Boris Johnson recently announced that those who cannot work from home should be “actively encouraged” to return to work. If you’re one of those people, you may have already opted to start cycling into work instead of driving or using public transport.
However, if you’re a relatively new cyclist or someone who’s not used to cycling regularly, there are some essential steps you need to follow to stay safe. It’s also the case if you’re a regular cyclist who’s unfamiliar with certain rules of the road.
Whatever your background, here are the 7 road safety tips all cyclists should follow.
(Disclaimer: We haven’t mentioned wearing a helmet or adhering to road signs. But then, you’re smart enough to realise the importance of that anyway, right?)
1. Read up on The Highway Code
This is arguably the most fundamental safety tip for any cyclist before going out on the road. It’s especially important if you’re cycling on a daily basis.
The Highway Code should be your Bible if you want to cycle safely. Later in this article, we’ll talk about certain rules contained within it, but there are two main reasons you need to read The Highway Code:
- To learn how to cycle safely while on the roads to help avoid accidents.
- If you’ve recited and followed the rules – and can prove you’ve done so – you’re less likely to be held culpable for an accident. This means the police are unlikely to charge you and your insurance claim is more likely to be successful.
One way of proving you followed the rules is by purchasing a bike helmet camera. This could provide vital evidence if you ever need it (which hopefully you won’t).
2. Alert other road users to your presence
You want other road users to know you’re there at all times, either through sight or sound. This can be as simple as making sure you have a bell or working lights on your bike.
Lights are particularly important if you commute to or from work in the dark, or if you’re cycling in autumn or winter.
It’s a legal requirement in the UK to make sure the front and rear lights of your bike are lit, clean and working properly if you’re cycling between sunset and sunrise. You need a white light at the front and a red light at the back. This article provides more information on cycle lighting regulations.
You should also wear brightly coloured clothing, such as a high-vis cycling jacket, to make yourself noticeable to drivers. Tredz has written an excellent article on the best high-vis cycling jackets which explains how these jackets can improve your visibility.
All of this is particularly important given that research shows the majority of cyclists significantly overestimate the distance at which they’re visible by motorists. Trek manufactures and tests its safety products based on the principle of ABC – or Always on, Biomotion and Contrast – something you can find out more about here.
Here’s what our brand ambassador Lizzie Deignan has to say: “There’s so many really good, high quality visibility kit now – I don’t think there’s any excuse for you not to. I feel so much safer when I’m wearing the bright kit.”
3. Avoid hugging the kerb
We get it – it’s tempting to stay close to the kerb because you want to stay out of the way of traffic. But ironically, you’re putting yourself and other road users in more danger by doing this.
The safest position in which to cycle is between 50 centimetres and 1 metre away from the kerb. (For context, the typical length of a guitar is 1 metre. So just imagine a guitar between you and the pavement!)
Here are a few reasons why you need to take up this position:
- Drivers are more likely to see you, especially if they’re overtaking you or pulling out of a junction.
- You’re less likely to ride over drain covers, potholes and debris at the side of the road such as broken glass. This could lead to you falling off your bike and sustaining a serious injury.
- You’re less likely to be struck by a driver opening their door.
When you’re turning a corner, you actually want to be around 150cm or 5ft from the kerb. This prevents the vehicle behind from overtaking you, which could cause an accident.
Lizzie Deignan: “Riding just that little bit further into the road means that, if a driver does overtake you too closely, there’s some manoeuvrable space to the left. A lot of the time, the car can’t pass you anyway, so you’re definitely better off having that extra little bit of room!”
The below video from British Cycling explains more about the importance of road positioning:
4. Make eye contact with other road users
As with wearing high-vis clothing, eye contact is an effective way of making your presence known to motorists and avoiding a nasty accident.
For example, if you’re at a zebra crossing, you need to make sure an oncoming motorist has seen you before feeling safe enough to cycle cross. Looking them in the eye and reading their body language will tell you whether or not they have.
There are several other instances in which eye contact is useful:
- When you’re turning off at a junction and want to make sure you’re not going to be overtaken
- When you’re next to a car at traffic lights
- When you’re overtaking slower moving vehicles
- When you see an oncoming car slowing down to turn left across your path
- When you’re pulling out of a driveway or side street
By making eye contact, if can help you anticipate what a motorist is going to do next, helping prevent a potentially dangerous situation.
5. Keep your distance
It takes longer to slow down when you’re on a bike than if you’re in a car, so caution is vital. Keeping your distance gives you more time to react if something happens on the road ahead.
If you’re cycling at around 10 miles an hour, your stopping distance is about 6 metres, or roughly two car lengths. This distance doubles for every 5 miles an hour faster you travel and rises further in wet conditions.
It’s not just moving cars you need to think about. Keeping your distance from parked vehicles is important, too. As mentioned, a driver might open their door without seeing you, or you might lose control of your bike after going over a pothole or debris. This is why you should always ride a door’s width from parked cars, to avoid a potential crash.
6. Anticipate hazards
This ties in with the point above about anticipating danger. If you’ve passed your driving theory exam, you’ll know the importance of the hazard perception test. Spotting hazards is just as important when cycling, in fact arguably more so since it takes you longer to stop than a car.
Here are some common examples of hazards you may come across while cycling:
- Pedestrians walking out onto the road
- A dog walking without a lead
- Children kicking a football by the side of the road
- Vehicles waiting to pull out onto a main road
- Vehicles swerving out of the way of a hazard
And, of course, a driver opening their door.
Noticing these things and watching for potential developments will help you avoid having an accident. You can’t always judge exactly what pedestrians or motorists will do but having a good idea and being aware of your surroundings will help you stay safe.
7. Clearly signal your intentions
How frustrating is it when a driver doesn’t indicate at a roundabout? Don’t let yourself fall into a similar trap when you’re on your bike.
Other road users can’t read your mind, so it’s crucial to make these hand signals:
- Turning left or right – One arm extended horizontally pointing in the direction you are about to turn.
- Slowing down – One arm slightly extended to the side with the palm facing down. Raise your hand up and down at wrist height.
- Stopping – One arm extended vertically upwards with the palm facing forward.
On top of this, you should always look behind you, making eye contact with drivers to check you aren’t going to be overtaken, as explained above. You also have a duty to overtake and undertake responsibly….
Lizzie Deignan: “It’s essential that you give cars around you as much information as possible about what you’re going to do. Overtaking and undertaking in traffic should only be done if it’s safe to do so, as well as appreciating that drivers have blind spots.”
To see some examples of how to signal your intentions and negate certain hazards, check out this video from Global Cycling Network:
Hopefully these cycling safety tips will set you on the right path (yes, that pun was intentional). However, even by taking the necessary precautions, you can still have accidents whilst on the road. Therefore, you need specialist insurance to give yourself an extra layer of protection.
Here’s what our founder and managing director John Woosey has to say: “The benefits of cycling to our health (and that of the environment) are numerous. However, commuting by bike – which many millions of people across the UK are now being “actively encouraged” to do – comes with an element of risk.
“For example, research shows that it’s more likely to lead to hospital admission than commuting by other means of transport. The risk is especially acute amongst those who may not have cycled regularly, or on busy roads, ever before. For this reason, it’s vital that cyclists take every precaution against inevitable issues.
“We also strongly urge those commuting on two wheels to protect themselves and their bike with cycling insurance. Specialist policies not only offer cover against issues like injury, damage, loss and theft, but also help to provide much-needed financial peace of mind during this time.”