Cyclescheme is the UK's most popular cycle to work benefit, creating more cyclists than any other provider.

Potholes are a danger to cyclists, causing not just bike damage but serious injuries. Here’s how to stay safe on rough roads

The end of winter is peak time for potholes. During the colder months, cracks in the tarmac caused by heavy vehicles fill up with water, which then freezes and expands, further breaking up the surface. In the UK, there’s a pothole or similar defect for every 110 metres of road. Cyclists (along with motorcyclists) are the road users most at risk of crashing if they hit one. Many have broken bones as well as bikes.

Highway authorities – the Highways Agency for bigger roads and local councils for smaller ones – have a legal duty to maintain their roads to a reasonable standard. That means fixing potholes. But not necessarily promptly! They only have to demonstrate they inspect their roads at regular intervals.

Bigger roads are inspected more often than smaller ones. That’s bad news for cyclists, who often use back roads and country lanes by preference. Such roads might be inspected less than once a year. Those holes you spotted yesterday on your commute? They could be there for a long time yet so you’ll need to know how to deal with them.



Pothole depth can be hidden by rainwater or the shadow from headlamps or a low sun, so plan to go around if you can. Plan is the keyword here. The sooner you’re aware of a pothole, the easier it is to avoid it safely. Scan the road ahead so that you can change your road position gradually. (You should assume there’s a car behind unless you know there isn’t.)

Remember where the worst potholes are on routes you use regularly so you can ride around them without suddenly swerving. Potholes often reform in the same place due to slapdash repairs. Expect last year’s to reappear…

Don’t hug the kerb. Good road positioning will keep you away from sunken or prominent drains and ironwork, which potholes sometimes form around. It will also give you room to manoeuvre. If you’ve taken the lane (the primary position) you won’t have to veer out into the traffic stream as you’ll already be it, and you can also go left as well as right to avoid the hole.

If you suddenly come upon a pothole you hadn’t spotted, it’s possible to jink around it without swerving as such. By turning the handlebar rapidly one way and then the other, you can divert the wheels (or at least the front wheel) around the hole while your body continues in a relatively straight line. This is something to practise away from traffic – off-road is best. Set up markers in a line and slalom around them in the shallowest S bend you can manage.


Ploughing through

Sometimes there’s no time and no choice: you have to ride straight over the pothole. Stand up on the pedals, cranks level, with your knees and elbows slightly bent to absorb the impact. Get your bodyweight back and drop you heels so your feet can brace against the pedals instead of being bounced off them.

Hit the pothole square on and ride straight over it. Don’t try to steer or brake while you’re negotiating the pothole. This is especially true if the hole adjoins any ironwork, tramlines or a dropped kerb. All of these can sweep your front wheel away and pitch you onto the road if you hit them at an acute angle. Cross them as perpendicularly as you can.

If you are a capable cyclist (and have practised this away from traffic beforehand), you can lift the front wheel to clear the pothole. While you’re standing on the pedals, hold the handlebar firmly and pull it up. Rocking your bodyweight forward then back makes this easier; search online for ‘how to manual a bike’ for more detailed instruction. But just lifting should be sufficient. Once the front wheel is over the hole, the rear wheel will follow through without drama.


Pothole 2


A more pothole-proof bike

If your commute takes in roads that are always in a poor state of repair, you can reduce the discomfort and risk by fitting fatter tyres. Fat tyres absorb shock better and prevent pinch-punctures, where the innertube is nipped between tyre and rim.

The maximum width of tyre will depend on how much room there is under the mudguards, brake callipers or frame. Some road bikes and singlespeeds won’t accept tyres wider than 25mm or 28mm. Hybrids and gravel bikes will typically accept tyres at least 35mm wide, while mountain bikes use tyres 50mm and wider.

Smaller-wheeled bikes suffer worse on bad roads. A pothole that might only jolt a 700C wheel might stop a 16-inch wheel dead. Even bumps that can be negotiated will jolt the wheels harder and slow them down more. Because of this, you’ll need to pay closer attention to the road surface when riding a small-wheeler such as a Brompton or other folding bike.

Suspension also improves comfort and bike control over bumps and potholes. Even the worst road shouldn’t require a full-suspension mountain bike. But if your hybrid or e-bike has a suspension fork, pothole season is when it will earn its keep! For most purposes, however, fatter tyres provide enough bump absorption.


Reporting potholes

Highway authorities will only repair potholes that they’re aware of. You can make sure they know about the ones on your commuting route by reporting them.

To report a pothole on a A-road, contact the Highways Agency. If it’s a smaller road, you’ll need to report it to the local council. If you’re not sure which council is responsible for maintaining the road, enter the road name, town or post code on the Government website. All council websites offer the facility to report potholes. Alternatively, use the Fill That Hole website, which automatically reports the pothole to the relevant council (even if you don’t know who it is) after you fill in a few details.


When reporting a pothole, supply supporting information. Take a photo of the pothole, ideally with something else in shot (such as water bottle or your foot) to give a sense of scale. If you have a maps app on your phone, drop a virtual pin on the location of the pothole and send a screenshot of that with your report.

If a pothole causes damage to you and/or your bike, you can claim for damages against the relevant highway authority. The majority of such claims don’t succeed, however. The highway authority only has to show it’s taken ‘reasonable’ precautions to prevent potholes being a danger to road users. As such, you’re best off using solicitors who specialise in claims for cyclists. You’ll have access to these if you’re a member of a cycling organisation such as British Cycling, Cycling UK or London Cycling Campaign.