzy for the rest of the morning.

Luckily he was kind, and stopped to check I was OK. I suppose he didn’t have a choice really – there were so many witnesses that he couldn’t have got away with legging it. He apologized, and explained that he was on his way to a job interview, and had been checking its location on his phone when he stepped out in front of me. And although he did seem genuinely concerned about my head, he was also clearly desperate to get away, so in the end I let him go.

And I’m pretty sure that he didn’t walk into the interview and say “sorry I’m late – I just knocked a girl off her bike.”

He’s much more likely to have said “sorry I’m late – I was just hit by a cycle courier”, and the woman interviewing him will have tutted and sympathized, and perhaps even commented on what a menace these couriers are, and how someone really ought to do something.


Hooligans, eh?


26 Responses to “Hooligans”

  1. Simon Says:

    Don’t forget those lovely blue lanes with bikes painted on them, peds think they own those too!

    Because they can’t hear you, people do tend to walk into the road without looking. They’ve got so used to listening out for motors they forget about bikes. Surprised there aren’t more accidents with people and electric cars, but I guess there’s not so many of those.

    Stay safe!

  2. Bassjunkieuk Says:

    I understand how tiresome it is with the usual stereotyping of cyclists – it’s usually that bunch of comments that come out of someones mouth right after the “you must be mad to ride in London” comment πŸ™‚

    I also think part of the problem is our blame culture, it’s far easier to blame someone else for your mistake then to admit you actually did something wrong. Why would I want to admit I just stepped out into the road with looking like a complete tool when I can just blame public enemy no. 1?

    Those stories clearly show what an experienced rider you are and I’m fairly sure on the whole for cyclists the near misses far outweigh the actual accidents.

  3. sarra Says:

    Genuinely upset. Not got enough balls, me. x

  4. SImon Says:

    well said indeed….

    dodging pedestrians requires maximum focus in London, Im always scared of people popping out from between cars in traffic on busy roads.

    I have a solution, seeing as Ive been fined twice recently for what the police perceived as dangerous or reckless cycling I think there should be fines in place for dangerous pedestrian movements.

    Im sure dreamy pedestrians have caused many accidents whilst ipodding, texting or checking their ipods gps.

  5. thatmessengerchick Says:

    I am actually more scared of pedestrians than I am of LGVs. They’re far more numerous and far less predictable, and they can hide behind the traffic.

  6. Cudzoziemiec Says:

    Cycling, walking and being in the back of cabs and autos in India, I learned to treat near misses as misses and ignore them. I agree with Bassjunkie’s comment about blame culture – of course this goes far beyond roads – and cycle couriers are simply a visible, easily identifiable group to blame. But it’s not just cyclists – think about the stick WVM come in for – cycle couriers haven’t even got to the stage of becoming a TLA yet!

    I know that back in the days when I was one of your motorised counterparts, I and my colleagues did take what must have looked like (and objectively were) crazy risks, simply because we knew that we’d done them 999 times before and it had always worked out. When you do something day in day out, which most people only day an hour or so a day, if it all, then you (usually) attain a level of skill and fluency which most never will. Sometimes that leads to overconfidence. At least it could do for me. 😦

    Then there’s the image souped up by the press…

    • bassjunkieuk Says:

      There have been times where I’ve thrown myself into gaps or filter at what some call silly speeds. Just the other day I was showing some mates a rather near miss when I managed to avoid colliding with a pram as a lady crossed the road on a ped island as I was heading down CS7. To me riding down the blue lane with queueing traffic on my right at about 17mph is “normal” but one did comment that I was going a bit fast πŸ™‚ Again as soon as I realized what was going to happen it was an instinctual reaction to brake, steer around the front and I actually ended up mounting the drop kerb to miss the pram by a few inches.

      Another near miss saw me duck into the gap BEHIND a ped who’d stepped off the pavement, I honestly have no idea why I choose that way round and how on earth I got away with it but I just fitted through the gap and we both survived πŸ™‚

    • thatmessengerchick Says:

      How funny – I was just thinking, on my way over Waterloo Bridge about half an hour ago, that I’d be nowhere near as indignant about all this if I were riding in another country (as I plan to be over the next 12 months). Even if a vehicle forced me off the road (as very nearly happened this evening), I think I’d just take it in my stride. I wonder why that is? Maybe because we know there’s at least a slim chance of people being held to account for their misdeeds. Or maybe something else.

