Top Ten Tips for Safer Riding

Much of riding safely in London is about road positioning. As cyclists we have as much right to use the road as other users, but can often be seen as ‘something to get around’. A few tips will help avoid those tricky moments as Anna Hughes explains 

One of the highest causes of injury to cyclists on London’s roads is being ‘doored’ (being clipped by an inattentively opened door). It’s painful, potentially fatal but something you can protect yourself from. Ride at least an arm’s length away from parked cars, giving you more reaction time and space if that door does open. This may mean you are towards the centre of a narrow road, leaving little room for traffic to pass, which can be daunting if there is a car behind you. Stick to your position and make eye contact with the driver; this should encourage them to give you more time and space. If you feel the driver is being impatient or putting you at risk and you’d rather they overtake, by all means pull over and let them pass, but not by going into the door zone.

Having someone squeeze around you at a junction is potentially dangerous — and keeping to the left or right of the lane gives space for someone to do just that. Be bold at junctions by ‘taking the lane’ (riding in the middle). This central position will encourage the person behind you to wait behind until you have completed your manoeuvre. This applies whether you are turning left or right or going
straight on, and applies to all junctions including T-junctions, crossroads, traffic lights and roundabouts. Keep the central position until you have cleared the junction, then return to your normal riding position. 

At many traffic-light controlled junctions there is an Advanced Stop Line for cyclists, or ‘bike box’ as it’s more commonly known. These can be advantageous to cyclists for several reasons: you have a clear view of the junction; everyone can see you; if you are in a suitable (low) gear, you will be able to clear the junction quickly and safely once the light changes; you don’t have to sit in the exhaust fumes of other traffic. However, the bike box shouldn’t be seen as a safe refuge to reach at all costs. There are many circumstances in which it might not be the safest place: there is a motor vehicle in it (this is an offence which can cost £100 and three points on the licence — not many drivers know this!); there is not space to safely filter through the traffic; you can’t guarantee that the light will remain red while you are filtering; there is a large vehicle or a left-turning vehicle close to the bike box; or the box is full of cyclists. In these situations, it may be safer to join the queue in a central position.

It’s best to prepare manoeuvres early, especially when overtaking. As you approach that parked vehicle/other cyclist/bus, check behind you and pull out if it’s safe to do so. The sooner you move into your overtaking position, the better it is for other road users as it’s clear what you’re doing and it smoothes the flow of traffic. If it’s not safe to overtake, wait in line with the outside edge of the vehicle you are trying to overtake. Always check behind you before overtaking. Exercise caution when overtaking a bus — if the driver can’t see you and signals to pull out, you should move back into your normal riding position and allow the bus to pull away in front of you. If you are already overtaking, keep going until you’ve passed the bus, making eye contact with the driver if possible, before returning to your normal riding position

Many cyclists ride close to the kerb, either to stay out of the way, or because that’s where the cycle lane is, or because we were once taught to ‘stay on the left’. However, hugging the kerb is one of the worst places to ride. Not only are you at risk from riding in broken glass, gravel or down drains, you don’t have any wobble space or room to manoeuvre if someone passes too close. Riding wide from the kerb (at least an arm’s length) makes you more visible and asserts your right to use the road — ride boldly, not apologetically. 

Tragically, the highest cause of fatalities for cyclists is becoming trapped on the left side of a left-turning lorry. Make sure you are NEVER in that zone. If a lorry is ahead of you, stay back. If you want to pass, the safest way is often on the right. Get way ahead so the driver can see you; make eye contact and give the driver some kind of acknowledgement. Be aware that a lorry might turn left at any time. It may move far to the right at first to get more space — the wider the gap the more likely it is the lorry is turning left. The more inviting it looks the more dangerous it is. Some lorries are fitted with all sorts of safety devices, including indicators, cameras, mirrors, alarms, voices that tell you when the vehicle is turning left or reversing, and warning stickers. If it’s confusing for you, imagine what it’s like for the driver. If in doubt, stay back.

Contrary to popular belief, cyclists do not have to use the cycle lane. Ideally, all cycling provision would offer safe and direct passage for cyclists. We’re making progress towards that being the case, but currently many cycle lanes are positioned badly, with poor surfaces and confusing road markings. They often force cyclists into the kerb or the door zone, or put us on the left-hand side at junctions — all places we don’t want to be. Some of them lead nowhere at all. Cyclists are not required to use them according to the Highway Code, so don’t feel as if you have to stay within the green/marked lane if you don’t want to. 

Many drivers complain about cyclists ‘weaving’ — disappearing and reappearing while filtering up a queue of traffic. There is nothing wrong with filtering, in fact it’s one of the joys of cycling that we don’t have to wait in the queue and can use spaces that are too small for motor vehicles. The key here is to be slow and careful. You may filter on either side of a queue of traffic, as long as there is space: if the left, be aware of left-turning vehicles and vehicles turning into or out of side roads; if the right, be aware of oncoming traffic. You may change position from right to left, but check before you change to ensure no-one else is filtering. Keep an eye on the traffic lights — if the lights change to green as you are filtering, join the queue and take a central position in amongst the traffic as it moves off. 

At pinch points or on narrow roads, there is often not room for another vehicle to pass you safely. However, if you stay to the left drivers may try to squeeze past. Each time you approach a pinch point (e.g traffic island or similar), check behind and, if it’s safe to do so, move into a central position to discourage dangerous overtaking (if there’s someone directly behind, wait for them to pass before moving into the central position).

Most people know about SMIDSY (‘sorry mate, I didn’t see you’), a phrase often heard around near-misses. It’s very unlikely that a driver will hit you if they can see you. Positioning is more important than clothing in terms of visibility — even wearing full hi-vis, if you’re in the wrong position you won’t be seen. Be predictable with your riding: don’t disappear behind parked vehicles or dip into gaps. When passing side roads, keep a straight line. Accidents happen when people aren’t sure of what another road user is doing.