There has been a terrible recent spate of cyclists being killed by vehicles in London. Finding ways for small, flimsy, slow bicycles to live harmoniously alongside large, heavy, busy vehicles is difficult but important.
Naturally I am a fan of campaigns for better cycle paths, driver education and so on.
However, my blog is not one that would carry much weight in those campaigns, so today I am going to focus on another aspect of the issue. I am not denying that some drivers dislike cyclists, that some road junctions are dangerous and so on.
But today I am going to write about what steps cyclists can take themselves to make their journeys on the roads safer. Imagine it is an article about cycling through a safari park: that would focus on what steps the cyclist could take to avoid the lions. It wouldn’t berate the lions for being dangerous, for there’s not much you can do about that on your next ride. So this is a piece about how to cycle more safely through the dangerous jungle of Britain’s roads, not a piece about changing infrastructure or laws or anything to do with the vehicles or drivers.
I apologise for the long preamble, but I’ve seen so much vitriol about this issue on Facebook and Twitter where I asked for opinions about what can be done to make cycling in traffic safer.
I have spent over 5 years of my life on cycling journeys round the world. I have ridden in cities far more chaotic and dangerous than London. I have ridden thousands of miles on roads with badly-maintained vehicles and poor or non-existent driving standards. I have also lived and cycled in cities in Britain for many years. So here are my tips on cycling more safely in traffic:
My suggestions on equipment to help you be safer on the roads:
- Wear a helmet (I know you don’t have to, but it seems a damn good idea to me).
- Bright front light. Really bright.
- Bright back light. Really bright. Better still: use two or three.
- Front and back light also fixed permanently to your helmet with cable ties.
- Being lit from the side is a good idea too – either with something like these Revolights or the simpler option of reflective tyres.
- Reflective kit is fabulous: on your rucksack, your ankles and your body (either a bright yellow jacket or a reflective vest). And this stuff is both reflective and cool.
- A mirror (unless you are good at looking over your shoulder every 5 seconds without wobbling).
- Don’t listen to music whilst cycling.
My suggestions on riding techniques in traffic: (repetitions are deliberate)
- Don’t cycle up the inside of vehicles, especially big ones.
- Assume that every vehicle is about to suddenly turn left without indicating or looking in their mirrors.
- Obey the law like vehicles do. Drivers shouldn’t have to deal with people swerving around, nipping onto pavements and jumping red lights.
- Glance over your shoulder every few seconds.
- Assume that the doors of parked cars are going to be flung open at any moment. What will happen if you swerve to avoid it?
- Get in front of all traffic at traffic lights. If you can’t do this, then be careful as you all begin to move again. Beware of left turns. Beware of railings boxing you in.
- Make eye contact with drivers as much as possible, then communicate clearly with hand signals. Give a thumbs up if they are nice to you.
- Be prepared to ride at different speeds: sometimes you need to accelerate hard to get into a safe position (setting off after red lights). Slow and wobbly is less safe than swift and smooth.
- Get into position early. If a bus or parked car blocks your lane ahead then you should move out into the next lane as early as is safe.
- Don’t ride in the gutter – give yourself space.
- Obey the law.
- Don’t cycle up the inside of vehicles.
- Assume that every vehicle is about to suddenly turn left.
What have I forgotten?
Finally, here are some of the best suggestions I received on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve avoided duplicate ideas, finger-pointing ideas or ideas aimed at motorists.
@therideround More assertive cycling. Get out of the gutter. Take the lane if you need to. Compulsory helmets bad idea. Lights no argument.
@AmyBBirks As a cyclist, I ride like a motorist would drive so they know what to expect & envision smiling faces behind their windshields.
@HarryGuinness Enforce helmet requirement. I have a friend in a coma; if he’d been wearing a helmet things may have been better.
@ShaneCycles Would also help if cyclists and motorists stuck to the rules. Idiots blasting through red lights don’t help the cyclists cause.
@missgeorgieo try to keep a calm manner & always be as aware as you can be of everything around both driving & cycling.
@mbybee Follow the laws. I lose it when I see bikes break the law.
@quixoticgeek Get out the gutter and stop jumping red lights.
@Edward_Morgan Remove earphones perhaps? Especially in the case of cyclists.
@DaleFTW Not be impatient arseholes.
@biovelo Don’t stop beside parked traffic at lights.
@lukesweetman 1. follow the highway code 2. Get a good set of lights 3. Wear a helmet.
@cthompson01 my biggest annoyance w/ fellow runners and bikers is that some love to dress in black to look cool. Wear brighter colors!
@DareDoes This isn’t us v them. Some cyclists, some drivers & some peds act like idiots. Time to learn roads are to be shared.
- Tom Pakenham be polite and seek eye contact
- Dave Cornthwaite Leave home/office 5 minutes earlier. Slow down. Know where blind spots are for different vehicles. Stick to the lights. Wear helmet. Share the road.
- Mark R. Soler Look over your damn shoulder!
- Ben Keene … don’t go near big vehicles because they’re dangerous.
- Escape the City Compulsory helmets, high vis, and lights? Segregated cycle routes where possible? Fewer bans on cyclists in parks? Confront the taxi+bus vs cyclist war…?! Indicators on bicycles?
Get out there and ride!
Be safe, be courteous. Be safe, but please keep riding. The more people that ride, the better the situation will become.