Commuting by bike is a fantastic way to save time and money, while improving your health and well-being. A survey carried out by Cyclescheme in 2016 suggests that employees who ride to work have fewer sick days as well as better punctuality and productivity. However, for many, the thought of taking to the roads aboard their bike can seem a little daunting. To address some of these concerns and help you make the switch, we’ve put together some handy tips to help increase your confidence and stay safe on the roads.
It is important to have the confidence to position yourself correctly on the road. Riding around 1m away from the curb will help give you room to negotiate potholes or obstacles, as well as discouraging drivers from attempting risky overtakes. Signalling early and not being afraid to move out and take up a whole lane at junctions will help make your intentions clear to drivers and also avoid you having to cross lanes of busy traffic at the last minute.
A large proportion of cycle accidents happen in built up and busy areas, so an excellent way of staying safe is to research some quieter routes. While these may be less direct than main roads, they typically have fewer cars, less stopping and safer cycling. Struggling for ideas? Check out apps like Strava or Komoot to find out where fellow cyclists are going- typically the most popular routes will be ridden because there are less cars or better cycle lanes- so looking out for these hotspots is a good place to start.
Strava is an exercise tracking app and online platform which also incorporates social media and route building elements. Users are able to build routes in any country or city and which can be used for commuting, general exercise or to discover new areas. The route building element can be found by selecting the ‘dashboard’ and ‘my routes’ options. From here you will be able to create your route choosing roads to suit the kind of riding you are doing.
Komoot is a planning and navigation platform for both hiking and biking. Whether you’re planning a post work summer adventure or finding a quieter route to work Komoot will find the best routes in your area. By selecting the ‘route planner’ button you will be able to select the kind of riding you wish to do and begin building your route. There is also the option on the platform to view routes that other users have plotted for inspiration and to discover new roads.
There are a host of other navigation aids out there. From mainstream options like Google Maps, to more specific websites like Ride With GPS. In the end it’s important to find one you are comfortable using and also one which is reliably helping you find fun and safe routes. It may be that you need to switch between various options depending on the type of ride you are doing and your location.
As the RNLI say ‘respect the water’, likewise cyclists must remember to respect the roads. Remain alert to potential hazards- give parked cars a wide birth, in case someone opens their door as you pass. Try to retain awareness of what’s behind and in front of you- regularly checking backwards and listening out for other road users is key to avoiding unwanted surprises. That does mean no headphones or mobiles, as well as sucking up the cold and avoiding extra thick hats covering your ears on those winter mornings. Give other road users as much room as possible to give yourself more time to react.
Visibility and equipment
Make yourself as visible as possible. Reflective and/or colourful clothing, lights and reflectors will all help you get noticed on the road. Wearing a helmet is thoroughly recommended- their effectiveness at reducing the severity of head injuries should the worst happen is widely accepted, and the products are so good these days- being both inexpensive and very comfortable. Riding a bike in good condition also plays a key part in safety. Being able to stop safely, and pull away without hesitation will help avoid any mishaps. Visible and safe equipment are important, but they are not a cloak of invincibility. In fact, it is best to cycle as if you are invisible- by not assuming other road users have seen you, and giving everyone plenty of space (regardless of rights of way)- the chances of close calls and collisions are drastically reduced.
Signalling, checking behind and pulling away quickly and confidently all help riders negotiate the traffic and avoid any stressful situations. If this is an area you feel needs work, why not spend some time practising in a traffic free environment? Improving your skills will make commuting by bike much more enjoyable, and safer.
Cycling and commuting by bike has many advantages, but it can feel like a lot to get to grips with at first. Knowing how to perform road side fixes- like repairing a puncture, as well as picking up more hints and having some knowledge of some quieter routes will improve your confidence and independence when out on the bike. These topics can be researched and learnt, but another way to fast track your understanding is to look to the cycling community. There are numerous clubs and workshops which are more than happy to help- as part of their goal of encouraging more people to cycle.
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