10 safety tips for bicycle commuters

Keeping safe on the roads isn’t easy when you’re commuting on your bicycle, and who’s actually got the right of way means little at the moment when disaster strikes. As a cyclist in the city, you need to obey the rules of the road while also predicting how those around you may bend or break them.
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1. Be suspicious of the only stationary car in the bunch

You’re cycling along as traffic pulls away from a traffic light, but one car remains stationary. It could be nothing – it might simply have stalled or be waiting for a gap to turn right. The natural reaction is to move on, but the best course of action is to be extra careful in case a sudden manoeuvre takes you by surprise. Also beware pedestrians crossing ahead (especially near bus stops), oncoming vehicles turning right into a junction to your left, or people getting out of the car.

2. Beware vehicles turning left

There’s a reason that this tip so often repeated: left-turning trucks at junctions are one of the most evident threats to bicycle commuters in the UK. Overtaking on the left, also referred to as undertaking (pun for emphasis!), can be fatal when there’s a barrier or other restriction to the left of the rider. Heavy goods vehicles have notoriously large blind spots, so cyclists are urged not to undertake trucks, especially at traffic lights. When cycling alongside traffic (trucks or otherwise), don’t cycle in the blind spot and keep an eye on the vehicle’s indicator to minimise the risk of being sideswiped.

3. Use the Bike Box

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The allocated bicycle block at traffic lights is there to provide a safe zone for cyclists to be visible, and a launch pad for them pull away quicker and not get in the way of turning traffic. Like red lights, bike boxes are designed to keep all road users safer, but don’t take chances to get there (such as undertaking a bus). If there’s already a vehicle (illegally) idling in this area, don’t go into the space ahead of the bike box, which is allocated for pedestrians. Technically this is the same as running a red light.

4. Don’t hug the kerb

A healthy amount of confidence on the road can go a long way. Many novice cyclists allow themselves to get relegated to the road shoulder unnecessarily, where they are forced to run the gauntlet of rubbish, grids, potholes, pedestrians and car doors. When riding close to the kerb, cyclists need to pull into traffic to move around parked cars. In the long run, this can be more dangerous than keeping to a predictable line further into the carriageway. You should not obstruct traffic, but the law is on your side if there’s no way for vehicles to get safely around you on a narrow road, so take the lane.

5. Assume all pedestrians are sleepwalking

Anyone who has ever cycled in a busy urban area will know how pedestrian, especially those on their phones, can stumble into the road without looking (or looking in the wrong direction). So assume everyone ahead of you is about to do something unexpected and you’ll be less likely to smack into them.

6. Be aware of immediate surroundings, near and far

Seasoned cycle commuters can spot and avoid a potential hazard before it becomes a real threat, and getting to know your route is a good start. The rhythm of traffic lights, merging vehicles or rubbish blowing across the road - being aware of what’s in the distance makes for a safer journey.

7. Indicate!

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Indicating is a no-brainer, and casual glances over your shoulder every minute or so keep you wise to what’s going on around you. It may take some practice to be able to look over your shoulder and indicate without veering off-kilter, but checking your blind spot before indicating increases your awareness and makes your intentions twice as clear. Lights on the front and rear (as well as a rear reflector) of your bike are necessary by law at dusk -reflective clothing is also an option, but making eye contact is perhaps the best way to ensure you’ve been acknowledged.

8. Know when to dismount

There’s absolutely no shame in dismounting and walking if you feel unsafe. But cycling over pavements and pedestrian crossings doesn’t help anyone. It’s illegal, unsafe and generally pretty selfish.

9. Keep bike and body in good nick

Riding a bike with soft, balding tyres and dodgy brakes is an accident waiting to happen. It’s also just as important to keep your body in good riding form by making sure that you have eaten and are adequately hydrated for the journey ahead. Never push through if you feel dizzy or lightheaded. It may be wise to keep an emergency snack in your bag if you’re prone to dips in blood sugar.

10. Be patient and forgiving

Tensions run high on the roads, and people can be aggressive even when they know they’re in the wrong. I’m not a crusader and I prefer not to lecture others about skipping red lights and the like, though I might (calmly) let drivers or cyclists know if they have nearly injured someone through ignorance or negligence. Have you got an more top tips to help keep cyclists safe on the road? Let us know...
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