10 Tips For Safe Cycling

I got a pingback from Adrian Trenholm who has written a great piece, 10 tips for safe cycling, partly inspired by my recent accident. He lists

  1. Wear a helmet.
  2. Know the rules of the road and stick to them
  3. Concentrate.

and more, each with a good explanation why. I’d like to add a couple more points:

Look after your bike. In the past I have found that a combination of worn brake blocks, stretched cables, and wet rims meant that I suddenly found nothing was going to slow me down!

Don’t run red lights. This is really part of Adrian’s number two item, but I suspect the single most annoying thing cyclists do to city motorists is ignore red lights. Or rather, not ignore them, but go through them anyway. I know it annoys me when I’m driving, and I never do it when I’m cycling. Just remember that those drivers you’ve just left at the lights will be passing you in a minute. Only now they’re annoyed with you. When you need to swerve to avoid that pothole, they’ll be much less inclined to give you the room you need.

Adrian also has a great discussion, “Never, ever get into a fight with a ‘bike-hater.'” in the same post. I couldn’t agree more. I sometimes shock myself when I react badly to a car ‘buzzing’ me, or to a beeped horn because someone thinks I shouldn’t be on the road. It’s easy to want to be aggressive when you are ‘bullied’ by a car, but as Adrian says…

Let’s be clear about this: you might be in the right, but your antagonist has over a ton of metal at his disposal. When a cyclist mixes it up with a motorist, the cyclist will always lose. Just let the motorist go.

Don’t let us put you off though. Cycling to and from work is a great way to get fit. My trip home takes pretty much the same time as public transport, so I’m not taking more time out of my day. Because it serves a purpose (getting me home) it’s much easier to stick with it than, say, going to the gym. When I had a gym membership it was easy to say to myself “I’ll leave it tonight and go tomorrow… or next week”.

Give it a try. Get that bike out of the shed and try riding to work a couple of days a week.

10 thoughts on “10 Tips For Safe Cycling

  1. Thanks for the link, Mike, and I hope you are recovering quickly from the fall.

    I agree completely about maintaining your bike and not running red lights. My first draft of “10 tips” actually included the exhortation not to run red lights, but I cut it because my post is too long as it is.

    I read Richard’s Bicycle Book, by Richard Ballantine, about 20 years ago and a lot of the stuff I posted has its spiritual home there. I have seen mixed Amazon reveiws for the 21st Century Bicycle Book, but it may be worth a read.

  2. I would actually disagree with number one. All a helmet does is protect your head – the rest of you is still unprotected, and if you don’t wear a helmet then drivers tend to give you just a little more space.

  3. Lordrich,
    I know that helmets don’t give a huge amount of protection. They’re really only to protect your head if you fall, rather than in a collision, for example. But I’d be surprised if drivers even noticed whether you were wearing a helmet.

    In my experience, drivers don’t even have a clue about the difficulties of cycling: pot holes, side winds, etc. or the kind of courtesies they could extend to you.

    For me, wearing a helmet is marginally more effective than not wearing one — at the speeds I normally travel, I don’t believe there can be much protection from a helmet. But I’ll take that small chance that it may help one day.


  4. Hi Mike,
    can I make a couple of comments Adrian’s list? The issue of whether or not to wear a helmet is very complex, see CTC personally I’ve been cycling for 41 years and I only started wearing a helmet (under pressure from my wife and friends) about 2 years ago after a friend had a serious accident. The second point is using bus lanes, the only time I’ve done this is in Edinburgh, never again I don’t mind being challenged by the odd car but I draw the line at 2 double decker busses, one in front suddennly stopping and the other trying to drive me onto the pavement. The final point is to echo the point about not getting into a fight with a bike hater. I have had several close calls but the worst was a JCB driver who actually tried to run me off the road because, as he said “I had cut him up”, he was charged with dangerous driving but I came pretty close to ending my cycling days…have you seen a JCB wheel at 20mph from 10 inches?

  5. First off, so sorry to hear about your recent accidents, and great discussion(at both places) about safety. Thanks.

    Now, about helmets. Do yourself a favor – wear them. Hopefully you will never need it, but then again on the roads today… It’s not just about the speed you’re going on the bike it’s also about the speed you are falling/flying and the things your head may hit.

    For me it’s not an issue – a helmet saved me from extreme and possibly life altering injury. I was cut off by a motorist running a red light and couldn’t avoid hitting them without cutting an extreme turn too close to the high curb. My inside pedal caught the curb and of course the rear wheel went out. In the fall I broke my wrist and my head ended up hitting the curb when my arm collapsed. The helmet shell cracked but the interior stayed intact.

    I ended up with a mild concusion and the broken wrist, but was able to pick up and cycle to the hospital. Without the helmet the docs said I would have suffered at the minimum a major (hospitalizzation required) concussion at the least – possible quite worse. I kept that helmet as a reminder to use my new one on every ride for the next year. Now it’s habit…no helmet, no ride.

  6. Eric,
    Thanks for this. It is very important that people know that helmets do work, and can prevent more serious injury.

    I’m lucky that in the two accidents I have had in over seven years of cycling, I have been able to fall/roll in such as way as to prevent any impact to my head. I know others aren’t always so lucky.


  7. I had a crash a few years back and if I had not been wearing my helmet, my face and skull would have been dragging across the pavement.

    It was a 20 mph crash, and when I got up from it, I had a nickel sized road rash on my right cheek bone but my helemt was shaved down quite a bit from sliding along the pavement and the corner of my glasses were even shaved down.

    Do the math, the helmet and glasses saved my face and skull.

    Wear your helmets!

  8. Interesting stories about the importance of helmets. Thanks.

    A back injury (nothing to do with cycling) as meant
    that for the past 18 months my bike has been languishing in the garden shed. The chiropractor tells me I can get on my bike again, but I’ve noticed that my helmet has a small crack in it now. Is it still safe to use?


  9. Ellen,
    NO it is not safe. Absolutely NOT. Throw it away and buy a new one!

    Helmets work by spreading the force of the impact evenly through the whole structure and absorbing that force in the foam inner.
    It is vitally important that the outer shell is sound at the time of impact — when you need it — to be fully effective.

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