The vast majority of cyclists are frequently making these errors on the roads. Anyone who recognises and corrects their errors can cycle more safely, confidently and efficiently. Up until last week I was regularly making these mistakes too. However, a 2 hour course I completed last Thursday, by the highly recommended Cycle Training UK, completely changed my cycling technique. Here are the mistakes commonly made and how they can be corrected.
1. Riding where cars can’t see you
Perhaps the most frequent error made by new cyclists is riding in the gutter or too near the pavement. This often feels safer as you believe you are out of the way of cars. However, it is actually far more dangerous. For a start it encourages drivers to attempt risky manoeuvres when there is clearly not enough space to overtake you. You are also less visible not only to cars but also to pedestrians who step out onto the road. If there is an obstacle ahead it also means you have less room to avoid it.
This is one of the tips I have heard before for safe cycling but I was definitely ignoring it far too often. Now, when I’m in a position where I can travel at the speed of the traffic or I believe that a car is not safe to overtake me I travel in the centre of the lane. In-fact, cycling in the centre of the lane is my default position. I only move to the side when I comfortably feel a car can overtake me.
2. Not having an awareness of the road users behind you
Frequent glancing over the shoulder every 8-10 seconds gives you a good awareness of the road users behind. This means you don’t get any nasty surprises. The huge side benefit of this is that cars will feel like they are being watched and therefore will behave with more courtesy towards you. Also, by glancing, you draw their attention towards you so they recognise your position on the road. Eye contact has a huge role to play in keeping safe on the roads therefore don’t stop glancing behind you.
3. Allowing a car to pull up next to you at a junction
If a car manages to pull up next to you at a junction, then when it comes to move off you are going to be in a dangerous, narrow position. Instead, when you see a junction up ahead, you should move into the centre of the lane you are in. This prevents cars from forcing you into a horrible position and allows you to move off safely. I made this error during the training course and the instructor was less than impressed!
4. Moving off from the kerb with no clear view of where the cars are
This is an area I was far too casual with and it was putting me in a dangerous position and causing problems for drivers. What I was doing is flinging my bike onto the road where I can’t be seen and then cycling into traffic. Instead, I should position myself where I can very safely be seen from a distance and then hop on and start cycling.
5. Overtaking on the left where vehicles don’t expect a cyclist
During this part of the lesson I really started to question how appropriate cycle lanes are. It is also when I realised that rather than act like a cyclist I should be thinking more like a motorbike.
If, for example, you are approaching a set of lights and there are a few cars already there waiting for the green light. Instinctively, I would overtake on the left, often in a narrow cycle lane, to get to the front of the queue. However, if the lights turn green during this, then I have not put myself in a good position. Also, a car driver is trained to look to the right for people overtaking. This is a safer place to be. In general when overtaking traffic you should always do it on the right. You never know when a car is going to turn left into your path without looking.
6. Riding without fingers on brake levers
Hands should permanently be positioned on the brake levers so that if there is suddenly a need to brake sharply you are ready to do so. If this doesn’t feel comfortable then you should have your brake levers adjusted so they come closer to the handlebars.
7. Using hand gestures incorrectly
By the way, this doesn’t mean lifting the middle finger to bad drivers! You see a lot of cyclists on the road half heartedly using their arms to point the direction they are going in. Cars will rarely see this. Instead, your arm should be far out which shows authority on the road and is a clear indication of your intentions. If you feel scared to do this as your steering goes wobbly then you need to practise riding with one hand. A mistake I often make is to gesture my direction before I have glanced behind me. The glance always comes first.
Warning: Using these techniques will cause confidence!
Whilst it is fantastic to have me describe these techniques, as I am such a brilliant and talented writer, there is really no substitute for taking one of these courses yourself. These are often subsidised by the council so can cost as little as £7 per 2 hours of one on one tuition. Take a look on the Cycle Training UK website or the CTC website to find out more about taking a course.
If you only take two techniques away from this then the ones I have found most make the difference are the glancing and the centre of the lane position. These keep me travelling safely and quickly.
I’m glad this post is finally written as people may stop emailing me and telling me how great these courses are and how I should definitely mention them!
A special thanks goes out to David Dansky from Cycle Training UK who helped me vastly improve my cycling technique.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.