Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic I’ve seen a tenfold increase in cycling in the United Kingdom. I think it’s because we’re allowed to exercise outside and the sunny weather has helped.
The benefits of cycling are well documented, from enhanced fitness to improving your mental health. Families bonding while having fun on a bike ride but not realising the benefits they are getting.
With all the extra cyclists on the roads, it’s more important to ensure your safety on the road.
Below are my tips to help you stay safe on the roads.
Before setting off
Before any ride, make sure that your clothing is suitable for the conditions. Checking the weather before you go will help to ensure an enjoyable ride.
It’s important not to be distracted while riding on the road. If you’re uncomfortable or your clothing is chafing then you could be putting your life at risk.
Wearing a helmet is a must. There have been Fifty-Five studies done between 1989 and 2017. They’ve all concluded that you should wear a helmet because it reduced:
- Facial injury by 23%
- Total number of killed or seriously injured by 34%
- Head injury by 48%
- Traumatic brain injury by 53%
- Serious head injury by 60%
Checking your helmet is easy, it’s a visual inspection. Check there are no cracks and that the straps aren’t chaffed. If you have been in an accident or dropped the bicycle helmet it needs changing. It’s only designed to have one impact.
Your helmet should also meet an international testing standard set by one of the following bodies, ASTM, BSI, CSA, and Snell. If it’s met the standard there’ll be a sticker inside the helmet showing this.
A small but essential part of your safety gear are gloves, these are often overlooked as safety equipment. The first thing you’ll try to do in a tumble or accident is to reduce the impact by putting your hands out.
Wearing gloves helps in several ways, it will stop road rash, and they’ll also help you keep control of your bike. Sweaty or cold hands reduce your control of the bike. Being able to use the gear levers or brakes is critical for control of the bike.
A good sturdy pair of shoes that either attach to your pedals with cleats or a flat soled pair if you are constantly stopping. City cycling normally means lots of junctions with lights, stopping at each light and trying to clip and unclip your foot is dangerous.
I don’t recommend using a pedal and cleat system in a city as you won’t get your foot out of the system in an emergency. With a cleat system you need to twist your foot outwards to release them. In an emergency it’ll be the last thing you want to do and could result in you falling onto the road.
Riding with flat soled shoes removes the twisting motion and means you’re less likely to fall into the road.
Being seen on the road by vehicle drivers is hard. You’re a slow moving object that’s not very big. For me, it’s essential to wear something brightly coloured so that their eyes are drawn to it and they see me.
If I’m riding on my own I’ll wear either a brightly coloured cycling jersey or a hi-viz yellow bib. It won’t win me any awards in a fashion contest but it does mean I have a better chance of being seen.
Check your Bike at least once a week
It would be easy to write about the need to check your bike before every ride, but realistically none of us would. Personally, I check my bike once a week as I believe it’s the minimum you should.
It doesn’t matter what type of bike you have, electric, commuter, racing or MTB doing basic weekly maintenance is essential.
It’s very easy to just get on your bike and ride; however, if it fails at the wrong time it could be fatal. Taking time to check could prevent a tumble or a serious injury.
Below is a list of what I believe you should check at least once a week or every ride.
Brakes: are they in working order? Visually inspect them to see how far you’ve worn them down. When they’re around 75% warn, replace them.
Having the brake blocks or pads too far from the braking surface means a loss of braking pressure. It only takes a few minutes to check and adjust.
Not only should you do a visual inspection, but also spin the wheel and use the brake to stop it. If you’ve pulled the lever more than 50% of the full distance it’s time to adjust your brakes.
Tyre’s: checking the tyre pressure is straightforward and easy enough using a floor pump. Setting the correct pressure is important; it’ll stop the tyre from exploding in hot weather.
Inflating the tyre to manufacturer’s recommendations ensures it’s performing at optimum efficiency. the pressure range for your tyre can be found on the sidewall.
If the tyre pressure is less than the recommended range you’re making it harder for yourself. It increases the tyre surface area on the road which increases the resistance.
