A Cycling Guide To Staying Alive
Cycling is great, especially in Bristol; it keeps you fit, saves you money, often commuting time as well. But, it can be a little unsafe, particularly if you aren’t confident on how the traffic rules work.
I’ve been cycling around the city as my go to form of transportation for the last nine years (almost half my life). Because I’ve been cycling for so long, I feel like I’ve become evangelical about bikes being the best way to get around Bristol. I mean, why would you use a bus? The crazy slow journey, or overpriced tickets? Seriously. Over the years, I’ve learnt the fastest shortcuts through Bristol, kept myself safe and also learned a few key tips about bike maintenance. With that in mind, here are 13 tips I wanted to share with you that I’ve picked up over the years, and have helped to keep me safe when cycling around Bristol.
1. Using Cycle Lanes/Paths
This is an option, not an obligation. Sometimes they can be a much more relaxing place to cycle – free from cars after all. Perhaps as a cyclist, it may be a safer way to cycle. Other times, they can be riddled with bits of glass and all the other crap that cars push to the sides of the road and into the cycle lanes, making sticking to the road as much more sound choice (cycle lanes can be glass magnets). It’s completely up to you, use the road, use the cycle lane. There’s no laws against cycling on the road, so use the options available that makes you feel safest. For me, the shortest route has a big factor on which option I go for, when deciding between cycle paths or roads, as I’m often running late. Check out Casey Neistat’s experience of only using bike lanes in NYC…
2. Overtake Traffic On The Right
Isn’t that the middle of the road? Well, yeah it is, but by passing cars on this side, you make it easier for drivers to see you. Overtaking on the left (near the pavement), can leave you in blind spots, making it impossible for drivers in cars, buses and lorries from knowing you are there. So, staying on the driver side of the vehicle makes it easier for you to see each other.
Smart tip – if you can see the driver in their mirror, then they should be able to see you.
3. Hold Your Position On The Road
As a cyclist, you should be cycling in the middle of your lane most of the time. Again, if you cycle too close to the pavement, it will increase the chance of drivers wanting to overtake in silly places. Too far to the right and they will want to undertake you instead. Think Goldilocks – just right.
4. Don’t Hold Up Traffic Unnecessarily
Okay, so I know I just told you to cycle in the middle of the road, but you do need to be considerate of other road users too. When cycling in Bristol, you can often enough cycle faster than traffic, or at the speed limit. In these situations, other vehicles have no need to be overtaking you. But, at times you may want to consider letting the micro traffic jam you’ve built up behind you, go past you. Let drivers know that you are capable of considering them.
If you want a cheap bike, or need a quick repair check out Bristol Bike Project in Stokes Croft.
5. Be Confident
It’s likely that at least part of your journey will be on a busy road, so learning some basic road cycling skills are sure to pay off. Knowing how to signal, position yourself and use roundabouts will give you the confidence to cycle on busier roads, and at busier times.
6. Don’t Be Intimidated By Drivers
You will sometimes get those drivers that will impatiently rev their engines behind you. As if to emphasis they are sighing at the thought of being stuck behind you. My advice for such a situation is to pull to the side and let them pass. Don’t panic just in a timely manner pull up to the side. It is much better to have an idiotic driver in front of you than behind you.
7. Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
Being aware of your surroundings is the key to staying safe. You should be aware of what is behind you and definitely what is in front and constantly be surveying potential hazards like pedestrians crossing roads, or cars that don’t see you when pulling out.
8. Make Yourself Noticeable
When it’s dark, you are legally required to have a white light at the front of your bike, and red one on the rear. Its really important, as it helps drives not only see you, but also perceive the distance you are away from them. You should also try and wear clothing that contrasts your surroundings. For example, I try to wear brighter colours on dreary days, darker colours on sunny days and reflective stuff at night. Basically wear anything that will make drivers and pedestrians spot you easily. Having high visibility clothing, although not always stylish, is a great way to get drivers attention visually.
9. Wear Protective Clothing
Although not legally required, wearing a helmet is seriously advised. Don’t think they do anything to protect your skull? Have a look at this…
Need I say more?
10. Keep Your Bike In Road Worthy Order
Keep your tyres inflated, gears oiled and brakes tight. (Also, investing in a good lock is a wise move.) Not only does keeping your bike in good condition mean you’re less likely to break down on your way to school/work, but it also means that you can rely on your bike in situations you have to react quickly in, such as emergency breaking or an impromptu traffic light drag race, against that moped that sounds like a lawnmower (I’m forever wondering why these kids on their 50cc’s don’t just get a bike and cycle. Unless going uphill, I’m normally just as fast as them).
11. Make Eye Contact With Drivers/Pedestrians
This is an important tool you can use to communicate with others what you are doing and when you are doing it. People in cars can often get in their own bubble whilst driving, so making eye contact can help them to notice your presence as a cyclist. Sometimes you won’t be able to make eye contact, but this can also help you. As, when cycling, if I manage to make eye contact with drivers when riding, then I know I have to be more careful.
12. Keep Your Cool
Everyone messes up from time to time. Don’t buy into the road rage. I’ve been guilty of losing my cool when a driver overtakes me in a stupid place; slowing down for the red light that is fast approaching in 50 metres. It can be really frustrating when drivers are so fixated on you that they don’t bother to look beyond your bike. It’s like they see you as an imaginary wall that stretches across the width of the road that must be driven through in order to restore clarity and peace to their journey. But, although tempting road rage and being angry can lead to you making bad choices that do not help any situation and may further increase the risk of an incident occurring. When someone cuts you off, you don’t need to lose your cool. Just remember that we all make mistakes, shrug it off, and live to ride another day.
13. Read The High Way Code (It is not very long)
Available free online here. The section for cyclists is pretty short, but It will make you feel much more confident understanding the rules of the road. Learning what laws exist that you must follow, in addition to making you a much safer rider, reducing the risks of hurting yourself, as well as others.
These are just a few tips on how I stay safe when out and about on my bike. If you want to get more confident at cycling, or maybe just want to brush up on your skills, I would recommend Bike Ability. After getting trained by them in primary school, it seriously helped me to understand about riding safely – you can check out the free courses that Bike ability offer here
Don’t forget to let me know anymore top tips you have that I missed @Rifemag Twitter, or in the comments below. Stay safe and happy cycling.