I’ve been riding the roads of London to and from work for several years now. This is what I’ve learned. It was supposed to be a few bullet points. Oh well, maybe it will help you stay alive.
Be safe, be seen.
Helmets: I’m not going to weigh in on the helmet debate – a cycle helmet is designed and tested to protect your head in the event of a low speed incident in which your head contacts the road – beyond that it may or may not be of any use. It’s not a legal requirement, so up to you if you wear one. An ironic haircut will likely not save your life.
Hi-viz: You don’t have to dress in full fluoro like a worker on the train tracks in order to be visible, but wearing something to make you more conspicuous can be life saving. Some people go for a hi-viz backpack cover, I have a couple of hi viz bands I wear round my arms because I think it makes my hand signals more obvious. Reflective stuff is good because it only works when it needs to and remains inconspicuous the rest of the time.
Lights: Get some goddamn lights, keep the batteries charged, and use them. You need at least one red and one white flasher for city commuting. If you need a light to see where you’re going get an additional spot. At least 1w should be ok for the countryside. In some countries lights are a legal requirement.
2 Hold the road. Hold your line.
Primary position: This is probably the best piece of advice I could ever give anyone riding on the road. Adopt primary position whenever you need to and don’t be afraid to do so. Get out of the gutter. That’s where all the broken glass and nails are.
Primary position is where you move into the centre of your lane, thereby preventing traffic from overtaking you. Move into the centre of your lane whenever you feel that it is not safe for the cars behind you to overtake. You must do this in a confident manner and really hog the road because cars *will* try to get past you if they think there is a gap. Drivers sometimes don’t like this and will get on their horn or shout at you when they finally pass, but it’s a perfectly legal manoeuvre and will prevent you from getting into uncomfortable situations like being forced into a line of parked cars or out of your lane altogether.
Junctions: I often adopt primary when crossing a junction so cars turning out (and across my path) get a better view and see me earlier.
The left hook: Also never undertake a vehicle (in Britain and other left side driving countries) just before a left turn – there are plenty of drivers who indicate very late, or don’t even bother. The left hook is the cause of many deaths in the UK and lorries are often the perpetrators. If you are on the inside of a lorry when it is turning left, you are completely invisible. You’re in the blind spot. Just don’t go there.
Undertaking: Never undertake on a bend, especially a left bend. Vehicles often cut across and the only place you’ve got to go is the kerb.
Roundabouts: Sit in the middle of your lane. Don’t just sit in the far left, unless you’re turning left.
Filtering: The Highway Code is vague when it comes to filtering, or moving up the inside of slow or stopped traffic. In the UK it’s legal but you’re only supposed to do it if the traffic is moving at less than 10mph. Basically, be careful. Watch for passengers in the traffic opening doors; any parked cars on the left opening doors; and pedestrians crossing from either side. Nowadays once the traffic line slows I just overtake on the right like motorcycles do. It puts you in a much more visible position and gets you out of left hook situations. Never filter up the inside of long vehicles. If they have to move to the kerb you’re in the way.
Parked cars: When passing a line of parked cars always leave a good car door’s width between you and the parked vehicles to avoid getting doored by someone opening the door without checking. It does happen. Often riding at the correct distance will put you close to the centre of the lane in which case it’s best to just adopt primary position and not give cars behind you the chance to try and pass.
Traffic lights: Don’t always think that being at the front of the traffic line is the best place to be. Recently I’ve started pulling in behind the first vehicle at the lights and then riding with the traffic in primary position until it’s safe for me to move to the left. This seems to avoid causing congestion quite well – for example pulling into the Advanced Stop Box just as the lights change green mean you’re holding up the traffic. Also my London commute can get pretty busy with a group of cyclists vying for position at the front of the line – but I just hang back a car or two, then tuck in with the traffic and overtake them while they try to overtake each other. If you find yourself at the front of a line of traffic and the vehicle right behind you is a big one, like a truck, make sure you’re far enough forward so you can been seen from the cab. Make eye contact with the driver. Force him to acknowledge you.
Respect others: Hold your line. Don’t undertake other cyclists. Don’t be unpredictable and weave all over the place. Don’t overtake cyclists just as an obstacle is coming up unless you’re going to give them enough room to move out. Don’t be a dick. It’s not hard.
Don’t underestimate the power of implied eye contact:
Car behind riding on your rear wheel? Not sure if the car at the junction is going to pull out in front of you? Is that truck at the lights going to try and pass you as soon as they go green? Just glancing at the windscreen of a vehicle, especially if you make your head turn really obvious, is often enough to make them think you’re looking them in the eye. It’s usually enough to make it clear you’re well aware of them and I find it dissuades drivers from pulling stupid moves like overtaking when there isn’t space.
Check your shoulders: An extension of this is just checking over your shoulders – both shoulders – quickly and often. It suggests you might be planning to pull out and stops cars from passing. It will also let you know if another cyclist is trying to sneak up the inside. Do it often.
Use your hands: Indicate. Indicate. Indicate. Use your hands to show you’re turning, or passing, or changing lanes. I even try to indicate that I’m slowing to a stop at the kerbside. You can also use your hands to say thanks to other considerate road users. And to flip off inconsiderate ones.
Scrubbing not braking: Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a cycle is slowing. It’s especially hard if they slam the anchors on and you’re following close behind. Riding fixed gear has taught me that your travel is much more fluid if you scrub speed rather than brake outright, but the same principle applies to regular brake users. A little tap on the brakes here and there to regulate your momentum and check your speed is much more efficient than braking to a stop, starting up again, then braking hard again.
This brings me to…
5 Reading the road.
Three things: Look, listen, learn. Keep your eyes on what’s happening. Don’t listen to your iPod. Learn how to read the road. If you learn to read what’s happening a few seconds up the road you’ll soon find yourself caught in the magical flow. This is Zen cycling.
Move out way before you need to pass that parked van, overtake on the right if there’s a queue of cyclists filtering on the left, drop in behind the bus at the traffic lights, adopt primary ahead of the road narrowing, move out at a junction to prevent being cut up, the list goes on…
6 Don’t RLJ.
Yeah sure, there are exceptions. It’s 4am and there’s no traffic around. But 90 per cent of the time it just makes you out to be a dick. Especially if you do it when pedestrians are crossing and it’s their right of way. Man that grinds my gears. Red light jumping just makes everyone hate you, and for some reason it makes the hive mind think all cyclists are inconsiderate cocks. Obey the Highway Code. If you get pulled over by a cop for RLJing, you will get a fine.
7 Expect the unexpected.
You may be the most conscientious cyclist in the world, but only if you ride like everyone else on the road is attending a day trip to the dodgems for the visually impaired will you survive. Expect pedestrians to leap out like lemmings, other cyclists to race you, barge you and try to play Road Rash, while cars and trucks gleefully cut you up. If you expect this and more, you’ll be fine.
As Mark Twain said: “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.”