An underinflated tyre that’s ridden on will also damage the sidewall’s, reducing the life of your tyre and ultimately costing you more in the long run.
You’ll also need to check them for cuts and general wear, small minor cuts are ok. But if the tyre is cut through to the thread then they need to be replaced.
If you have had a tyre for a long time, check for cracking of the rubber. If you only have a few minor cracks in the tread that’s ok. however if the sidewalls are cracked I’d recommend you change the tyre.
Lights: checking your lights work is obvious, but do you carry any spare’s for them? Carry spare batteries or if you have a rechargeable light ensure you leave enough time to charge it.
Flashing front and back lights during the day helps to draw the driver’s eye. Most LED light bulbs last a long time; you don’t want to be caught out when it blows. Always carry a spare bulb, it does weigh much but could save your life.
Emergency Spares: being caught out by an unexpected puncture or a broken chain can be a pain. But being caught out with nothing to help you attempt a repair is just daft.
You can carry emergency spares in a saddle bag. These come in different sizes there should be no excuse why you don’t have the right spares.
Having emergency spares is one thing. If you have never changed an inner tube or fixed a puncture then before your next ride, take five minutes to watch a You Tube video and find out.
know how to fix a puncture
Cycling on the road tips
Good road positioning is vital
Where you position your bike is important to make sure others see you. I cannot stress this point enough, Bad road positioning can lead to drivers making silly decisions around when to overtake you.
Knowing when to boss the road (when it’s required) is important for your safety. These situations normally only happen when riding in built up areas or cities. Riding on the open road you just need to stay about one meter from the edge of the road.
Riding this far into the road means that you have room to manoeuvre around obstacles in the road. You avoid most of the debris and get fewer punctures, you’ll also avoid most road defects as these happen at the edge.
If your’re riding in a city, try not to ride into a situation where you don’t have a clear exit. Having an escape route is essential as you never know what a vehicle or pedestrian will do. You can give yourself the best chance by constantly observing what’s going on around you.
Other road users normally have a significant advantage over you when it comes to stopping. Keeping a healthy gap allows for this and stops you from hitting the back of the vehicle.
The British cycling channel on You Tube have some very good short videos on this topic you should check out
Do you know what all the road markings mean? A simple question but when was the last time you checked for updates on the road rules.
Knowing what all the signs and road markings mean will help you anticipate what a vehicle on the road will do. While you want a vehicle to be predictable you also need to be as well.
Riding in a predictable way means that drivers can make decisions that’ll keep you safe and them. Things like riding through a red light or gambling on an amber light is dangerous.
Around 20% of all cycling accidents happen at road junctions. Increasing your chance of being in an accident by running a red light or amber light doesn’t make any sense.
By scanning the road further ahead you can plan where to place your bike on the road, but also avoid obstacles. This ties in with the point made above in positioning.
By scanning further ahead you shouldn’t get boxed in and always have an escape route.
Make eye contact
Sounds simple right? But if a driver has not made eye contact with you assume they have not seen you and don’t know you’re there.
Assuming they’ve not seen you, look at the front wheels or steering wheel if you can. This will help you to anticipate what the car might do.
Make sure you’re not in the blind spot of a vehicle, If you can’t see the driver he can’t see you and may turn into you.
Never undertake a large vehicle
Lorry’s and busses pose the biggest threat when cycling. Not only because of the draft they cause, it’s also easy to ride in their blind spot.
A large vehicle passing you at speed causes a draft that sucks you towards the vehicle. There is nothing you can do about this other than to be prepared for it and hope they give you a lot of space.
Watch out for car doors
Cars parked on the side of a road are a hazard, give them space. By that I mean you should give them enough space to open the vehicle door without you riding into it.
If your reflexes are quick enough to swerve and miss an opening door you will end up in the middle of the road. This puts you in danger if there is a car behind you that cannot stop in time to miss you.
So plan ahead and give yourself plenty of room to get around the vehicle safely.