It’s healthier, it’s greener, it’s more enjoyable and it’s often quicker than the motorised alternatives. More and more people are choosing the cycling life for getting around town, and long may it continue.
There are, however, safety aspects of road cycling that you need to be aware of. Although you should have taken a cycling proficiency test at some point in your life (if you haven’t, take a test as soon as possible) there are still many elements to road cycling you need to remember, both for interacting whilst cycling and being aware of other vehicles and pedestrians.
Here’s our rundown of bicycle safety facts.
- Always obey traffic lights and signposts. First things first, always stop at red lights. It has happened because there will almost certainly be traffic coming from another direction, and failure to do may put you in a great deal of danger. While it’s good to stay focused while out on the road, never try and perfectly time your cycle with the light going green, even if you are in a rush. The best approach is to start slowly getting back in a cycling position upon the amber signal, then move with traffic as it goes.
- Wear a helmet. Not road specific, as it should be worn everywhere, but a safety tip none the less. Although helmets aren’t required to be worn by UK law, it certainly makes sense whilst cycling alongside motorised vehicles on often concreted terrain. There is a wide range of different helmet styles you can choose from, but just make sure whatever you do, choose one.
- Do not cycle on pavements (unless they are designated cycling pavements). As bikes are viewed by British Law as vehicles, it is illegal to ride them on pavements. There are however designated pavements that allow cyclists, which are usually identified by signage. These pathways are often split half and half between cyclists and pedestrians, so please make sure to remember to stick to your side. If you are caught cycling on any pavement that is not signposted as cyclist-friendly, you could receive anything from a £50 fixed penalty notice, to a £500 maximum fine.
- Wear clothing that keeps you safe and seen. Whether it’s during the darker winter months or if you’re off on a long road cycle, it’s important to make your outfit visible to both vehicles and pedestrians, not to mention other cyclists. Depending on the time of year and temperature, it’s certainly worth investing in a hi-vis jacket or vest, or even purchasing illuminated or fashioning armbands, to guarantee your seen, wherever you cycle.
- Use accessories that keep your bike safe and seen. Much like the previous point, give your bike the accessories it needs to be seen. You may not always have your high-vis clothing on you, so it’s a good idea to have gear that will keep your bike visible. Whether it’s bike lights or wheel reflectors, you’ll make yourself that much more visible when riding in poor visibility.
- Keep your bike in good condition. This is one for when you’re at home. Experiencing a breakdown whilst cycling out on the road is not ideal, to say the least, especially when there are vehicles and other obstacles around you that may not be able to notice if you or your bike is struggling. You don’t need to do it every time you set off, but checking your brake pads, making sure your gears are lubricated, and that your bike is just generally clean once a week is a great start. For more on bike maintenance, click here.
- Be aware of the condition of the surface you’re riding. In general, one of the great things about road cycling is the largely flat surface you will be riding on. However, you mustn’t take this as a given. As many car drivers will know, roads fall apart, creating potholes, uneven tarmacking, road works, and other unpredictable types of terrain. What makes this worse is that it can come in the blink of an eye, meaning that if you’re going at any great speed, you might be in a bit of trouble. If this happens, make sure to point it out so any cyclists behind you can heed your caution. Alternatively, for other oncoming hazards, use the arm on which side the hazard is coming from and place it behind your back, and for gravel or debris specifically, raise your hand to the area at which you’ve seen the gravel. While it’s not possible to predict the condition of the roads, if you have a route you plan on riding, it’s worth checking beforehand for obstacles such as roadworks, just to be on the safe side.
- Signal clearly and make eye contact. Whether it be cyclists, motorists, or pedestrians, a great way to stay safe on the road is by communicating with your fellow commuters. If you are slowing, raise your arm slightly behind you and outstretched so those trailing you can see you’re slowing. When you are about to stop, hold your arm high and straight in the air. If you are changing direction, hold out your arm to the left or right to indicate. To allow other vehicles to pass, flick your elbow out and move to allow them through, and to say thanks, simply raise your hand in the air and give the thumbs up. If you ever feel like those around you aren’t noticing these signals, feel free to call out what you are attempting to signal. Also, as you signal, do your best to engage with others on the road by making eye contact. For imagery of each of these signals, click here. And again, never go through a red light, even if the road ahead is clear.
- Use your bell. Before you feel the need to call out to vehicles and pedestrians, this is an easy, non-road-ragey way to let those around you know that are on your way and may need to get past them.
- Stay central on any narrow roads. When the space is too tight to give way, make sure you stay as central as possible. To move either side could suggest you want them to go past which could leave you in a difficult situation.
- Overtake with caution. While there are a lot of cautious drivers on the road, always assume that they aren’t sure exactly where you are, so if you’re ever looking to go past, do it gradually and with no sped up movements.
- Keep a distance from parked cars. Just because a car is stationary does not mean it can’t still be a problem. Car dooring is an issue that is overlooked by many cyclists, which can often lead to them being taken out by the opening a door, or, if swerved, cycling straight into traffic. Always keep an eye on parked cars.
- Never ride between a vehicle and the curb. Due to the difference in size, it’s easier for a cyclist to give space to a car than vice versa. Therefore always be very careful not to get yourself trapped between them and the curb, as even if the vehicle can see you, they will unlikely have ample room to move and let you through, and if something unexpected was to happen, they will struggle to avoid you. Keep your cycle space as open as possible.
- Stay back. If it’s not a great idea to do it when driving a car, its an even worse and a lot more dangerous when on a bike. If you are cycling behind a car or lorry, make sure you give them ample space so if they were to suddenly break, you have enough time to slow down instead of going into the back of it.
- Ride with a positive attitude and be sure of your decision. Not only is road cycling a great way to get around, but it’s also to be enjoyed. It’s really important to ride with a positive attitude and always be thinking and sure about your next move. It’ll make for a safer cycle for you and will help drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists confident that you know what you are going to do next.
Click here for even more safe city cycling guidance.