12 tips for a first-time cycling commuter
The Tube strikes in London are prompting many people to cycle to work for the first time. What are the key tips for cyclists who have never braved rush-hour urban traffic?
1. Plan your route. "Take five minutes the night before and see whether there's a non-main road way of doing it," says Michael Hutchinson, former Commonwealth Games cyclist and a Cycling Weekly columnist. Look for quiet streets or canal towpaths, he adds. Cycling charity CTC recommends using Bike Hub's route planner. The London Cycling Campaign (LCC) has one too.
2. Bring some lights. "By law, when it's dark or there is bad visibility, you must have lights on the front and rear of your bike," says David Murray of CTC.
3. Prepare the bike. "If it doesn't get used very much, take five minutes to pump the tyres up and put a bit of lubricant on the chain," says Hutchinson. You might want to take some basic tools: "If a bike shop is not to hand having a pump, tyre levers, a multi-tool and a spare inner tube will get you out of difficulty," says Martin Key, British Cycling's campaigns manager.
4. Look well ahead for road obstructions, such as potholes and drains so you don't suddenly have to swerve to avoid them. "Planning ahead helps you to be prepared for junctions, roundabouts and traffic lights," says Murray. Regularly look behind you to see what is going on, too.
5. Cover your brakes. "Keep your hands on your brake levers, so that you are ready to use them," says David Murray of CTC. Always use both at the same time and apply pressure evenly, taking extra care if it's wet or icy or if there are leaves on the ground.
6. Always signal clearly. Well in advance of turning, look behind you, then signal and manoeuvre when it is safe to do so, says Murray. "If it's safer, keep your hands on the handlebar and brake levers rather than signalling." You should also keep your position in your lane so vehicles cannot undertake closely on your left.
7. Never undertake lorries on the left-hand side, especially at junctions - even if there is a cycle lane and advanced stop line tempting you to sneak up the inside, says Murray. "Remember, you are in the driver's blind spot and if the vehicle turns, you will have no escape. Far better to wait a few seconds behind the HGV than risk being crushed." If you do overtake, do it on the right.
8. Keep at least one metre from the kerb, says Murray - or further out if it's not safe for a vehicle to pass. That way have more room to get out of harm's way if someone does pass you inconsiderately, he says. "Keeping away from the gutter will also enable drivers to see you and help you miss the drain covers and debris on the side of the road, too." The LCC advises that it's safer to be assertive: "You have the same right to use the streets as other road users."
9. Leave plenty of room when passing parked cars, says Murray. "Scan the vehicles to see if anybody is about to fling open a car door or pull out into your path."
10. Make eye contact with other road users. This may tell you if the driver has seen you, says Murray.
11. Be law-abiding and considerate, the LCC's Tube strike guide recommends: "Slow down and give pedestrians lots of space on shared paths, where they always have priority."
12. Take it easy. It's not a race, says Hutchinson. The streets will be extra busy with cyclists and pedestrians. There's no need to cycle aggressively or turn up to work drenched in sweat, he says. "Leave yourself a little bit of time and enjoy the ride."
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