Leaflets on cycling: Cycling in traffic

Having got a bike, safety will be high on the list of your concerns. You are more vulnerable when cycling in traffic than in a car, but your concern and awareness of safety plays a big part in keeping you safe.

One reason why cyclists figure so highly in casualty statistics is because there are simply so many cycles in the area. Another is that, in common with motorists, not all cyclists take enough responsibility for their own safety. But, in spite of recent developments, the road system is primarily designed for faster moving motor vehicles, and you need to learn to deal with this environment.

The Cambridge area has a variety of special provision for cyclists, of variable quality. You may choose to use some of these facilities where they are available, but unless you artificially limit your horizons to the extent of the blue signs, you’ll need to cycle on the road in traffic, and it is important to know how to do so. You have an absolute right to cycle on the road, and need not feel apologetic about your presence there.

Also, don’t assume that when you are on a cycleway or in a cycle lane you are automatically safe and invulnerable. If you are sharing space with pedestrians (where this is allowed), as well as the intense irritation inconsiderate cycling causes, in a collision you would still probably come off worst.

Two key aspects to cycling safely in traffic are defensive cycling and assertive cycling.

Defensive cycling means being aware of what is going on around you all the time. Assume that everyone else is going to do the unexpected – the next car door will open in your way, the car overtaking you will turn left across your path, the cyclist at the next turning will pull out in front of you, and the pedestrian ahead will wander into the cycle track. Decide as you ride what you will do to avoid each potential incident.

Long vehicles cut across corners when turning, so never put yourself on their inside approaching junctions. Aim to be seen by other road users, and make eye contact with drivers waiting to pull out.

Assertive cycling means taking your proper place on the road, and making positive, clear movements. Cycle well out from the kerb – a metre or so according to conditions, but don’t cycle closer in just because you are being pressured from behind, because that gives you less escape room and encourages overtaking too close. When turning right or using a roundabout especially, position yourself much as you would in a car, using any turning lanes to the full.

It ought not to need saying, but you must obey traffic law. Pavements are for pedestrians, except where blue cycle signs indicate you can cycle. Traffic signals and one-way streets apply to cyclists just as much as motor vehicles. Sometimes, regulations aimed at cars don’t make sense on a bike, but join the Cycling Campaign to get the rules changed, rather than flouting the law.

If you are completely new to cycling, practice away from the road first. Learn how to look over both shoulders keeping a good balance. Make sure you actually see what is behind you – ask a friend to hold up a hand and you say which one. Practice signalling and slowing down simultaneously. Do these at normal cycling speed – it is easier to keep balanced when you are not going too slowly. A mirror might help (see ‘Equipment’).

Ask an experienced cyclist to help you. Watch how they deal with traffic. Cambridge Cycling Campaign may be able to find someone to help, and arranges training periodically.

Material dated: July 1997