Being on the roads can be a daunting prospect for a would-be cycle commuters.
There is an unwarranted perception that cycling on roads is difficult and
In fact Per mile, more people get killed walking than cycling according to the
UK's National Travel Survey.
Cycling has earned a reputation as a dangerous mode of transport because
cyclists are perceived as a minority group; there are far more motorists than
cyclists on the road. Coupled with the fact that you don’t have a thick metal
shell around you (like car drivers) this can make cyclists feel threatened and
Also, people feel the need to justify why they drive a gas-guzzling car intead
of a clean, green bike. It’s easier to say “It’s too
dangerous” than “I’m too unfit”.
It has recently been shown in a government study that the more cyclists who ride
in a given area, the fewer accidents happen (Jacobsen, P. 2003). This is because of
increased awareness of cyclists by other road users. This is a virtuous circle
– the more people cycle, the safer they are.
So it’s not excessively dangerous. But how can you minimise any risk to
yourself whilst cycling on roads?
The number one tip for an aspiring cycle commuter is cycle defensively on the
road. If you ride like you belong there, other road users will respect you and give
Here are our top tips for riding safely on road:
- Own the lane - You should always be at least 2 feet (60cm)
out from the kerb. Deliberately riding in the middle of the road is called
‘the primary position’ or ‘taking the lane’ if
you’re American. It ensures you are seen by other road users and forces
cars to acknowledge you; overtaking properly or waiting until it is safe to do
- Constant vigilance - Car drivers can come from any direction
at any time. If you take this assumption, and concentrate, you will stay safer.
By looking up side roads and over your shoulder regularly, you will become aware
of cars, where they are going and who is a likely hazard.
- Make eye contact - Looking a driver in the eye lets you know
that they have seen you.
- Positive signalling - Assert yourself by signalling firmly.
You are telling the other road users where you are going, not asking their
permission. Signalling also makes you a wider object in the road, dissuading
other drivers from passing you recklessly.
- Overtaking on the right is best for visibility. Cars look
for faster vehicles on the right out of habit. Only filter up the inside if the
traffic is stationary – watch for doors opening and pedestrians crossing!
Passing on the inside can be fatal, especially if it is a long vehicle.
The danger zones:
Junctions - A large number of accidents happen around
junctions. Be extra vigilant and make eye contact with drivers who are waiting to
Traffic Lights - Don’t go through red lights; It’s
illegal, which should be reason enough. It is also very dangerous because other
road users are not looking for vehicles crossing their path; they’re just
gone through a green light! In addition, it makes cyclists look like irresponsible
lawbreakers, and can antagonise motorists.
Roundabouts - This is a controversial subject for cyclists. The
Highway Code suggests that cyclists should follow the outside lane until their
exit. Many people feel that this is bad advice; using the outside lane leaves you
more vulnerable to vehicles entering the roundabout and those leaving the
roundabout. It also increases your time on the roundabout – a bad thing. Most
suggest that cyclists use the roundabout like a regular road user, following the
same process as those in cars or on motorbikes. This involves signalling and moving
into the inside if your exit is not the first around the roundabout. This keeps you
away from traffic entering and leaving the roundabout, increasing the time they
have to notice you.
Hopefully, following these simple steps will keep you safe and help you know
what to watch out for. The best way to remain safe on the roads and boost your
confidence is a recognised cycle training course. Here is a list of our favourites
http://www.ctc.org.uk - The UK’s
national cyclists’ organisation
http://www.cycletraining.co.uk - A
not-for-profit training co-operative
Manchester based firm offering cycle training on and off road
http://www.outspokentraining.co.uk/ - A
training provider offering 3 levels of on road course
London based trainer
For more information on road safety, you may want to purchase a copy of the
highway code at £2.50 from http://www.direct.gov.uk
Return to our commuter guides.