How to Cycle Safely on the Road

I am a nervous cyclist. I don’t feel assertive, I’m not confident with what I’m doing, and I don’t feel all that safe. After Bec’s guest post last week on why we should cycle to work, I quickly looked up the courses that Bec’s suggested, run by Transport for London (find them here), and discovered that if you live or work in certain borough’s in London, the courses are free! You can even borrow a bike for a lesson if you don’t own one.

My 2 hour lesson was with Craig, who met me outside work and promised to show me how to navigate the roads more safely on my commute home.

For the first part of the lesson, I followed behind Craig, watching what he was doing, his positioning and movements. We then pulled over to one side and he talked me through some key points;

1. Make eye contact with drivers, other cyclists and pedestrians. This lets them know you are there and ensures that they take you into consideration. It also helps you to decide if they’ve seen you and informs them that you are about to do something, like make a turn.

If you feel that the driver behind you is too close, turn your head around and make eye contact, this will help alert the driver that you feel uncomfortable and hopefully make them slow down and leave a little more room between you.

2. Make sure you communicate with other road users. Signalling your intentions gives them the opportunity to change their behaviour. Clear signalling when you’re turning, or changing lanes, helps to slow down the traffic behind you, facilitating your move. When you cycle past a side road- keep pedaling rather than slowing down so that a driver pulling out knows that you’re staying straight rather than turning or letting them out!

We cycled through Hyde Park and practiced signalling and looking behind (without the whole bike turning around). I was very wobbly to start with, but think with some more practice I’ll get better! I also feel far more confident signalling to turn left than right- looks like I’ll be cycling in circles for a while!

3. Make sure you are properly positioned in the road.

  • Stay away from parked cars- always assume that someone will open their door without looking so keep enough distance away that it wouldn’t hit you. Even if this means coming out of the cycle lane.
  • Stay out of gaps in-between parked cars by cycling in a straight line- don’t feel compelled to get out of the way for drivers behind you. By moving into the gaps you can confuse drivers and you make yourself much less visible. 
  • Take your lane at junctions-  just like driving, whichever lane you need to be in to negotiate a junction, make sure you’re in the centre of that lane. By staying in the centre, no driver can sit next to you, they have to stay behind you and you can safely move through the junction without drivers turning into you.
  • Don’t filter alongside vehicles with a long wheel base, such as lorries, as their front and rear wheels take vastly different lines when turning, and cyclists next to them are in danger of being taken out- if in doubt, stay behind them.

Craig told me to ensure that I felt safe at all times, that sometimes the cycle lane isn’t the safest place to cycle on the road, and that the advanced cyclist stop line is often where female cyclists get in trouble with drivers turning into them- so stay in your lane there, and go on the orange light if it’s safe to do so. He reminded me that if I felt uncomfortable, I could always get off and push my bike around roundabouts or crazy junctions- yes I will always push it around Hammersmith Roundabout.

It’s also worth having a look at the Government rules for Cyclists here.

Don’t forget to ensure you’re wearing a helmet, high vis and lights on your bike if you’re cycling after dark. I’ll be doing a post on what to wear when cycling next week!!

Thanks Craig (check out his cool vintage bike website!)  for the awesome lesson, I’m booking another one in with him soon once I’ve practiced these tips so will share anything else he teaches me! Have you got any cycling tips to share? Please let me know!

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7 Comments

  1. May 23, 2013 / 11:18 am

    Good post Charlie. Happy cycling. A few outings and you’ll wonder what you were worried about!
    Laura.

    • May 23, 2013 / 12:24 pm

      Thanks, I’m already getting more confident on my commute route!

  2. May 23, 2013 / 3:18 pm

    I’m having flashbacks to the Cycling Proficiency course at Belmont!

    • May 23, 2013 / 4:28 pm

      Haha I remember that too, cycling around the Juniors playground!!

  3. May 27, 2013 / 4:07 pm

    Great post. I am getting into road cycling for cross-training, and being safe is my main concern.

  4. May 30, 2013 / 2:48 pm

    Great post – allllmost makes me want to give it a try. I’d probably be more brave cycling in any city but London, I just can’t handle the traffic here. It’s nice to know that there are courses out there though – and good on you for being so brave and confident!!

  5. November 29, 2013 / 12:00 am

    I LOVE CYCLING in London!! Been cycle commuting for about 3 or 4 weeks now!! It definitely is a learning curve! I went on my first group cycle last weekend and it was such a different feeling 🙂

    My number one tip is to never be in a hurry 🙂 x

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