How to stay safe when cycling around potholes

At the London Cyclist we were very sad to hear that Olympic Champion Dani King had a nasty accident with a pothole last week.

In this case, the accident caused her five broken ribs and a collapsed lung – fortunately extensive injuries such as this are rare but it’s a reminder we receive all too often about the potential dangers.

Whilst we can’t miraculously improve the roads for you, we’ve provided some advice to help keep you safe on some of the less well maintained roads in Britain…

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

Look head

This one could perhaps go without saying, but you should stay alert when riding your bike. Look ahead at the road, and make sure you constantly scan your surroundings – looking side to side for wayward padestrians and turning cars, as well as straight ahead. Constantly checking the road in front of you means you’ll spot a hole earlier.

Be well equipped

It is a good idea to keep your tyres pumped to the correct PSI. If you are unfortunate enough to hit a hole, too little pressure can result in a pinch flat, whilst two much give you no bounce at all, and will hit the hole much harder.

Recommended PSI should be on the sidewall of your tyre, and you should go to the bottom end of the scale if you are quite light, and the top end if you are on the heavier side

Wider tyres on mountain bikes, hybrid bikes and cyclocross bikes can take much more of a hammering, if you ride a road bike, opt for the widest tyres you have clearance for – this is likely to be 25mm or 28mm.

Road positioning


Riding at the very edge of the road, next to the pavement, is a very common mistake made by new cyclists. Often, riders do this to ‘stay out the way’ of drivers, but it puts them at risk – at the edge of the road you are less visible, drivers will pass much closer, and you’ve got nowhere to go if a pothole appears in your path.

Ride around 1 metre from the curb on wide roads, giving yourself plenty of room to maneuver if needed. On narrow roads, take the primary position and ride in the centre of the lane – this is advised by cycle training instructors and perfectly within the laws of the road.

Don’t ride through puddles (unless you have no choice)

Puddles can hide a lot – particularly potholes, gravel, and rocks. If you can avoid it, do not ride through them. If you absolutely have to, try to stick to the edge, where it’s not as deep.

Call holes in a group


If you ride in a group you must learn to provide instructions to riders behind you.

Riding in a peloton on a group ride means the rider behind you cannot see the road clearly – if you see a hole coming up, or pass a hole, point to it, and shout ‘hole’ – this instruction should be passed back through the group.

If the rider in front of you alerts you, copy them and relay the message back, so you give an advanced warning.

If you happen to ‘hook up’ with another rider on a commute, and you are aware they are drafting your wheel (and you don’t mind sharing the load with them), you can extend the same courtesies.

Be ready for impact

If you do see a hole too late, or you are unable to go around it, don’t panic.

Grip the handlebar tightly – this will prevent you losing control, but keep your arms, elbows and knees relaxed, to absorb the blow. Point your wheel directly forwards, as letting it swerve increases the chance of losing balance.

If the hole was large and you think you are likely to have sustained a flat tyre, roll slowly and brake when it’s safe, without making sudden movements that could cause a deflated tyre to slip off the rim.

Once re-inflated, check your wheel for buckles – if it doesn’t run straight, ask a mechanic to true it for you, or do some research and have a go yourself.

Report it


If you see a hole, or are unfortunate enough to see it too late and hit it, report it. The CTC website Fill That Hole lets you report any hole to the relevant council – and they will have a set time in which they must respond.

Join 10,221 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

8 Responses to How to stay safe when cycling around potholes

  1. MJ Ray 11/11/2014 at 9:12 am #

    If you have a puncture while in a group, signal that you are stopping unpredictably by putting your arm in the air, as long as you can do so while keeping control of the bike.

    Other than that, this article has some dodgy auto correction in it.

  2. Hugo 13/11/2014 at 6:25 pm #

    You forgot “Learn how to ‘bunny hop’ on a road bike.”

    • Mik 14/11/2014 at 10:35 am #

      That’s definitely worked for me in the past.

  3. Jim 17/11/2014 at 2:21 pm #

    At night, a strong front light can also help – it’s no good looking ahead if it’s too dark to see the pothole till you’re right on top of it.

    If you cycle on a route regularly it’s also helpful to try and remember where the potholes are.

  4. Kristian 17/11/2014 at 9:19 pm #

    Riding 1m away from the curb is very impractical, if not, more or less impossible in any bigger city by my humble experience. By Murphy’s law, if there is enough space to ride that far away from curb, the road surface is good enough not to have drastic potholes, but as soon as you get onto something rather narrow, road-surface quality will drop drastically.

    Btw can anybody here point me or confirm that a deflated tyre will come off the rim by a sudden movement???? ‘Cause I got 2x big punctures a month apart not that far ago, caused by a nail at the same rubbish stretch of a slightly downhill road. 2nd time tyre got off in a couple of seconds, although I ride a hybrid, can’t imagine what can cause the tyre to come off.

    Grabbing handlebar tight helps, but keep elbows loose – need it for whatever correction needs to be done in a split second to keep the front straight-ish.

    • MJ Ray 18/11/2014 at 9:19 am #

      I suspect it’s better to say that “a deflated tyre CAN come off the rim by a sudden movement” not that it will. It’s more likely if your rims are narrow and the tyre has soft sidewalls, which are both more likely on modern racing bikes which sometimes run software tyres in a size like 23-622. I don’t remember it ever happening on 27×1¼ wheels with tough tyres (32-630 in ISO, I think) so a typical hybrid with 37-622 may be pretty unlikely.

      I ride a metre out in London (Westminster, Camden, Islington, Hackney) without much problem. I know it’d be nicer if we didn’t have to, but be brave!

  5. Pootler 31/12/2014 at 5:33 pm #

    TfL has their own ‘Repot IT’ page that you can report any road-related fault i.e. Pothole, traffic light

    I reported a faulty traffic light and they fixed it within 12 business days.

    • MJ Ray 01/01/2015 at 1:25 pm #

      When I click to view previously-reported issues, I get “Access to the specified resource has been forbidden.” I’d rather use because 1. I don’t have to worry about finding the right highway authority; 2. it’s published so if anyone does get hurt, they can see that the fault was reported and the authority failed to act.

Leave a Reply