26 Tips to keep new bicycle commuters safe
You’ve got the bike. Now what? Here are 26 tips to make your journey to work easier and safer – or help convince you to stick at it.
1- Bicycle Accessories
It’s not all about the bike. Don’t forget to budget for lights, lock, mudguards, bag, tools, helmet, and cycle clothing. You can get them as part of your Cyclescheme package. In fact, you can get the accessories by themselves – great news if you’ve already got a bike.
2- Bicycle Bag
Panniers, rack-top bags, and saddlebags beat backpacks for luggage, especially for heavier loads and longer journeys. With the weight on your bike instead of your shoulders, you’ll sweat less and you won’t get a sore backside and numb or tingling hands. Any bike can carry some luggage.
3- Bicycle Clothing
Lycra makes sense for a fast ride on a road bike. For a trip into town? Not so much. Why not specify your bike to suit your clothing rather than vice-versa? An upright roadster with mudguards and a chainguard can comfortably be ridden in a suit – or a dress.
4- Bicycle and Dogs
Some dogs are friendly; others want to chase and bite you. Try dog psychology first: point at it and shout ‘stay!’ in a commanding voice. No luck? Can’t outpace it? Dismount, put the bike between you and the dog, and try again. Still, coming? Arm yourself with your D-lock…
5- Cyclists and Exhaust fumes
Face masks are primarily useful for cyclists with existing respiratory problems. In urban areas, air quality is typically worse inside cars, where the pollution from the exhaust pipe in front doesn’t disperse as it does outside. On a bike, of course, you can go where heavy traffic isn’t.
6- Cyclists’ Food
Even moderate cycling burns around 300 calories an hour, so a half-hour each way commute means you can have a cake with your morning coffee and not put on weight. No special diet is required for commuting, although longer-distance commuters will need to
7- Bike Gears
It doesn’t matter how many gears your bike has as long as they’re low enough for your commute. Singlespeeds and three-speed hub gears are fine in flatter cities, while derailleurs help with hills. If you find climbing hard, get a bike whose biggest sprocket has more teeth than the smallest chainring.
8- Bicycle Helmet
Cycling isn’t dangerous. Many more drivers and pedestrians suffer head injuries than cyclists. But helmets do offer protection if you fall off your bike and hit your head. Cheap helmets pass the same safety standards as expensive ones. Get one that fits comfortably and wear it correctly.
9- Bicycle Insurance
If your commuter bike gets stolen or trashed, cycle insurance is a painless way to replace it. It’s especially important when you’re effectively buying your bike in instalments. Fortunately, Cyclescheme participants can save 15% on Cycleguard cycle insurance. For an instant quote, visit cycleguard.co.uk/cs15.
10- Cyclists and Junctions
Traffic interactions at junctions should be straightforward if only everyone observed rights of way and showed common sense. But they don’t. Some road users don’t even seem to look. If right turns and roundabouts make you nervous, sign up for some cycle training: see dft.gov.uk/bikeability.
11- Cycling and Saving – Ka-ching
Cycle commuting saves you money. If you travel five urban miles each way, you’ll save around £500 on fuel alone by cycling instead of driving. (Factor in fixed costs and the savings are much higher.) You’d save hundreds by switching from public transport too.
Just remember to put a little money aside for maintenance; cycling isn’t free.
12- Bicycle Locks
Every year, around 100,000 bicycles are reported stolen just in England and Wales. Get a good lock. The police recommend spending at least 10% of the value of your bike on security for it. Buy a D-lock or big chain rated Sold Secure Gold. In high-theft areas, use both.
“When your legs scream stop and your lungs are bursting, that’s when it starts. That’s the hurt locker. Winners love it in there” – Chris McCormack
Lock. Every year, around 100,000 bicycles are reported stolen just in England and Wales. Get a good lock. The police recommend spending at least 10% of the value of your bike on security for it. Buy a D-lock or big chain rated Sold Secure Gold. In high-theft areas, use both.
