Tips for riding safely

The best advice you’ll get for riding safely is by asking lots of questions to the people you know who ride. Mine those people for the things they’ve learned the hard way, or the tips they wish someone shared with them when they were starting out.

In case you can’t find that person, we’ve mined the people in our lives and our own cycling experience to come up with a few.

Cycling courses

Most of cycling is common sense, but you know how sometimes you need someone to teach you the common sense to completely validate what you’re setting out to do? Cycling courses are great for this. The teachers usually have years of riding under their belts and are full of great commuting tips and will usually let you know a few bits of bike maintenance to save you some money.

Another benefit to cycling courses is you’ll meet like minded people at a similar level to you in their cycling careers, so it’s possibly to come out of one with a few new buddies!

Try these courses – the Sydney Cycleways ones are free!
Sydney Community College ‘Commute By Bike’
Sydney Community College ‘Introduction to Road Cycling’
Domestique ‘Skills and Safety’
Bike Wise ‘City Cycling’
Bike Wise ‘Rusty Riders’
Sydney Cycleways ‘Cycling in the City’
Sydney Cycleways ‘Rusty Riders’
Sydney Cycleways ‘Bike Care and Maintenance Course’

Riding with others

Riding with your friends is one of the great joys of cycling. When riding with a friend, you have company, someone looking out for your safety and someone to challenge you in case you’re thinking about hopping off the saddle and walking up that big hill.

Fear not if you don’t have many friends who ride, there are all sorts of cunning plans you can employ to get them going. When they see your passion for cycling, convince them to join you in the park so they can have a go on your bike. You’ll convert them fairly easily and have a new friend to cycle with. See, that was easy, wasn’t it?

Riding with pets You might have just seen a French movie where the ingénue cycles through the streets of Paris with her Chihuahua in the front basket of her vintage fixed gear wheels: don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it.

There are a number of reasons why cycling with a pet is a bad idea: having Fido in the front basket takes your attention away from the road, Fido could jump out into oncoming traffic at any time, Fido could be distracted by something and cause a ruckus and when drivers see you riding on the road with Fido they’ll be distracted too.

If you’re thinking about taking your pet along for a walk while you cycle, holding it with a lead? Don’t do this either. There aren’t many dogs or cats in the world who have the energy to keep pace with a bike more than a kilometre or two (if you’re lucky) and you run the risk of the pet or lead getting tangled in your spokes and you both end up on the ground bruised and battered.

It’s animal and bicycle cruelty.

Keep fed and watered

Nothing makes you thirsty like a big bike ride, so make sure you always have at least 500mls of water either attached to the bike or in your backpack.

Often thirst and fatigue comes without realising it as you’re so focused on the road and your ride. Prepare before you leave home.

When you’re cycling longer distances, pack a few carbohydrate rich snacks for a burst of energy when you need one. Although they get messy, bananas are a great option here. If you’re not a fan of squishing a banana in your bag, carry some nuts, dried fruit, muesli bars or chocolate.

Find routes with less traffic

Cycling somewhere with less traffic is a way of making your ride more pleasant, less stressful and safer.

Before you’re leaving on a ride, it’s worth taking five minutes to think about where it is you’ll be going and thinking about what the traffic is like there. If it’s too busy, come up with another option. Even if it’s a little out of your way and adds a few minutes to your trip, isn’t it worth it to have a nicer journey?

Pick your times If you’re able to, try and cycle a little before or after peak hour. If you’re riding on roads, this will make life a whole lot easier. If you’re on cycle paths, it will still make life easier because Sydney’s cycle paths have peak hours too.

Perhaps you’re cycling to and from work and need some incentive to ride a little earlier than peak hour, here are some perks to an early morning ride we’ve come up with:

  • Don’t shower before you hop on the bike, so you’re forced to ride to work early and shower when you get there.
  • The coffee line at 8.45am is for chumps. If you’re there at 8.15am you’ll get better service and the full array of pastries will still be sitting on the counter.
  • The world belongs to those who get up early, said some wise woman once, so let’s believe her.

Be predictable and confident In real life, no one wants to be known as predictable. On the road, whether you’re a cyclist or a driver, predictability is almost a virtue.

As a cyclist, it’s your duty to the cycling community to be predictable. By being careful at all times, thinking ahead, paying attention, carefully signalling and riding responsibly, you’re not giving anti-cycling drivers any ammunition. In fact, you’re showing them how you deserve to be on that road just as much as they do.

If you’re riding near a car, always make sure the car can see you. Stay out of the car’s blind spot. Generally speaking, if you can see the driver’s face in their side window, they can see you.

Confidence is the key to moving through traffic on your bike with ease. If you’ve done all of the above confidently, by letting drivers know that you’re there and riding responsibly, your riding experience will be both pleasurable and efficient.

Changing lanes You’ll only really need to change lanes, if you’re cycling responsibly, if you have to make a right turn.

As you’ll be coming from the left of the cars driving and needing to cross their lane, it’s essential you do this when there’s a break in the traffic big enough for you to make it over to the lane and for oncoming traffic to see you signalling very clearly.

If there’s a light and you have time, always make the time to wait for the light. In this case you don’t have to worry quite so much about a driver who might not be paying attention.

Once you’ve turned right, from the left side of the lane, return to the left as you were doing before.

Stopping suddenly If you need to stop suddenly, make sure it’s out of the way of moving traffic. The best way to stop suddenly is to apply your back break and a second later squeeze your front break three times. Or practise squeezing both brakes together and stopping as quickly as you can.

Once you’ve stopped, get back on your way as quickly as possible so you don’t disturb the flow of the traffic and risk getting injured.

Being visible You have to be visible all the time. Hyper visible, in fact.

Think about when you’ve driven a car. From time to time when you’re driving, you’ll be off in another world: listening to the radio, sneakily checking your messages, making a phone call or even just thinking about something that happened at work during the day.

Most cycling accidents happen between 4-6pm. The time of day when our minds are somewhere else.

Having bright lights on the front and back of your bike is a must for dusk and night time cycling so people remember you’re there. Your flashing light might distract the driver away from his or her reverie and back to the road.

Also, wear reflective jackets and clothes. They may not be the hippest clothing around, but they’ll keep you alive and being alive is a pretty hip way to be.

You can buy reflectors for almost every part of the body: jackets, pants, ankle reflectors, belt reflectors, gloves. Buy them, it’s worth it. Who knows? You might look so funky you start a whole new flouro trend.

Making eye contact with drivers Once drivers know you’re there thanks to your reflective wear and excellent bike confidence, take it a step further and make eye contact.

When you make eye contact with a driver, you’re reinforcing that you’re both there to share the road and more importantly, that you’re a human being just trying to get from one place to another like he or she is.

Making eye contact with the driver is a small exchange that usually increases respect for a moment or two and cycling in the city on busy roads is all about moments.

What to do if you’ve had a crash Sadly, it happens from time to time. A split second decision might mean you’re off your bike and a car is damaged. Here’s what you need to do.

  1. If anyone is injured, called 000 (of course you knew this, but in the shock of an accident you might need reminding).
  2. If anyone is injured seriously, report the accident to the police.
  3. If more than $500 of damage has been done, report the accident to the police.
  4. Write down all the details of the crash: what time it happened, where it happened, how it happened, damage done, name and address of those involved, licence numbers, number plate details, witness details.
  5. Let your insurance company know about the crash.
  6. Tie your bike up and call a loved one to come and pick you up.