As part of RoSPA’s Family Safety Week, Matt Cryer, our awards and events development manager, blogs on his reflections as a part-time cycle-commuter in Birmingham. The views contained are Matt’s own.
I live five miles from RoSPA’s head office. I cycle in around three days a week, using a combination of roads and traffic-free cycle paths, depending on the time of year. Here are my top tips and observations about how to safely enjoy riding to work.
First and foremost, get to know your bike, and make sure it’s well maintained. This not only makes your bike safer, but also quieter and easier to ride. I’ve not always been great at this – noisy gears or squeaky brakes don’t inspire confidence and can hamper your enjoyment of riding to work.
Before heading out, I always give my bike a visual check (see the M-check safety video for how to quickly carry this out), and make sure my tyres are correctly inflated, as under-inflation makes them more prone to puncture from on-road debris. Finally, I check that my lights are working, and that I have a spare set of batteries. I also choose to wear a helmet and a high-visibility reflective jacket to improve my visibility to other road users.
Before you head out, choose a route you are comfortable with. You can often avoid heavy traffic and tricky junctions without making your commute much longer. For example, during the darker winter months, I tend to commute primarily on the road, but in the lighter months, I have the alternative of combining this with unlit cycle paths, which reduces risk by letting me cycle away from other traffic.
Build your Confidence
It’s easy to feel vulnerable on city roads and to want to hug the gutter to stay away from traffic. However, this isn’t the safest place. Gutter debris, painted lines and drain covers all make this a risky position to take on the road – particularly when it’s wet. On roads with parked vehicles, you’re also putting yourself in the “door zone”, at risk of colliding with opening vehicle doors.
I found reading up on road positioning to be really helpful. Learning about the primary (centre of traffic lane) and secondary (approx 0.5m-1m from kerb) positions and when to use them will transform the way you ride. Good positioning, clear hand signals and regular looks over your shoulder will help make traffic aware of your direction and intentions, and much less likely to squeeze you with an overtake where there’s not really enough room.
Vehicles will occasionally squeeze you with an overtake where there’s not really enough room. Not everyone makes good decisions, but don’t let it knock your confidence, or make you unreasonably angry, as both these states of mind affect your own judgement and concentration as you continue to ride. Just carry on riding positively and positioning your bike carefully – or take time out to calm down.
Don’t get too confident
Having been a cycle commuter for some time, I often feel my biggest risk is over-confidence. I enjoy riding in traffic, and making faster progress than other vehicles can definitely give you a buzz. But it’s easy to want to make progress at all costs, which can sometimes go against good judgement.
Be particularly careful when moving past stationary traffic, which won’t always be looking out for you.
While it might feel safer, make sure you only ever filter on the left if there is no chance that the traffic will start flowing suddenly.
From experience, drivers are less likely to check their left-hand mirror in heavy traffic and you don’t want to be caught on the inside of a long vehicle if it starts moving – particularly if it chooses to turn left. This is one of the most common causes of fatal cycling accidents, due to vehicle blind-spots.
In stationary traffic, also be extra aware of pedestrians, who may register that vehicle traffic has stopped and step into the road without looking out for cyclists. This one nearly caught me out just last week. I avoided the pedestrian, but ended up in an undignified heap on the floor.
Most of all, enjoy it!
With careful maintenance, thought-out road positioning and confidence, I find cycling to work extremely enjoyable and great for keeping fit.
Be sure to check out the Family Safety Week website for more advice on cycle safety for you and your family.