How to stay safe while cycle commuting

Cycle commuting can be very dangerous, there is no doubt about that. The rush of cars, motorcyclists, vans, trucks and even other cyclists all fighting for space on the road makes it quite an unfriendly and intimidating atmosphere. But fear not! Once you get into cycle commuting you definitely get used to the hustle and bustle (and angry people) on the roads. I don’t think this should put you off one bit, but I think what would help is if I tell you about the best ways you can stay safe while cycling through city streets.

Some of these may very much be ‘state-the-bloomin-obvious’, but some cyclists completely forget about the basics and things you need to be aware of when pedalling through traffic.

Wear a helmet

This is such a basic thing, but I see so many cyclists on the road not wearing helmets. There are literally no negative side effects of wearing a helmet. If you can wear something that could potentially save your life, why would you turn that opportunity down? There are some connotations around wearing a helmet is not ‘cool’ — but you won’t be thinking that when your head has been squished by a lorry.

Another thing I have noticed is that you genuinely do feel safer when you wear a helmet. So when I first started commuting in London I did not own a helmet, so I didn’t wear one, but after a few days riding I realised how vulnerable I felt. That week, I picked up this GIRO helmet for just £40. A fantastic purchase — I feel so much better when I cycle now.

Don’t go down the side of that bus/truck!

One of the worst things you could ever do when cycling on any road is trying to squeeze down the left side of a big truck, van or bus. I see a remarkable amount of people trying this manoeuvre and it literally gains nothing, apart from putting yourself in serious danger.

Realise that these big vehicles cannot see you when you try to go past them on the inside, and if it is a left-hand bend can quite easily push you off your bike or onto a pavement. Even worse, if there is no pavement you could be squished into a wall. Ouch.

I also see people trying to go on the inside of buses when there is a bus stop coming up. Please never do this as the bus is likely to pull over to the left and it won’t always see you coming along the inside of it. In a car, doing this is undertaking, and it is illegal. It is worthwhile applying that thought process to cycling in the city.

Cyclists being silly:

Check your bike before you set off

You definitely don’t want your bike falling apart on you when you are speeding along with the flow of the traffic or something buckling when you go to pull away at the lights. Having your brakes with enough stopping power, properly indexed gears, smooth spinning wheels and an all-around well-greased machine will help you feel confident that you won’t have any bike mishaps while on the road.

Make sure you check all of the parts listed above, or check the video below on a good bike check before you set off. If you’re not confident about performing it on your own, feel free to pop down to your local bike shop and they should be more than happy to help.

Pump your tyres up

You might be surprised to know that having tyres pumped up to the necessary amount will make you a lot safer.

The trouble with cycling with close to flat tyres is that you lose a lot of the control you have over the bike, not to mention the increased drag and rolling resistance. When commuting through busy towns you need your bike to be responsive so that you can weave out of the way of obstacles and ensure you are not going too slow.

If you want to check your tyre pressure before you embark on your commute, try this article. Or if you know your tyre pressure, just do a quick check of the tyre walls with your index finger and thumb. If it feels good, you’ll be on your way. If it doesn’t, give those bad boys a little bit of air.

Don’t cycle too close to the edge of the road

Beginner cyclists make this mistake quite often as they are not as confident on the road, but it can actually make you more unsafe than you realise. The trouble with cycling near to the kerb is that it gives you very little room to manoeuvre if there is a pothole or protruding drainpipe. It also makes cars and other road users to take more risks in overtaking you and will often try and overtake far too close to you, which can be really unnerving.

I’d really recommend, for your own safety, to cycle a little nearer the centre of the road. Leave a good 1 or 2 foot between yourself and the kerb. This is much more prevalent when you are cycling on a road without a cycle path (many of those in London). Yes, it may annoy cars a little more, but it puts you in far less danger than them trying to attempt an overtake that could potentially knock you off your bike. Be confident when cycling.

Don’t go through red lights

It’s a shame I have to say this, but all too often you see hipsters in their fixies and lycra shooting through red lights and into crossing traffic. This is definitely not a risk you should take. The thing with cycling in the city is that there are a lot of traffic lights, and you will be held up at them for quite some time. The traffic lights will make you want to try and take risks, but it really is not worth it.

Traffic lights are there for a reason, to control traffic and to avoid crashes. If you go through a red light, you could potentially injure a pedestrian and come off your bike, or even worse, get knocked off by crossing traffic.

You won’t even save that much time when you blaze through the red lights. 1 minute max. That one minute you will probably make up when cycling to the next set of lights. What I have started to do is try to turn it into a positive — think of it as having a little bit of well needed (and deserved) rests along your journey. Sit there at the lights and enjoy the break then speed off as hard as you can to make up for the lost time. Break those Strava PBs.

Don’t wear noise-cancelling earphones

Now I understand that sometimes it is nice to have some music or a podcast playing when you are spending 1–2h hours on a bike every day, but it really isn’t a good idea to wear noise-cancelling headphones. Again, I know this is quite obvious, but it is surprising how many people I see with Bose QC35s on and are completely oblivious to the world around them.

It is very important to be able to hear where cars are coming from, sirens or any other potential dangers from the road. Having noise-cancelling headphones completely blocks this out and that will certainly make you unsafe.

If you do want to listen to some music while you’re riding along, you can wear 1 or 2 in-ear headphones that don’t seal off all audio from around you. As long as you can hear cars and ambient noise clearly, then you should be fine.

Be aware

This is quite an obvious statement, but it is important to understand and be aware of what is going on around you. That is looking far ahead and using hazard perception, looking over your shoulder before you pull out right or take a turning, not going along the inside of vehicles when they are turning, anticipate what other cyclists are going to do, etc. These are just a few things you should take into consideration to ensure that you stay aware, and subsequently safe.

If you’re not aware of what is around you then you could get sideswiped by a car if they are turning left, or you could get hit by a car coming out of a junction if you don’t slow down.

Top tip alert — if there is a car pulling out of a junction, and you see they are not looking your way or slowly edging out, they are likely going to pull out without noticing you. Be aware that they can’t actually hear you coming, so be overly cautious and slow down if you think this might happen.

Put lights on at night

Do cars have the option to not have lights on at night? No. So cyclists shouldn’t either. The worst thing about this is, is that cyclists are much smaller and more vulnerable than cars and you’ll need to do everything you can to make sure other road users know you are there at night.

Luckily cities are usually very well lit, but if you don’t have a rear or front light on your bike then other road users might not see you at all. For the most part, you should be able to get away with a relatively cheap pair of LED lights, but the more you spend on lights the safer you will be.

Well, that is all from me folks. The end of my three-part series on cycle commuting. I am definitely throwing caution to the wind with this article and so don’t let any of these things put you off making that first ride into work, it is just important to know some of the risks and how you can avoid putting yourself in a dangerous situation. As long as you follow these tips and stick to the rules of the road, you will have a lovely time commuting to work by bike.

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