Doing your bit for the environment, and getting your fitness fix in a time efficient way - cycling to get around is fantastic. However, worries over safety when riding in traffic and concerns around mechanical failures can stop you getting on the bike.
These worries absolutely don't need to prevent you from taking to two wheels - and considering the alternatives we certainly wouldn't advise it! Knowing you're well equipped with the knowledge and skills required will help you feel more confident on the roads. Here are some essential skills to make sure you're a happy commuter cyclist.
Know How To Look Over Your Shoulder
It's important to learn how to look over your shoulder without your front wheel following your gaze so that you can check what's coming before making a maneuver. This is trickier than it sounds because your front wheel naturally follows your eye line.
Get some practice in a quiet area as this will help you navigate through traffic safely, without veering off into a car, or lamppost! A great way to do this is to ask a friend to stand behind you, holding up a number of fingers - for you to tell them how many you can see.
Know How To Position Yourself On The Road
Road positioning is really important for the safety of yourself and others around you and the ideal position will differ depending upon the situation.
In most cases, you should take the secondary position - this is around one meter from the curb. Riding closer than this actually encourages drivers to overtake closer, and gives you no room for movement should an obstacle appear in your path.
In cases where the road is narrow, and there is no room for a car to overtake, you should instead take the primary position - in the middle of the road. This is not arrogant or rude, and it is the option advised by cycle commuting coaches. This means that drivers will not attempt to pass where there is not room, and you should take the same position when passing parked cars to give room for doors to open, at junctions and roundabouts (using the same lane as you would as a driver).
When waiting at traffic lights, you can chose between waiting at the front of the traffic, or in the primary position in the queue. Never sit to the left and side of traffic, especially when there is a left hand turn ahead.
Know How to Indicate Correctly
It's important to know how to signal to other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians when you want to make a maneuver. Approach the junction with plenty of time, and signal your change in direction with the respective arm.
Be careful though, taking your hand off the bars will reduce your stability so it's best to practice somewhere quiet before getting out on the road.
Know How to Mend a Puncture
They can happen any time, or any where - so it's important to know how to quickly and efficiently change a punctured inner tube. Ensure you have your puncture repair kit, and inner tube with you at all times. Pull off to a safe and convenient stopping point before changing your tyre.
Be Confident Riding at Night
Especially in these winter months when the days are short, riding in the dark is inevitable. Even if you don't plan to leave in the dark, you may get held up so you should always be prepared.
It's important to stay safe, and stay seen, so bike lights and bright clothing are essential for any commuter cyclist.
Know How To Approach Hazardous Surfaces
When cycling on the roads, it won't always been smooth tarmac you encounter. Be prepared for uneven surfaces, and difficult terrain that comes with varying weather conditions.
The most common difficulty is cycling over gravelly loose terrain, wet tarmac, and ice. If you can master this, you'll glide over anything. In all cases, the most important thing is to remember that your stopping distance is greatly reduced. If you feel you're at risk of skidding, hold the front wheel straight, and avoid braking suddenly.
Check out these three guides for more detail:
Know How To Relax On the Bike
Stressful situations can occur when you're riding in traffic. Always remember to breathe and keep calm. If you find yourself in a position that makes you nervous, just slow yourself down and remember your basic principles about road positioning. Try to make eye contact with other road users, so you know they've seen you, and keep smiling.
Remember, stay safe and stay seen while commuting on your bike. For more information about cycling in traffic, and populated areas, consult the highway code.
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