Top tips for cycling safely

Whether you want to be greener, avoid public transport or get more exercise, cycling can offer many benefits. But how do you make sure you’re safe on your bike, especially if you haven’t cycled for a long time? We take a look. 

Whether you want to be greener, avoid public transport or get more exercise, cycling can offer many benefits. But how do you make sure you’re safe on your bike, especially if you haven’t cycled for a long time? We take a look. 

Chris King
From the Home team
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Posted 19 JUNE 2020

How to be safe when you’re cycling

Whether you’re brand new to cycling for your commute to work or you’re an experienced rider, making sure you and your bike are safe is essential. 
Start with the basics. If you're buying a new bike, make sure it’s been assembled safely. You also want to make sure it’s comfortably set up for you – with the handlebars and saddle in the correct position. If you’re not sure how to do this yourself, ask the supplier you bought it from to make sure it’s road ready for you. 
If you’re getting on a bike you haven’t used for a while, have bought it second-hand or borrowed one, check it over. See cycling charity Sustrans’ guide to checking your bike in 11 steps. Then take it on a short test ride in a safe environment locally to see if there are any problems, that the brakes are working well and that the ride is comfortable. Take it to a local bike mechanic if you’re still not certain.  

The Government has recently promised vouchers will be issued for cycle repairs, to encourage people to get their old bikes out of the shed. It also says plans are being developed for greater provision of bike-fixing facilities.  
Get used to cycling on the road again. If it’s a long time since you got your cycling safety proficiency certificate at school, you might want to get used to being in the saddle again. Start somewhere safe, like a park, where you’re allowed to ride, then graduate to safer streets. 
It’s helpful to get comfortable looking over both shoulders to improve your visual awareness and make manoeuvring easier. 

Make sure you know your Highway Code

The Highway Code sets out the rules of the road for cyclists. Make sure you familiarise yourself with what’s expected and stick to the rules. For example, did you know that you’re supposed to keep both hands on the handlebars except when signalling or changing gear? 

Don’t forget, you must obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals. For example, don’t cycle through red traffic lights even if you think the road is clear. 

Plan your route

The most direct route isn’t always the easiest to cycle. You may prefer quieter routes with fewer hazards. Check out the UK-wide National Cycle Network, which has routes set up to promote cycling and exploring the great outdoors. 
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Government has promised a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy that will provide money for local councils to create pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors. So, if you’re nervous about cycling, ask your council what they’re doing and when any schemes will be operational. 

How to cycle in traffic

When riding, make sure you’re aware of what’s going on around you. 

  • Look all around before moving off from the kerb, turning or manoeuvring, to make sure it’s safe to do what you have planned. Make sure you give a clear signal to show other road users what you’re going to do.
  • Avoid having to swerve suddenly by looking ahead for obstructions, such as potholes, in the road and take action in plenty of time. 
  • Leave lots of room when going past parked vehicles and watch carefully for doors being opened or pedestrians stepping into your path. 
  • Be aware of traffic coming up behind you and don’t ride too close behind other vehicles. 
  • Be very careful near road humps, narrowings and other traffic-calming features. 
  • Take special care when overtaking. 
  • Don’t ride the wrong way up one-way streets or on the wrong side of the road. 
  • Don’t carry anything that could affect your balance, or get tangled up with your wheels or chain – this might also help save the cost of a repair too. 
  • Be considerate of other road users, especially blind and partially sighted pedestrians. Let them know you’re there, for example, by ringing your bell (if you have one). It’s recommended that you do have a bell fitted. 

Remember, you’re not in the Tour de France peloton. Never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and around bends.  

Can you ride your bike on the pavement?

No, you shouldn’t ride your cycle on the pavement even if it feels safer to you. You could be fined up to £500 or be given a fixed penalty notice of £50. You also could be fined if you stray over to the wrong side of a segregated cycle way with space for both cyclists and pedestrians. 

Riding at night

In the UK, there are legal minimum requirements for cycling after dark. A driver can’t avoid you if they can’t see you – visibility is really important for cyclists. You need one front white light and one rear red light, in addition to the reflectors that should already be on your bike. Flashing lights are allowed, but it’s recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp. White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. 
Remember to take your lights with you, especially after long, light summer evenings, as it can take you by surprise when the nights begin to draw in again.  
Your lights must be working properly and your reflectors must be clean and visible – so you may need to wipe them over from time to time. 
Wearing brightly coloured reflective clothing is sensible. It’s a good way to ensure you can be seen in the dark or on rainy or foggy days when visibility is poor. 

Get the right personal kit 

Before you start riding, make sure you’ve got the cycling safety gear you need to be safe on the roads.  

  • A cycle helmet that conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened. 
  • Appropriate clothes for cycling – avoid clothes that may get tangled in the chain or in a wheel, or may obscure your lights. You’ll also want clothes that are comfortable to cycle in, to keep you warm and dry in the cold and wet, and to make sure you don’t overheat or get sunburned in summer. 
  • Reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands), wheel lights and reflective strips can help you be visible in the dark. 

Are there any special tips for riding safely together as a family?

If you’re a parent wanting to ride with your children, check out the Bikeability website for tips on how to do this safely. 

Keeping your bike safe 

Keep your bike somewhere safe at home. When you use it outside you’ll need, at least, a good solid D-lock to lock it up. Choose how and where to leave your bike. Somewhere well-lit and busy is a good start. If you’re commuting to work, ask your employer if there’s somewhere safe that you can keep your bike. 
If you’ve got a front wheel that drops out easily you may need to take that with you. Remember to remove lights and take them with you. 
Having the right insurance for your bike means you can be covered financially if it does get stolen. 

See more on bike insurance

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