Not everyone can embrace the vigilante style of Dediare, but all road users should be responsible for their own actions. By taking actions to improve safety, you’re automatically on your way to being a conscientious road user.
In 2015, out of the 12,714 pedal cyclists involved in incidents where contributory factors were assigned to one or more of the vehicles involved, 178 of them had ‘disobeyed automatic traffic signal’ (just over 1%). ‘Not displaying lights at night or in poor visibility’ was assigned to 230 pedal cycles (2%). Other common mistakes include failure to look properly, poor turning, and entering the road from the pavement.
As cyclists tend to make the same mistakes, it’s important to be aware when you’re developing bad habits and correct yourself. The next few sections will go through the things within a cyclists control where small changes can have a big impact on safety.
a. What you need to know about other road users
Having personal experience as a particular road user and understanding their position on the road makes you appreciate their challenges and drive accordingly. Whilst everyone has experience as a pedestrian, most people only have experience as one or two other road users – potentially limiting someone’s understanding of what it’s like to be on the roads as a horse rider, cyclist or motorcyclist, for example.
But there are some essentials you should know about everyone. As Save Driving for Life explain:
- Every road user has a reason and a right to be there
- Every road user has something to deal with that may not be immediately obvious
- Every road user makes mistakes
- Every road user has an off day
b. The right equipment
Cycling is a simple pleasure. You can pick up a bike for relatively little, and there isn’t any need for fancy equipment. Even though you can also spend a fortune on all the latest trends and kit yourself out as if you’re a competitive cyclist, it’s not necessary. The clothes you use for the gym or general exercise can double up as cycling gear.
The lights required by law
- A white light should be fitted to the front
- A red light should be fitted to the back
- A red reflector should also be fitted to the rear
One of the most important bits of equipment you can invest in is a helmet. Although the only items of equipment you need by law are brakes and lights, a helmet will protect your head in the event of a fall or collision. First things first, you should choose a helmet that's British Standard BS EN 1078:1997.
You also need to ensure it's fitted properly to your head. A helmet should sit squarely, above your eyebrows and not tilted in any way. Every time you wear it, fasten the straps – you can easily test the tightness by making sure only two fingers can fit between strap and chin. It’s also recommended to replace your helmet every five years.
When purchasing a helmet, in addition to the British Standard sticker, look for one that offers:
- Sufficient padding
- Comfortable and easily adjustable chinstrap
- Plenty of ventilation
Other equipment you should consider includes:
- Yellow pedal reflectors of British Standard BS 6102-2 or an equivalent European Commission (EC) standard
- Reflectors on wheel spokes will also make you more visible to motorists
- A bell to alert other road users
c. Top tips on choosing a suitable bike for you
With specialist bike shops across the UK, and nearly every town with a store offering a range of quality bikes, it can be tricky to choose the right one. You’ve got to get the right size and type of cycle for comfort and safety. If you’re on a tight budget, this could be a second-hand bike. But wherever you’re buying your bike from, you should ask yourself:
- What type of bike do you need? Road bikes are designed for smoother surfaces and can go quicker than other types of bike on paved or tarmacked routes. But, if you’re looking to go off-road too, you might be better off with a mountain or hybrid bike.
|Bike type||Best use|
|Road bikes||Smooth surfaces e.g. tarmacked roads|
|Mountain bikes||Rugged trails|
|Hybrid bikes||Smooth surfaces or moderate gravel/rough surfaces|
|Specialty bikes (e.g. cruisers or folding bikes)||Smooth surfaces|
Once you’ve found your perfect bike, you should care for it properly. To maintain your bike correctly and enjoy hassle-riding cycling, you should check it regularly. Charity Sustrans have made it easy and broken the job down into 11 steps. All you need is a bike pump and set of Allen keys. Here’s their breakdown of what you should check:
- Rear wheel. It should always be tightly fitted. If your bike has a quick release lever, check it’s in the closed position. If it doesn’t, check the nuts on both sides are secure.
- Spokes. Pluck each spoke with your finger to check they’re of equal tension. They should all create a similar sound.
- Air in tyres. Soft tyres should be easy to spot, so don’t neglect pumping them up when necessary.
- Saddle. Keep your seat secure by tightening with an Allen key and make sure you’ve not exceeded the limits marked out on the seat post.
- Chain. The chain on your bike should always be clean and oiled to ensure smooth running. Keep it topped up with oil, but don’t overdo it as this can actually attract more dirt.
- Pedals. Give your pedals a quick spin to check the cranks are moving smoothly and are on tight.
- Stem. Stand in front of the bike with the front wheel between your knees and try to twist the handlebars. If there is too much movement, tighten up the stem bolts and handlebar clamp.
- Headset. Grasp the head tube and apply the front brake to steady the bike, before shaking the headset to check for any rocking that needs tightening.
- Brakes. Check the front brake by applying the brake and pushing the bike forwards, and check the back brake by applying the brake and pulling the bike backwards. If the brake lever pulls against the handlebar grip, the brake cable needs adjusting.
- Frame. Give your bike a once over and look for any cracks or damage to the frame.
- Front wheel. Apply point 1 to your front wheel as well.
d. Training and technology available for cyclists
If you lack confidence on the roads, or you think you need to refresh your knowledge of the Highway Code, why not try a cycling course? Safety can be dramatically improved by the education of cyclists.
The government-certified Bikeability course is a great start. All you have to do is turn up with your bike for practical instruction in one of three levels:
- The first level will equip you with basic control skills in a traffic-free environment
- The second will train you on how best to cycle on minor roads
- And the third level teaches you how to cope with those busier roads and complicated road layouts
In addition to training and education, there’s also some great technology available for cyclists. As well as wireless GPS monitors that will track your distance and speed (amongst other statistics), you can get Bluetooth locks, wireless LED indicators and rearview radars, which detect and warn you when vehicles are coming up from behind quickly. Keeping up-to-date with the latest technology can help you optimise your hobby.
e. Advice from the experts
If you’re new to cycling on the roads, it can be nice to have some advice from those who’ve had plenty of experience. David Dansky, head of training and development at Cycle Training UK, gave his tips for newly-converted cyclists:
- Make sure your bike is comfortable to ride and roadworthy
- Practise your bike control in a secure traffic-free area
- Once this is instinctive, practise sharing the highway on quiet roads
- Make sure you position yourself in the road away from the kerb, where you can be seen
- Make sure you communicate your intentions clearly to other road users
- Be aware of all other road users, looking behind you regularly
Victoria Pendleton, Olympic gold medal winner, also understands what it can be like on the roads: “It’s a risky business being a cyclist in the UK, there are a lot of people who really dislike us. It’s the Jeremy Clarkson influence – we’re hated on the roads. We just hope people realise we are just flesh and bones on two wheels.”
But with a long-term UK government target of increasing cycling from less than 2% of journeys in 2011 to at least 10% of all journeys in 2025, and 25% by 2050, increasing safety should be a priority for all.
After all, the past few years have seen something of a cycling renaissance in Britain – one that doesn’t look set to stop anytime soon. Cycling is a reliable, cheap, healthy and safe way for most people to get around. It’s good for the environment, the bank balance and the waistline.
With the use of roads necessary for most cyclists, an understanding of the Highway Code is a must. But it’s only with the consideration and knowledge of all road users that roads, a key component of the UK’s integrated transport system, can be a safe place for all. Familarise yourself with the guidance and rules provided here and do your part. Everyone deserves to feel safe when cycling.