Riding a bike is good for your health and the environment, and it saves you money. Almost everyone knows that.
But the reality for many urban cyclists is not as simple as that. Riding a bike in Australian cities, especially during peak commuting hours, is equal parts exhilarating and stressful. Whether it’s dodging inattentive or aggressive drivers, car doors, potholes, tram tracks, errant pedestrians or dealing with poorly-designed bike paths, cyclists in Australian cities must always balance pure enjoyment with big doses of self-preservation.
Of course, the logical solution to these problems would be for policymakers to clear a path for safer cycling by developing extensive and well-connected bicycle infrastructure.
However, this inevitably takes time and money. And if we’re being frank about, it is years if not decades away from being realised.
So while we wait patiently, these are my top tips to help make your commute a little safer and easier.
Ride defensively and always assume others haven’t seen you
Many incidents involving cyclists are caused because motorists (including the passengers) simply do not look for bike riders before changing lanes, turning or opening a door. As we saw recently in Melbourne when a cyclist on a busy, inner-city road was ‘doored’ and then fatally struck by another car, a second of inattention from a driver or passenger of a vehicle can result in tragedy. Imagine you are invisible, maintain eye contact with other road users, and expect the unexpected.
Follow the rules and claim the lane as required
Bicycles are legally permitted to ride on any road, unless specifically stated otherwise. It is our duty as road users to do the right thing and follow applicable road rules; in particular stopping at pedestrian crossings and stop lights, not riding more than two abreast, and giving way to vehicles at intersections. I always recommend claiming the lane. This means you are legally allowed to take the centre of the lane when approaching roundabouts or intersections to ensure safe passage, so do it.
Be seen and light up
Given that some bicycles will be invisible to some motorists, regardless of your accessories or clothing, it is crucial that you wear bright, reflective clothing and have good quality, high-powered front and rear lights active when riding on busy roads to increase your visibility. This is especially true in poor weather or at night.
Have the right bike
A durable, well-maintained commuting bicycle will help make your commute faster, easier and present you with fewer headaches. Double-walled rims, wider (28-38mm) puncture resistant tyres, front and rear mudguards and a pannier rack are all commuter essentials to deal with rough roads and poor weather.
I recommend using recessed cleat bike shoes and compatible pedals. Why?
This system will give you more power and stop your foot from slipping off the pedal when wet. Just be warned that this system does take a while to get used to, so practice clipping in and out at home before you set off.
Finally, it’s always important to remember to relax, enjoy the ride and show respect to other road users. The best way to promote cycling to others and cancel out negative stereotypes is to lead by example and always have a smile on your face.
Got a story for Karl? Please send your tips, ideas and more to Karl Stade@outlook.com
Coming soon: five great commuter bikes that won’t break the bank.