Safer cycling - how to minimise risks on your bicycle

Cycling is a superb way to travel; you get to where you're going quickly and efficiently without pollution, get fitter and save money, and it's soared in popularity over the last few years. There's a general feeling, however, that cycling is a risky business - but it doesn't have to be. Both cyclists and motorists have a role to play in making cycling safer on our roads.
According to ROSPA there were almost 20,000 cycling accidents in the UK last year, so if you're on the roads this autumn, make sure you're prepared. We've compiled some hints and tips for cyclists and drivers alike.


Plan your route
There are loads of resources online to help you figure out a safe, efficient route to where you’re going. Google Maps built in cycling planner is a great starting point. Sustrans and Cycle Streets will also give you an idea of where there are dedicated traffic free or on-road National Cycling Routes (NCR) these are signposted networks of cycle friendly routes across the UK. Online forums - such as or cycle-routes - can also give you a rider's point of view of their preferred routes. Nothing's better than riding the route with someone who knows it, as they'll be able to point out danger spots, potholes (they're a significant risk on a bike) and any alternative routes.

Choose your bike
When choosing your bike bear in mind the type of terrain you'll be riding on. Riding on roads and paved surfaces will be more efficient on a dedicated road bike or a hybrid, but these bikes are generally not going to stand up to rocks, roots or even wet grass. If where you're going doesn't need roads - you might want to take a look at a mountain or a cyclocross bike instead - as these will have tyres that grip on a variety of surfaces and are strong enough to withstand some punishment. Take your time to set a budget – if your company does the cycle to work scheme this is often a great way to help out with costs (include accessories to that), ask around (friends or cyclists you might know) and try a few out before settling on one. If you already have a bike, you could think about making a few changes to it to match your requirements, for example switching to off-road tyres for riding in the forest at the weekend. It’s also a good idea to get someone from your bike shop or a fellow cyclist to help you with getting your bike position sorted. Not only will this help you feel comfortable when riding but it’ll help you avoid injury.
Check your bike
Not only will you not get far with a rusty bike but this can put you in danger. Rusty chains and wheels are likely to have weaknesses and liable to break. Similarly, the rubber on brake pads and tyres degrades over time and might not hold up for long, which is something you do not want when crossing a busy road or flying downhill toward a busy junction. If you haven't used your bike in a while, get it serviced by a professional before you ride it and have a chat with the guys in the bike shop about your plans for riding – they’re always willing to help out and are usually very knowledgeable.

The clothes you wear on your bike are important to keep you comfortable and safe. When choosing your helmet ensure it fits correctly, and high-viz clothing is a must for road cycling. Gloves are not only necessary for warming your hands, they’ll provide comfort on pressure points when holding your handlebars and vital padding for your palms after falls. Sunglasses, clear lenses or anti-glare eyewear is also a good idea, as your eyes won’t have the protection of a windscreen from dust, grit and other debris from blinding you, even temporarily. Padded shorts can take away the discomfort of saddle soreness – so it’s worth buying some.
Light it up
Lights are a legal requirement for when it gets dark and there’s a massive range to choose from. They fall into two categories: Lights to be seen by – these are low powered lights used for other road users to see you. These are always going to be fine as a rear light and often fine as a front light for riding in well lit areas. Lights to see with – these lights will often be high powered and more expensive but will enable you to see where you’re going on dimly lit paths and - at the highest powers - give you a chance to ride off-road in even the darkest of conditions.

Ride Confidently
If you’ve not been on a bike for a long time, don’t go straight out onto a busy road – there’s a very good chance you won’t want to get back on the bike again. Start slowly with some riding on quiet roads close to home, round the park or somewhere else where traffic will be minimal and slow moving before you feel comfortable to head out on bigger roads.  Practice looking behind you - to check for traffic, riding with one hand - when indicating a turn or manoeuvre and braking hard whilst avoiding a skid - when you skid, you’re not in control of your bike. Practice in a variety of conditions, as bike brakes, grip on the road and your ability to see what’s happening ahead are hugely affected by the weather when you're riding. There are often training courses which are sometimes free – such as Bikeability - you can sign up to for some quick confidence building and support.
Be prepared
Taking the “walk of shame” with a bike in the rain, after dark on a busy road isn't fun and can be avoided with a little bit of know-how, some tools and spare parts. Always carry a spare inner tube to replace a punctured one, tyre levers and a pump. It’s also a good idea to carry a multi-tool. Getting to grips with your gears (if you have them) and the basic functions of your bike can also help out when it counts. There are plenty of bike maintenance books out there or, for that personal touch, many bike maintenance courses across the UK.

Own the road
When sharing the road with larger vehicles you want them to know you’re there, so it’s a good idea to adopt the safest “primary” or “take the lane” position – riding in the centre of the lane. Riding here gets you out of the way of parked cars and their metal doors with sharp edges. It also gets you noticed by drivers and makes sure anyone overtaking is less likely to do so dangerously fast or dangerously close. Don’t forget to be courteous and polite - anger only gets more anger in return and won’t get anybody where they want to go faster. If you do have a problem with someone, make a mental note of their number plate, a description of their vehicle and the driver and report them to the authorities when it’s safe to do so.

Make eye contact
It may seem like magical extra sensory perception (ESP) but humans have a natural sense to know when we’re being looked at. Use this at every available opportunity. When drivers appear at side roads – make eye contact with them until they know you’re there. When there’s someone impatiently trying to overtake you, turn around and look them in the eyes to remind them that you’re a person who isn't covered in a heavy metal shell.

Enjoy it
One of the great things about bikes is the ease which you can change things on them. Saddles can be moved or swapped, handlebars, pedals, tyres and all manner of things can be fiddled with or changed on your bike to make it better for you. You could also think about riding on different terrain, riding with other people – there’s a million and one things you can try to make yourself more comfortable when you’re turning the pedals. Don’t forget that you’ll be getting fitter and the more you do it, the easier it’ll get, all with no cost to the environment.


Check your Mirrors
For motorists pro-activity and vigilance are your best assets in preventing an accident. Before changing lanes or pulling out from any junction take extra care to check for cyclists, especially at night.  Don't forget to check your blind spot as well as your mirrors.  If you're turning left and a cyclist is coming up to the junction, wait until they've past.

Don't be a Road hog
Only overtake cyclists if it's safe to do so, and give them as much room as you would when overtaking a car. Overtaking too closely can cause the cyclist to head left and veer off the road.
(Originally posted on 27/05/2014)

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