More and more people are using their bikes to commute, stay fit and for leisure. The latest Active Lives Survey from Sports England, shows that 7% (3.2million) of adults are now cycling for travel at least twice a week, and 15% (6.6 million) are cycling for leisure or sport.
For all these people who are cycling, there are many more, who would like to don the Lycra, but are put off by the thought of tackling busy and congested city roads on two wheels.
So if you would like to improve your health, help the environment and save money on your commute through cycling, here are some top tips to keep you prepared and safe when cycling on busy roads.
1) Make sure you have the right gear
This isn’t about fashion, and it doesn’t need to be expensive or designer labels, but having some of the right basic cycling gear will make your cycle safer and more comfortable. A good helmet is a must, and something worth spending a bit of money on. You will also need bright clothing (it could be a jacket or an over-vest) that can be seen in the day and night-time. You will also need to make sure you have a bell that can be heard so you can warn people you are coming!
It is illegal to ride your bike at night without lights and if you are cycling in the winter, you are likely to be having at least some part of your journey in the dark. Even if only at dusk, or on miserable days, having bright lights will help you to be seen. Good quality lights can be picked up affordably online and make sure you get a set for the front and back. You can even get jackets and helmets with in-built lights if you want even more visibility.
3) Make sure you bike is in good condition
It is worth getting your bike serviced and checked before taking it out on busy roads. Most cycle shops offer a servicing and repair service or check out any cycle parking hubs which may have onsite cycle repair facilities.
4) Plan your route
What is a good route in a car, may not be a good route on a bike, so take time (when you don’t have the pressure of a commute) to check out your route. Most cities and towns have cycle lanes and cycle paths, but these aren’t always consistent for the whole journey. If you are not sure, your local council’s website, could have information on cycle routes in your area.
If you are unsure about using busy roads, see if there is an alternative route taking smaller roads.
5) Be confident you can cover the distance
It can be difficult to know if the distance you are planning to cycle is something that is doable. As a rough guide, most people can cover about 5 miles in half an hour, but it does depend on the terrain (hills you didn’t know existed will be felt when on a bike). Either break your journey so you are just doing part of it on your bike, many people are now using their cycle to get to a train station, or build up the distance over time. And make sure you allow yourself enough time so you aren’t rushing, which at best will see you arrive a sweaty mess and at worst could cause you to make judgements that could affect your safety.
6) Don’t hug the curb
It may be tempting to ride in the gutter to keep yourself away from the cars, but this can make you difficult to see and encourage cars to pass you too closely. The optimum position on a road, with no cycle lane, is about a metre from the kerb which ensures that cars can see you, yet still gives you space to move in if you had to.
Also make sure you hang back at junctions as large vehicles and lorries, often can’t see you, especially if they are turning left.
7) Stay aware
Pot holes are inconvenient to motorists but disastrous for cyclists, so make sure, even if you are doing a route you have done many times before, you keep aware of the road and any obstacles or hazards such as pot holes and debris.
8) Watch out for car doors
Unfortunately, motorists may not check to see if a bike is coming before they open their car door and this can result in the cyclist being ‘doored’. Again, be very aware if you see a car park up that they may open their door without checking properly.
9) Get a good bike lock
If you are using your bike as part of your commute you will need to park your bike somewhere, so make sure you have a good quality D lock and you use it to lock to the frame and wheel.
For more information on cycle security see our blog
10) Make sure you have somewhere safe to park your bike
Having a lock is one thing, but there are other things to consider when leaving your cycle. Look out for specific cycle parking areas and facilities where you can leave your bike. Most rail stations now have dedicated cycle parking facilities, with many operating cycle hubs that provide secure, access, controlled parking.
Consider things such as the time you will be collecting your bike, and make sure it has been lefts somewhere that is not only safe for your bike but also safe for you. Look out for cycle parking in a public place that is well lit, possible has CCTV and you feel safe in going to.