Top 5 Tips for the Urban Cyclist
We're constantly asked our advice for the new and not so new urban cyclist so we thought we'd take a little while and pen out out Top 5 Tips For The Urban Cyclists. Enjoy the read and don't forget to leave your comments. We love to hear your insights.
1: Plan And Plan Well.
There’s a lot of truth in the old adage ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ and it’s no where more evident than in the contested space of the urban road. Instinct is a great tool in the right place but planing your journey probably isn’t it. Spend ten minutes carefully considering your route and you’ll almost certainly save time and build happiness. We cover journey planning more fully here but for now three key pointers.
- Choose roads which are appropriate to you, your level of riding and your actual ability. Just because you’ve seen some lycra clad beast flying down the dual carriageway doesn’t mean you have to. It is equally true that if you’ve been riding a while and have a good level of fitness there might not be the need there once was to share your route with Granny and her basket.
- Identify a route you might actually enjoy riding even if it adds a few more minutes. Your over all happiness far outweighs a few minutes difference in travel time. This might mean including the park cycle path, a canal towpath or just a simple detour down a slightly quieter road.
- Remember you can go where other’s can’t. If you’re an experienced driver or routinely travel on public transport then the odds are the routes you travel are neither appropriate nor ideal for traveling by bike. It is equally true that there will be dead ends which aren’t closed to cyclists, one way roads with a two way cycle path and traffic lights with cycle only filters. Find them, work them to your advantage and you’ll soon realise why so many people are replacing four wheels with two.
2: Be Nice
It’s a sadness we talk about a lot in the pod, but sometimes as cyclists we aren’t always as nice as we might otherwise be. When we sit on the saddle something strange happens and our pleasant human virtues are all too often left on the pavement. We all do it. Our focus is on other things, navigating busy traffic, getting home before the kids go to bed, getting out of town before rush hour kicks in or dodging the next shower to name but a few.
Yet the reality we learnt as children is as valuable now as it was then. A simple gesture of thankfulness, a nod of the head or a verbalising of appreciation (even if we can’t be heard and even if it’s not particularly true) goes a long, long way. I find that when I discipline my self to be nice even when it feels like utter sarcasm the whole riding experience just feels so much better.
Resist the temptation to make every journey into a battle, it isn’t, it doesn’t need to be and it shouldn’t become. The road is not a battle ground, it’s a shared space and so we need to share well.
Anyway, the suggestion that we all working on being nice is not exactly as selfless as it might first appear. The more gratitude you show (even when it’s not entirely deserving) the more you are likely to receive gratitude and when that gratitude comes in the form of space then the better you will feel and the better you feel the more gratitude you are likely to show. You’ll soon get wrapped up in a cycle of positivity that will become infectious, others will be thanking you without being quite sure what they’ve thanked you for. I turned my nemesis bus driver into what appears to the outside world to be my closest friend!
Adopting this way of being on the roads also goes a long way when from time to time we make a maneuver which is not in fact as perfect as it might otherwise be. Forgiveness is fast coming if we have a reputation for showing courtesy to others.
Being nice is a discipline, it’s easily neglected but makes a huge difference. Check out this great little video by Sydney Cycle Ways.
3: Spot The Parked Driver
Cycling through the city can be as enjoyable as any ride in the country, but you might need to sharpen up on a few less obvious skills, not least amongst them will be your need to spot drivers in what appear to be parked cars and to avoid that horrible moment when the door is flung open and you hurtle into it. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t always something you can mitigate against but 9 out of ten times it is.
Our tip doesn’t involve moving further out, sometimes that just isn’t possible (obviously do it when it is) it’s a simple call to be observant. Look for signs of people in the car. The more attentive you are the more you’ll learn your own ways to spot the signs. Feel free to leave your hints and tips below. We’re sure there’s hundreds!
Remember there are millions of cyclists for whom this has never been an issue, but you’d hate to be the odd one out.
4: Be Seen
There’s a time and a place to be small, nimble, agile and almost invisible. Traveling through the urban environment on your bike is not it! When your needing to be seen, do all you can to be seen. The small gestures of standing up on your pedals and angling your elbows out can be as helpful as the more obvious gestures of high vis clothing, uba bright strobe lights and reflective bands.
“Be seen and know that you have been seen”
It’s a really simple lesson which many of us learnt a very long time ago but it’s worth a quick reminder. If you’re sharing road space with other road users then there is only one way you know they’ve noticed your presence and that’s when the white’s of their eyes make contact with the white’s of your eyes. It doesn’t matter how bright your jacket, how many lumen your lights radiate and it especially doesn’t matter how expensive your bike was. If they haven’t seen you, they haven’t seen you, if you haven’t seen the whites of their eyes then you can’t possibly know that they have seen you.
