Hints & Tips

Ask the Expert: What’s The Safest Way to Cycle Over Railroad Tracks and Tramlines?

Stay upright when the metal lines strike

Tramlines seem like a great idea – they cut down on short car journeys, and make getting around cities like Manchester, Edinburgh,  Croydon really easy. Unfortunately, they’re not too great for cyclists.

It’s incredibly easy for a cyclist to come down after catching their wheel in the groove of a tramline or railroad track, or to lose balance catching the metal at the wrong angle.

We asked nine time National Cyclocross Champion Helen Wyman for her advice on how to cross them without the risk of ending any way but rubber side down, safely on the other side:

“Always hit them at this angle…” – Helen demonstrates a perfect crossroads – one hand representing the tramline, and the other that of the perfect rider’s path. 

After  some deliberation, we both agree this is a 90 degree angle – but the important point here is that the rider’s wheel is going to hit the track in a straight line. 

As Helen explains: “Always go straight  over them, never hit them at a slight angle, because that way you’ll skid.”

She adds: “Ride straight at them and lift your front wheel as you approach. That way as you’re kind of popping over them.”

The Bunny Hop

Popping the front wheel is a skill often used by mountain bikers to bunny hop (so it’s understandable cyclocross champ Wyman would favour this option). It’s a useful string to you bow and can be helpful when pot holes or other obstructions get in your way.

It’s best to practice this on a quiet road, or car park, not at the point that you decide to cross some railtracks. We’ve got a guide on the slightly more harcore version – the manual – here. 

You won’t be trying to hold the movement, so just need steps 1-6. In short, keep your weight in your hips, get out of the saddle and bend your knees to a squat position, then slide your weight back of the wheel hub. This should cause the front wheel to ride – you shouldn’t need to pull on the bars – and your arms should stay straight. It’s all in the balance of weight, not in yanking the bars.

If You Don’t Want to Hop It?

If you’re not happy bunny hopping, then hitting the track at the right angle should be enough. However, it is wise to lift yourself out of the saddle slightly, to prevent any movements in your body causing a skid.

Slow Down and Be Careful in the Wet

Hopefully, it goes without saying, but slowing down before you hit the tracks will help you to maintain better control, and will also mean that should anything go awry, you’ll be more able to react in time to prevent a fall.

Metal is much more slippery in the wet, so take extra precaution in these conditions, and remember that getting off to walk a couple of metres can sometimes be better than the alternative!

After more tips? Check out our The Ultimate Guide on How to Start Commuting by Bike.

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