13- Bicycle Mudguards
The essential transport cycling accessory. Full-length guards that fix to the frame and fork are best. They keep you clean and dry on wet roads, and they keep your bike cleaner too so it needs less maintenance. Even if you wear bike gear, mudguards prevent you having to pull on soggy kit for the commute home.
This is the formula for working out how many bikes to own, where N is the number that you currently own. There’s always room for another bike! Bikes aren’t like cars; they’re more like shoes, with different kinds being more or less suitable for different tasks.
15- Bicycle Oil
A bicycle chain needs oiling: monthly during summertime, weekly in winter, and after any ride in heavy rain. Pedal the cranks backwards by hand and apply oil to each link where the chain emerges from the bottom of the derailleur. Use newspaper to catch drips and a rag to wipe off excess oil.
16- Bicycle and Punctures
Flat tyres are rare. You can make them rarer by using tougher tyres and keeping them properly inflated – see page 21. If you do puncture, it’s only a five-minute delay so long as: you are carrying a spare inner tube, two tyre levers, and a pump; and you’ve practised fitting an innertube at home.
Bicycles are faster than cars in busy towns and cities because they can keep moving while cars sit in queues. Don’t worry about your top speed on a bike. Instead, pick your route so that you’ll be stationary for as little time as possible. Use back streets and cycle tracks to avoid main road traffic lights.
18- Bicycle Road tax
‘You cyclists don’t even pay road tax,’ the angry driver says. No one does. There’s no such thing. Vehicle Excise Duty is a vehicle tax that doesn’t directly pay for the roads. The amount of VED you pay depends on the vehicle’s CO2 emissions. Bicycles are zero-emission vehicles. So they’re exempt.
19- Bike Saddle
There is no one perfect saddle. But there is a saddle that you will find comfortable for the cycling that you do. It will carry your body weight on your sit bones rather than soft tissue, and it will need to be set at the right angle and right height. Feeling sore? Try a wider saddle, set dead level.
20- Take the lane
Hugging the kerb may feel safer but it isn’t. Whenever there isn’t room for you to be overtaken safely, dissuade drivers from doing so by riding in the centre of your lane. You are the traffic! Approaching a pinch-point, a blind corner, give way markings, or traffic lights? Take the lane.
21- Cycling Uphill
Cycling up hills is hard work that’s harder still in the wrong gear. Change down in good time and keep pedalling at a brisk cadence. If you’re in bottom gear and the hill is still too hard, your gears don’t go low enough. Get a hybrid, touring bike, or mountain bike – or choose a route that avoids the hill!
22- Cycling and Visibility
Any bike on a public road between dusk and dawn must have a white front light, a red rear light, a red rear reflector, and amber pedal reflectors. Reflective details on your clothing or the bike help you stand out at night, while a brightly coloured jacket or jersey improves visibility during the day.
Don’t be misled by the words ‘showerproof’ or ‘water repellent’, which are secret code for ‘leaks like a teabag’. For actual British rain, you need clothing made from waterproof fabric with taped or welded seams. Even then, you’ll need to cycle slower too to avoid overheating and getting damp with sweat instead.
24- Size and Cycling – XXXXL
Cycle commuting isn’t just for skinny people. It’s ideal low-impact exercise for anyone with a high Body Mass Index, as your weight is carried by the bike. Get a sturdy hybrid with wider tyres and go at your pace, keeping distances short, to begin with.
Cycling keeps you young. According to the British Medical Association, regular cyclists enjoy a level of fitness equivalent to someone ten years younger and live an average of two years longer than sedentary individuals.
26- Cycling and Zebra crossing
Pedestrians have right of way here. Give them time and room. The same goes for shared-use cycle tracks and bridleways, where cyclists are obliged to give way to walkers. Slow down, ping your bell, and pass with plenty of room. Some drivers might bully or buzz past cyclists, but there’s no need to pass on the aggression.