Road positioning and turning

Taking the middle of the lane Credit: Adrian Lewis

One of the key principles of safe cycling is to cycle in a prominent position on the road where you can be clearly seen.

Avoid cycling very close to the kerb or edge of the road, which reduces your room for manoeuvre and makes you more likely to hit drain covers and potholes. You should ride at least about a metre away from the edge of the road.

Proper road positioning can be summed up in the following points made by the cycling expert John Franklin:

Increase your margin of safety … by riding where you can obtain the best view, where you can best be seen by others and your movements predicted.”

Good road positioning is not about keeping you out of the path of other traffic as much as possible. Contrary to popular belief, this is not necessarily the best way to maximise safety.”

John Franklin, Cyclecraft, The Stationery Office (2004).

In certain situations it may be safer to use all the space that your side of the road or lane allows, i.e. take a position in the centre of the lane or your side of the road. This may be necessary if there is not enough room for cars to overtake you without forcing you too close to parked cars or the side of the road.

You should also take all of your lane when approaching a junction where it might be unsafe for a vehicle to be next to you or to come alongside you (for instance where it might turn across the front of you - “cutting you up”).

If there is a car behind you a quick look at the driver and a hand signal will indicate that you are about to move out into the centre of the road/lane. Once you feel that it is safe for the vehicle to overtake, you can move across and allow them to do so.

Try to keep at least a door’s width from parked cars, as doors may open into your path. If the road has parked cars on both sides and there is no space for you and an oncoming vehicle to pass, slow down, and if necessary stop. You have equal right of way with other road users, but in all situations your safety should be your primary concern.

If you are stuck in traffic and vehicles are blocking your way forward you should not mount the kerb and ride on the pavement. Instead, wait until you can safely cycle forward, or get off and walk your bike until you can cycle on the road again.

Turning left and right

Signalling left Credit: Jeremy Hughes

When turning left, it is a courtesy to signal your intention.

Turning right can be more awkward as you may have to negotiate two lanes of traffic. When turning right you need to look over your right shoulder and signal with your right hand.

If the road behind you is clear, pull out into the centre of the road and turn right once there is no oncoming traffic.

If there is oncoming traffic then stop in the middle of the road until it has passed.

Whenever you turn left or right, always look for pedestrians as they may be crossing the road you intend to turn into. If a junction is very busy and there is no provision for a safe right turn, or you are in doubt about how to negotiate it, then get off and cross the junction on foot.

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Shift into the big chainring. Shifting into the big ring before a bumpy descent will help keep the chain from bouncing off. And should you crash or disengage your leg from the pedal, the chain will cover the teeth of the big ring so they don't bite into your leg.

Relax. Stay loose on the bike, and don't lock your elbows or clench your grip. Your elbows need to bend with the bumps and absorb the shock, while your hands should have a firm but controlled grip on the bars to keep things steady. Steer with your body, allowing your shoulders to guide you through each turn and around each obstacle.

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Don't oversteer or lose control. Mountain biking is much like downhill skiing, since you must shift your weight from side-to-side down narrow, bumpy descents. Your bike will have the tendency to track in the direction you look and follow the slight shifts and leans of your body. You should not think so much about steering but the direction in which you wish to go.

Rise above the saddle. When racing down bumpy, technical descents, you should not be sitting on the saddle but instead standing on the pedals and straddling the seat, allowing your legs and knees to absorb the rocky trail instead of your rear.

Drop your saddle. For super steep, technical descents, you may want to drop your saddle 2 or 3 inches. This lowers your center of gravity, giving you more room to bounce around.

Keep your pedals parallel to the ground. The front pedal should be slightly higher so that it doesn't catch on small rocks or logs.

Stay focused. Many descents require your utmost concentration and focus just to reach the bottom. You must notice every groove, root, rock, hole and bump. You, the bike and the trail should all become one as you seek singletrack nirvana on your way down the mountain. If your thoughts wander, then so may your bike, and into those trees you will go.

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