7 mistakes you are making with your cycling and how you can correct them

David from Cycle Training UK, a not for profit organisation

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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87 Responses to 7 mistakes you are making with your cycling and how you can correct them

  1. Rider 22/05/2014 at 7:45 pm #

    “3. Allowing a car to pull up next to you at a junction”

    I followed standard protocol today. I was turning left but moved more towards the center so as not to get squashed. Driver behind began aggressively revving the engine and coming forwards, trying to force me into moving traffic. When I used my palm to tell them to keep back (now mm from my tyre), they instantly over-took on the wrong side of the road, right on the junction and yelling abuse. THIS is the attitude you get on a regular basis, far more than bad cycling IMO. I don’t ride to antagonize everyone, I think everyone deserves respect, but some drivers are a complete nightmare. p.s. The police car I pointed to.. I hope they DID stop and have a little chat with the driver. This type of driver gets people killed and is also the reason so many people use cameras to record evidence.

  2. Rider 22/05/2014 at 7:56 pm #

    “5. Overtaking on the left where vehicles don’t expect a cyclist”.

    To my understanding cyclists can filter on the left, not just the right. For instance filtering towards and entering an ASL. Some motorcyclists also do it in multi-lane traffic. I see this happen a lot in London. The driver needs to check both mirrors. I personally prefer to filter on the right for the reasons mentioned, although a lot of the times I will stay on the left and stay well behind the person in front, irrespective of their more of transport. I will also use primary position to deter dangerous over-takes and to warn other people of dangers ahead (such as passing through pinch-points including pedestrian islands. Often they fail to heed this warning, and instead see it as a form of aggression, despite all efforts to signal and generally ride in a safe, courteous manner. You can learn everything going on these courses but this will not deter the minority of drivers who hate cyclists in general and have, for decades, been allowed to act with relative impunity. Not any more.

  3. mairead 23/07/2014 at 6:51 pm #

    This is the first sensible article on how to ride a bike properly I have ever read. I got proper training before I started commuting in London but its woefully obvious the majority of other cyclists didn’t. I don’t want to blame the victim but I wish this information was more widely available and that other cyclists paid attention to it, and whats more I wish the majority of drivers understood the necessary road position for cyclists. I do feel if this was part of the standard british driving theory test then we wouldn’t have to put up with as much bad behaviour from other road users.

  4. MJ Ray 24/08/2015 at 1:28 pm #

    “6. Riding without fingers on brake levers”

    I can’t agree with that as a mistake, unless you’ve a very short and busy ride. We need to move our hands around to avoid having problems caused by holding the bars in one place for too long. By all means, move your hands back to the levers at the first sign of anything possibly hazardous, but it’s more of a mistake to have a one-position death grip than to ride with your hands elsewhere. And if you’re a bit slow at getting your hands back, consider fitting a rear footbrake – it won’t be as good as the front brake, but it may help.

  5. Chris 21/03/2016 at 1:49 pm #

    I have just taken up cycling in London again after a ten year absence and I am shocked at the difference. Ten years ago I found car and van drivers aggressive and dangerous in their attitude towards cyclists. But the only aggression I have experienced thus far, after two months of cycling from west to east London daily, is from fellow cyclists. I have found car and bus drivers in particular much more considerate than before. Eye contact is essential. Cyclists, on the whole, appear to be obeying the law but there are still too many jumping red lights and misbehaving on the road when there are perfectly good cycle lanes available.

  6. katharine 05/05/2016 at 2:42 pm #

    This is a useful article. I agree with the comment above, having started cycling again into London after a few years. I feel put at risk by far too many cyclists who undertake me, however near I am to the kerb. I’d rather be further out in the road but I don’t dare now, due to these risky, macho cyclists.

  7. vanessab 08/05/2017 at 5:19 pm #

    like the article,thankyou. Sadly I agree with the observation about cyclists overtaking on the left when I’m on my bike. It’s never happened to me before the last few months, but now it’s happened 3 times, so a new unwelcome hazard – I hate it!

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