Cycle Sense with Tony Booth: Commuting is more fun on two wheels than by car

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With more and more people taking to two wheels at the weekend, increasing numbers are also getting on their bike as a healthy and stress free way to get to work or school.

Tony Booth of All Terrain Cycles gives some tips on staying safe on the roads

If you’ve caught cycling fever over the summer and are keen to keep on pedalling through the winter, riding your bike on a regular school or work run could be the answer. As well as being more environmentally-friendly, cheaper and time efficient as you’ll spend less time stuck in traffic, you’ll also be fitter and probably arrive at your destination in a better frame of mind.

Unfortunately, many people are put off commuting by bike because of the amount of traffic on the roads and the attitude of some motorists, but for cyclists with a little experience, road sense and confidence, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Start by picking the safest route you can, use cycle lanes and back streets wherever possible; and make sure you do a test run over the weekend when the roads are relatively quiet.

It might be better not to get overwhelmed by trying to cycle every day, but instead set yourself a goal of once a week and then build up from there. It is also worth having all your gear and bike ready the night before so that you’re not under time pressure in the morning. Always be prepared for all weather conditions and make sure you have a waterproof with you, as well as a puncture repair kit.

The more confident you are, the safer you are, so make sure you get lots of practice to improve you bike handling skills, even if it’s on trails before you venture onto the road. You need to feel comfortable looking over your right shoulder, signalling and moving out – a common error is for riders to lose control of the steering as soon as they take one hand off the handle bars and look behind them; make sure you don’t swerve when you signal.

Also, think about your position on the road – it’s actually safer to ride further out from the kerb. If you ride too close, you risk colliding with the edge of the pavement or having to veer out to avoid highway drains and potholes. Riding a good three feet from the kerb also deters drivers from trying to get past you when there really isn’t room. According to the Highway Code, motorists are actually meant to give bikes at least as much room as they would a car when overtaking. Don’t be frightened of traffic, hold your position on the road and only give way when it is safe for you to do so. Parked cars are another potential hazard – if you can see someone in a parked vehicle as you approach, give it a wide berth in case the driver hasn’t seen you and opens the door into your path.

You should also be particularly careful of lorries and buses – with large blind spots both in front of the vehicle and down its sides, cyclists trying to sneak through the traffic are particularly vulnerable. So stay behind them. Beware of left-turning lorries and cars turning onto the main carriageway from side roads, particularly on the left, as it’s easy for drivers not to see a cyclist.

While this may all sound a little scary, we are talking about worst case scenarios and for most people doing a short commute around town, as long as they’re aware of the potential hazards, their journeys should be pleasant and incident free. In fact, cycle to school initiatives mean that that there are more children riding to school - it’s certainly sensible for a parent to initially cycle with their child to make sure they’re competent on the road and comfortable with the route. Remember that as children are only passengers in a car, they often have little appreciation or understanding of protocol on the roads, so make sure you teach them.

A final word of advice - do all you can to make sure that, as a cyclist, you can be seen. There’s a huge range of special high visibility cycle gear available incorporating fluorescent fabrics and reflective strips. Bike lights have also come a long way in the last few years with powerful rechargeable LED lights giving great visibility – don’t just use them at night, they’re essential for commuters at dusk, early in the morning or in poor weather conditions. And, of course, don’t even think about getting on a bike without a good quality, well-fitted cycle helmet.