      And I agree with you on risks. I occasionally take the same risks I frequently and strongly exhort others not to (I won’t even admit what sort), the difference being that I have a much higher awareness of the traffic, its possible movements, the road conditions, the sequence of the lights, my own speed, agility and limitations, and so forth.

      Mind you, we’re probably most at risk when we think we’re perfectly safe!

      • Cudzoziemiec Says:

        I’m not entirely sure I understand your reasoning! I don’t know what other country you’re thinking of visiting, but certainly in India there’s virtually no chance of “people being held to account for their misdeeds.” As I could testify. Far more chance of that in UK. Maybe less in UK compared to New York say, is that what you had in mind?

      • thatmessengerchick Says:

        Ahem. I actually meant people were more likely to be held to account for their misdeeds in the UK (which is why I’d bother complaining, etc.), but I was clearly only half awake when I typed the above. Sorry!

  7. the greek Says:

    there is no accountability for drivers etc in NY. I’ve been a messenger in NY for 2 years now and was hit dead on as a cabbie ran a red light and i had the green. By the time i got up and pulled my bike out of the street he was long gone, everyone did ask if i was ok but nobody got his license plate. Although the police are going on a ridiculous ticketing blitz in NYC….

  8. Steff Says:

    I’m sometimes given to wondering how many of the red lights and pedestrian crossings would be present at all if all the road traffic was human-powered (or horde-drawn). I’m guessing almost none.

    • thatmessengerchick Says:

      I read somewhere recently that playgrounds didn’t exist until just over a century ago. Until someone invented the motorcar, there was no need to incarcerate children for their own safety.

      (Although, of course, we’ve all heard the tales of hapless Victorian urchins being crushed under the wheels of Lord Wotsit’s speeding carriage, so maybe the good old days weren’t entirely good.)

      Actually, if got rid of cars, bikes would be the fastest thing on the road, and then we really WOULD be public enemy number one…

      • Steff Says:

        At my grandfather’s funeral I gave a reading, based on his notes on some cine film of Llanbedr in the 1930s (including my later-to-be-grandmother as Queen of the May). One detail that stood out was that of an evening, the young men would gather on the bridge to sing. You couldn’t do that now, which strikes me as a nice microcosm of how public space has been taken over by motor transport.

      • thatmessengerchick Says:

        Suddenly I’ve regained a bit of my sympathy for Critical Mass.

      • Steff Says:

        Blimey, I wouldn’t go that far. Their mailing list’s irritating enough for me.

  9. Steff Says:

    Horde-drawn is my new favourite typo.

  10. chloe Says:

    Whenever someone tells me they are / used to be a cycle courier, I say, “Wow! My friend [your name] is a cycle courier and she’s amazing!”

  11. Steve Says:

    I am not a cycle courier, and have never been one.
    However, when I feel full of energy and daring, I pretend to be one.
    Very entertaining blog.

  12. Cudzoziemiec Says:

    All those late-Victorian schools have/had playgrounds so I don’t think they were just to keep kids safe from traffic. They also provided children with a space to run around, which they might otherwise not have had in urban settings, while keeping them in school. And the older grammar schools and church schools had playing fields too, though of course they were for the middle classes to develop their team spirit on, or so we are told!

    And as for bikes being number one enemy if we got rid of cars, I don’t think it works like that. A horse alone, never mind the carriage, is so much heavier than any cyclist that the possible injuries cannot be equated, surely? And in Poland, where I lived for about ten years, horse carts are still a common sight in villages, so I know a bit of this (no, never been hit by one!) If I had to choose, I’d far rather be hit by a speeding cyclist (even a courier!) than a horse cart.

    • thatmessengerchick Says:

      I actually saw quite a few horses and carts in London today (mostly around the Mall and Buckingham Palace, holding up the traffic as usual), and through of this thread, and wanted to take photos, but was always in a hurry.

  13. Nico Says:

    Apparently according to City of London police numbers (source: http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.com/2011/03/aspiring-city-politician-suggests.html) out of 333 peds injured/killed (3) over three years, 219 were injured by ‘own actions’. That’s 66%. Hopefully those will eventually be culled out of the herd and bred out.

  14. adam roberts Says:

    Really enjoy the website.
    Check it regularly-
    keep up great work-
    What sort of cmera do u use?

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