It’s official - the government has recognised how important the bicycle is for people to be able to travel to work safely, whilst avoiding clogging up the roads with cars or overrunning our public transport systems. However, lots of people are still nervous about taking to two wheels, with cycle safety being cited as the number one thing that puts people off commuting by bike.
If you’re someone who is considering cycling but the thought of being on busy roads is putting you off, then the lockdown period, when roads tend to be quieter, could provide the perfect time to get out there and practice. And there are lots of other tips and tricks to make sure you’re able to stay safe on the road. Here a few to get you going:
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way straight away - wear a helmet and make sure it’s fitted correctly. The helmet should sit level on your head (not tilted back) with the front edge one inch (two fingers) or less above your eyebrows so that your forehead is protected. Also, make sure you get yourself a decent set of lights (white on the front and red on the back). There are loads of different lights on the market but we always recommend USB rechargeable ones - these are easy to charge and it means you don’t have to worry about replacing the batteries. A helmet and lights are non-negotiable. If you want to go one step further and kit yourself out with full reflective gear - we salute you.
Check your brakes
Knowing that your brakes are going to stop you when you need them gives you an incredible amount of confidence when riding a bike. So, if it’s the first time you're riding your bike in a while, make sure you give them a squeeze. You can do this by holding both breaks and rocking the bike forwards and backwards. If the brakes grip, then you’re in decent shape. But if you’re not sure, then it’s always a good idea to book your bike in for an MOT at Handlebars and we’ll have you sorted in no time. Have a look at our stopping distance experiment if you want to see how important this is.
Plan your route
Before setting off, make sure you have a look at where you’re going. Not only do you want to avoid any sudden stops because you’ve missed your turning but you can actively work out a quieter route. Google maps are pretty good for cycling-specific routes and Citymapper has a nifty feature that specifically allows you to pick quieter routes. They may take slightly longer but they’re much safer, plus you get the added benefit that these routes tend to have much less air pollution.
If you don’t know the area very well and the route is too long to remember, a mobile phone holder on the handlebars can help you navigate. Be careful with when you’re checking this as you don’t want to be distracted from the road. Happy exploring!
Change your times
If you’ve got a flexible working policy, it could be worth trying to avoid the main rush hour traffic. The ride itself will be much more enjoyable as you’ll find you don’t need to stop and start so often. If this isn’t an option for you, then we’d at least advise practicing your regular route on a quiet day so you’re familiar with the journey. Once the route is second nature and you’re feeling more confident, you’re free to just concentrate on the road.
One of the best things you can do to build up your confidence is to cycle with someone who has been riding for longer and who’s more comfortable on the roads. They can lead while you follow, giving you more time to think about your technique and getting used to other vehicles, particularly at junctions. This is something I’ve done for a number of friends who mentioned they were too nervous to cycle to work - I picked them up from their flat and rode their commute with them, talking all the time, keeping an eye out for potholes and letting them know what was coming up. All this gave them the confidence to tackle the roads by themselves.
If you’re someone who is confident on the roads, we think it would be great if you’d volunteer to cycle with someone near you a couple of times whilst they learn the ropes. To volunteer, just comment on this post that you’re #comfortablecommuter in [area].
If you want a riding buddy - have a browse of those who have volunteered and arrange a ride! If there’s no one in your area yet, just use the same post to say I’m an #uncomfortablecommuter in [area]. Share the post to help get it to as many cyclists as possible!
Keep your distance
Just like when driving a car, it’s sensible to make sure you have plenty of space around you. This makes for a more enjoyable riding experience but also allows for any surprises. This list is far from exhaustive, but here’s a few things to think about:
Curbs - we recommend maintaining a distance of around one metre from the curb. This helps make sure you avoid any nasty debris and potholes, and creates a bit of a buffer between you and the curb. Plus, riding too close to the curb encourages drivers to try to squeeze past you. This can be dangerous so stand your ground
Parked cars - make sure you leave enough space that car doors can open without you being forced into an unplanned somersault. As a cyclist, you’re often in the blindspot and if we’re being honest, many drivers just forget to check. Best to just give yourself plenty of space.
Traffic - you might not be able to brake as quickly as the driver in front of you so make sure you’ve got enough room between you and that lump of metal
Other cyclists - we hate to say it, but not all cyclists are as considered as we are! Some can be guilty of suddenly changing direction or not indicating when turning. So to avoid a pileup, rise above it and make sure you're riding at least two metres from other cyclists.
Left turn, right turn!
People aren’t mind readers so make sure you’re not leaving everyone guessing which way you’re going to go by indicating clearly with plenty of warning. This is almost certainly stating the obvious, but use your right hand when indicating right, and your left when indicating left. Also, make sure your arm is nice and straight, perpendicular to your body.
If you’re not confident taking a hand off the handlebars whilst cycling then our first bit of advice is to head to a park or somewhere without traffic to practice. The second thing to bear in mind is that although it may seem counterintuitive, it’s actually much easier to do once you’ve built up a bit of speed - the momentum will help you maintain your balance. Finally, you might want to consider getting wrist reflectors or indicators. These can be really helpful in the dark.
There’s no substitute for just getting out there and doing but sometimes a bit of extra training can really help, plus it’s a great way to meet other aspiring cyclists in your area. There are loads of organisations providing bike training, often for free. Just Google ‘bike confidence training’ and you’ll be able to find a course to suit you.
Don’t get overconfident
Maybe you’ve built up your confidence and are feeling pretty good on the roads. It’s at this point that people start to take unnecessary risks, nipping between traffic or running red lights. This is particularly dangerous with heavy lorries and buses. For the extra few seconds gained, it’s just not worth the risk, no matter how confident you are.
Happy, safe cycling!
Feeling safe on the roads is paramount to enjoying the ride so it's definitely worth investing time in making sure you are confident on your bicycle!