Commuting by bike is much safer than many people think. According to government statistics, one cyclist is killed on Britain’s roads for every 27 million miles travelled by bike - the equivalent to over 1,000 times around the world. In 2020, this meant there were around 9.4 million cycle trips for every fatality in the UK.
The same stats suggest you are more likely to be injured in an hour of gardening than in an hour of cycling. It's also worth highlighting that while cycle traffic has grown by 96% between 2004 and 2020, fatalities have increased by just 4%.
All of which means that while there are many benefits of commuting by bike to work,, it does come with some risk. The UK is still some way behind the likes of the Netherlands when it comes to cycling infrastructure, which usually means that you'll be sharing the road with cars at some point during your journey.
To help you better navigate your ride to work, and to lower your risk of an accident, we share our top five tips for safe commuting.
1. Be visible
Most cyclists think they are far more visible than they actually are. Around fifteen per cent of accidents occur in the dark and low light conditions. A huge range of bike lights are available, but reflective clothing dramatically increases your visibility and it's worth adding a few pieces to your commuting kit.
Be aware that because the way human eyes work, you are less visible at dawn and dusk, so take extra care. You don’t have to dress up as a lollipop person either, with lots of tastefully high-visibility kit available.
A hi-vis vest or gilet is a great addition for spring and autumn riding, while a waterproof cycling jacket with reflective detailing is a wise choice during the winter.
It's also advisable to add some colour to your feet and hands. Your feet are in almost constant motion when you're riding, therefore a pair of fluro socks or overshoes are likely to catch the eye of a motorist. The same is true for your hands, with a bright pair of gloves adding visibility to your road signaling.
If you use a cycling backpack during your commute think about investing in a fluro cover, remembering that otherwise the pack may negate some of the benefits of a visible jacket or vest.
2. Don’t be afraid to use the road
You have as much right to be using the road as the motorists do. But this comes with a responsibility. Ensure you give enough space to parked cars and be aware of car doors that could open into your 'lane'. It's worth remembering that passenger doors cause more accidents than driver doors as passengers are less likely to check mirrors.
A doors width clearance is sensible and don’t hug the curb either. Drains, potholes, and road debris mean that riding in the gutter can be hazardous and there is a lot more chance of getting a puncture. In fact, sixteen per cent of accidents are caused by a pot hole/defective road surface. Riding clear of the curb also increases your visibility to car drivers.
3. Be cautious about filtering
As cyclists we are allowed to filter through traffic like motorcycles. However, don’t undertake large vehicles such as HGVs and buses and be aware of vehicles turning left. If in doubt, stay in the line of traffic.
Most accidents occur at junctions. Be conscious that drivers have a blind spot and take extra care when approaching junctions.
According to Cycle SOS, 40 per cent of the claims they handle involve vehicles emerging from side roads and 11 per cent of accidents occur on roundabouts.
4. Respect other road users
It's important to respect other road users and to avoid confrontation. Should you be on the receiving end of an aggressive road user, remain calm and polite. Your tone of voice can diffuse the situation, however, it is unlikely that you will be able to change an irate driver’s mind, so you're best to just back away.
Respecting road users should also extend to pedestrians that you encounter on your commute. Always stop at zebra crossings or crosswalks and never ride on the pavement or sidewalk. If you need to do so, get off your bike and walk it until you hit the road again.
5. Maintain your bike
It's important to regularly maintain and check your bike to see if its roadworthy. Having working brakes and gears will not just make your commute more enjoyable it will also make you safer. After all, two per cent of claims arise from a product or mechanical fault. Remember, should you be unfortunate enough to have an accident, but are riding a bike without working brakes you could be considered culpable.
So what should be on your checklist? It's a good idea to ensure that your brake cables aren't frayed, especially at the clamping points on the brake calipers. If you use hydraulic disc brakes, check that the levers and pads are actuating properly; a stiff or 'squishy' feel at the lever probably means they are due for a bleed. For both cable and hydro brakes check that the brake pads still have plenty of life left.
Gear cables should also be checked for fraying, while its worth measuring your chain for wear too. If your gears are slipping during your commute this is likely a sign of a worn chain, cassette or chainrings.
Avoiding punctures isn't always possible, but checking your tyres for wear can help reduce the likelihood of having to change a tube on the roadside - and while you're there check they are properly inflated and that the QR or thru-axle is securely tightened. If you're commuting regularly its worth investing in tyres with some in-built puncture protection.
If you've yet to start cycling to work, check out our guide to the best commuter bikes for practical cycling on a daily basis and find our top tips on cycling to work here.
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Luke Friend has worked as a writer, editor and copywriter for over twenty years. Across books, magazines and websites, he's covered a broad range of topics for a range of clients including Major League Baseball, the National Trust and the NHS. He has an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and is a qualified bicycle mechanic. He fell in love with cycling at an early age, partly due to watching the Tour de France on TV. He's a passionate follower of bike racing to this day as well an avid road and gravel rider.
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