In our stage three training program we work with adults and children nervous about cycling on roads and particularly about navigating round abouts. We get the to verbalise their actions as they take a round about and pass cars waiting to enter the round about.
“White’s of the eyes, white’s of the eyes, white’s of the eyes”.
Remember road users have dozens of demands on their attention. You, good friends are just one amongst many so you need to push yourself up the ranking with everything you have which nicely leads us on.
5: Hold Your Position And Be A Sod!
Sometimes it pays to follow your instinct sometimes it pays to discipline your mind and to counter your instinct. Of course which one applies is entirely dependent upon what the instinct is, what the situation is and what’s at stake.
When we learn to ride we all learn to do something against our instinct, whether we’re 5 or 55 our wealth of logic will be reminding us that our track record at balancing is not good, that the ground is hard and so is our head, that we’re sure something scarey once happened to someone who did this. Disciplining our minds against such instincts can feel like very, very hard work. They say the more intelligent you are the harder it is.
Well whether it’s difficult or easy, instinct or anti instinct, inside or outside of your comfort zone, your riding position is possibly the single most important factor in the safety of your riding and in the well being of your bike (we’ll come back to your bike later).
Most people reading this article will veer on the side of caution. It’s a sensible pattern of existence developed over millions of years of evolution. Perceive the risk, mitigate against it. Except that the logic employed assumes we have the foggiest idea what we mean when we describe the ‘risk’ and that might be one hell of an assumption. The risk is not the speed of the traffic nor particularly it’s proximity but its actual and more holistic relationship to you. There is one simple guiding question we talk about a lot:
‘Do other road users have to think, to acknowledge my presence and then to adjust there actions to pas me?’
The answer to that question should always be ‘YES!’
If the answer is ever ‘no’, then however safe you might think you are, you are in fact creating risks fr yourself and for other road users.
This way of riding is especially true for the urban cyclist. In reality you will rarely be holding up the traffic. In most big cities 20mph is plenty, add that to congestion and you are more than capable of keeping up with the flow. Position your self too near to the curb and you’ve just increased the risk for you and every other road user exponentially!
As cyclists we like to think of ourselves as benevolent folks doing our bit for the common good and if we’re honest many of us have a propensity to blame every other road user for all of the ills of the road. So let’s just slow down for a moment.
By hogging the curb you are implicitly inviting other road users to pass you by without maneuvering. Your position suggests to them that to do so is appropriate and what you expect. Why would they do anything else if they don’t have to? From screaming baby’s to broken radio’s, to endless congestion and faulty air con the average motorist has more than enough on her plate.
And then it all goes horribly wrong, at precisely the moment they pass you in all of that space you have created, you swerve to miss the all to predictable yellow line pot hole, the buggy penetrating the pavements edge, the stray dog, the icy puddle. . . let me know if I need to go on. And at best we have an accident and at worst we have a fatality, at best we have two mildly stressed people, at worst we have a number of lives destroyed.
So here’s my point. By forcing the driver to THINK you are doing everyone a favor!
It might be illogical, your instinct might be pulling you to the curb, but resist your instinct! You did when you first learned to ride (or walk, or talk) and you need to keep on resisting instinct in favor of good practice. Ride 1.5 m from the curb at all times. Ask yourself that one key question, ‘Does the car behind me need to think about my presence?’ You can be guaranteed that if he doesn’t have to, he won’t, I mean. . . why would he? You haven’t done the thing you need to do so why would anyone else?
Perfecting your road position is the most important tip we can give you. 1m - 1.5m from the curb ALL of the time.
Earlier I mentioned that a poor road position compromises the welfare of your bike and I promised to return to this bizarre claim, so here goes. It might have been more accurate to name the welfare of your purse. When a customer brings a repeated puncture into the pod we always ask one question, ‘Tell me about your riding position?” And we invariably get on answer “No it won’t be that I’m really safe. I ride bang inside the yellow lines!”
All roads are convex which means that over time all of the debris from the road makes it’s way into the gutter. If that’s where you ride then you can be sure that the debris will bless your inner tubes with its presence.
So adopting a road position is not only good for you and good for other road users but it’s also good for your bike’s maintenance and thus your purse!
So take it easy. Make them think! Keep safe, keep riding and don’t forget to keep smiling!