Whether you’re an experienced rider or a novice, there’s no doubt that you’re more vulnerable on a bike. Often, motorist are simply not expecting to see a cyclist, and as bikes are narrow, they can be difficult to spot. Riding safely requires a balance of confidence and caution, as well as common sense and consideration for other road users.
Always make sure that you can be seen – wear high vis clothing, particularly in the winter or at dusk, put good quality front and back reflectors on your bike and, of course, have powerful lights on your bike. Also ensure that your bike well maintained – having brakes in the best working order could be vital should you find yourself in a difficult situation. Although not a legal requirement, we also believe that EVERY rider should wear a high quality, correctly fitting helmet.
The key to city and town riding, like driving, is to be aware and read situations quickly and accurately before they happen so you can take action if necessary. You should be constantly on the lookout for obstacles, cars and pedestrians – be extra cautious if the weather conditions are poor, particularly if it’s wet or icy. Always keep a steady pace and maintain a safe distance between you and vehicles. Make sure you clearly signal your movements so that other road users know exactly what you’re planning. Always take advantage of cycle routes, advanced stop lines and cycle boxes.
While some cyclists feel safer by sticking close to the gutter, this actually isn’t a good idea – you need to be assertive and make sure motorists know you’re there. If you ride too close to the kerb, you risk having to suddenly swerve out into the road to avoid a pothole or a car door opening.
Be extra vigilant at junctions – keep an eye out for vehicles in front of you turning without indicating; if you’re coming up to a left turn and you see the vehicle in front slowing, you should slow down too rather than risk cycling past on the inside in case it turns. When turning right, you should check the traffic for a space, then signal and move into the middle of the road. Remain there until there is a safe gap and take a final look before completing the turn. In some situations if there’s heavy traffic, it may be better to wait on the left for a safe gap, or to get off your bike and push it across the road if necessary.
One of the most thorny areas of debate between cyclists and motorists is the issue of how to ride safely as a group without causing disruption to other road users. Riding as a pack is much more energy efficient for cyclists, but many motorist strongly object. In fact, Rule 66 of the Highway Code simply advises that cyclists ‘should not ride more than two abreast’ – this is not a legal requirement and neither does it mean the same as ‘must ride single file’ as many motorists’ seem to believe. In fact, it could be argued that it is safer to ride side by side in order to be easily seen; and by riding next to each other, the length of the obstruction is reduced for vehicles passing large groups.
However, the Highway Code also states that you should ride single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends. Again, this comes down to common sense and courtesy – as a cyclist, you should factor in the road conditions and drop back into single file if necessary.
It’s also worth being aware that when using cycling tracks, you’re sharing them with pedestrians; so keep a look out for people (and their dogs!) and make sure you give them plenty of warning when manoeuvring around them.
Taking to the road can be daunting, but following some simple rules means that you can confidently navigate even busy traffic safely – always remember the rules of the road, use common sense and be considerate to other road users.