To cycle safely on busy roads you first need to have the basics covered. You will need to use bright well positioned lights that can attract attention. If you don’t have a rear rack, seatpost mounted LED lights are a bright and safe option. Car drivers, with their low angle of approach, will be able to see you and your light easily. However, lorry drivers, who are raised up high off the road in their cabins, may find your light is less visible as they approach because it may be obscured by your saddle. I try and make sure my light is visible from at least 45° up from horizontal so drivers who are high up off the road can see it even when they’re right behind me. You can increase this angle of visibility by lowing where you place the light on your seat post. About 5cm from my saddle rails works well for me because my saddle is sculpted in a way that doesn’t overhang my light very much. Other saddles might require the light be placed further down the seat post.
I always set my rear light to flash and my much brighter, front light as a steady beam so that I can see where I’m going at night.
Although I don’t think helmets should be mandatory, I think they are a sensible precaution on busy roads, despite the statistical evidence that suggest they make no real difference to road safety. Bright coloured clothing can’t hurt, but it’s no substitute for brilliant beaming LEDs!
The following advice is given from a left side of the road riding/driving perspective.
If there is one single piece of advice I think is most valuable for all cyclists it’s to be predictable. Aside from signaling clearly and following the road rules, it’s a good idea to ride in a simple straight line without drifting from side to side. Where many cyclists go wrong with this is when there are cars parked sporadically at the sides of the road ahead of them – in an attempt to get as close to the kerb as possible they duck away from the road between parked cars, only to lurch out again when they run out of space. See diagram:
Make Eye Contact With Drivers
When at junctions and roundabouts it can be difficult to know if drivers have seen you. If they have seen you, you still don’t know if they will acknowledge you as a member of the human race or not. I find a good way to get a driver to consider you as a fellow road user is to make eye contact with them. Once eye contact is made you become much safer and, for that driver at least, impossible to ignore.
Get Out Ahead
When you find yourself at a junction don’t sit alongside the traffic competing with vehicles, get out ahead, there is almost always space. Just make sure you can still see the traffic lights. Sometimes I go out beyond the traffic lights beside me and look at the ones over the junction, depending on the road. That way when the lights turn green you have time to get some momentum and, if you use cleats, clip into your pedals in peace rather than with accelerating vehicles beside and behind you.
Don’t Overtake Other Cyclists on Their Left
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this happen recently. If you overtake another cyclist do it on the right hand side. The space to the left of a cyclist is his or her safety space for if the traffic gets too close. By overtaking on the left you are forcing the other cyclist out into the road. To overtake on the right hand side, look over your shoulder, wait for a reasonable gap, signal with your arm clearly and then get around them as fast as you can.
Give a Little Wiggle
This is my secret weapon against idiot drivers. If you have some joker giving you the squeeze, riding too close or trying to push around you where there is no room then give your bike a little wiggle. I just pull my handlebars quickly left and right. This looks pretty precarious from a motorists perspective and, unless insane, they will think that they pushed too far and will fear causing an accident. It essentially looks like you might not be the most well balanced cyclists and it wouldn’t take much to make you crash. Not even idiots actually want to knock you off!
Safe cycling everyone!