How to: Setting Off

Cyclescheme, 23.05.2016

How to: Setting Off

The right road position, gear selection, and technique can save you energy and keep you safer. Here's what to consider.

Everyone who can ride a bike can set off from stationary. You learned it as a nipper when your mum or dad stopped holding the back of your saddle. When you're commuting, however, you want to set off as smoothly and effortlessly as possible, with no wobbling or hesitation, and with the minimum of interference from other road users. That takes practice.

The right place

If you're setting off from the side of the road, make sure that you've got a good view of the road in both directions and that other road users will have plenty of time to see you. Avoid blind corners, blind summits, or being obscured by parked cars. Don't set off from the side of the road immediately before junction – you want a different road position as you approach a junction. It's better to push your bike and then join the road rather than setting off from a risky position. The same goes for other factors that might make it difficult for you to get started, such as a steep hill start or a difficult road surface.


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Setting off from a junction is in some ways easier, because you don't have to merge with the traffic flow: you're in it. At least, you will be if you took the lane as you approached the junction. By waiting in the centre of the lane than goes in the direction that you're going – even if that direction is left - you prevent other road users from cutting you up. You also buy yourself time to get through the junction before traffic behind can start to pass. If the junction has an advanced stop line for cyclists, take advantage of it if it's practical to do so.

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The right gear

Set off in an easier gear than your normal riding along gear, if possible, so that you can accelerate smoothly up to your cruising speed while sitting down. You're less likely to weave than if you're standing up and stomping on the pedals, and it takes less effort. Avoid very low gears when setting off: you want the first downward thrust of your leg to get you properly rolling so that you immediately find your balance.

On a hub-geared bike, you can shift gear while stationary – a facility that makes hub gears particularly suitable for stop-start urban riding. Take advantage of this and shift down to an easier gear whenever you stop.

On a derailleur-geared bike, you can't shift while stationary, so you'll be stuck in whatever gear you were in before you stopped. Aim to shift down as you approach junctions, so that you stop in a gear that's easier to accelerate. If you're setting off from the side of the road, you can shift down manually before getting onto the road: shift down one or two gears, then lift the back wheel off the ground by the saddle and rotate the cranks by hand. Repeat as necessary.


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Pedal poised and ready

Put the foot of your dominant leg on the pedal with the crank pointing up and forward at about 2 o'clock. If the saddle is at the right height and the bike's bottom bracket isn't unduly high, you can usually get at least a toe down while sitting on the saddle, assuming you lean the bike slightly to that side.

If you can't comfortably reach the floor from the saddle, you'll need to stand astride the bike – with your dominant foot in the ready position on the pedal. As you press down for your first pedal stroke, lift yourself up onto the saddle smoothly. Avoid scooting along using the foot that's on the floor. Pedalling will get you up to speed much quicker.

Setting off and pedal

When you're starting from the side of the road, you can rest one foot on the kerb to make it easier to balance prior to starting off. Do not be tempted to do this at a junction by clinging the leftmost side of the lane. Your road position is more important.

If you use clipless pedals, the foot on the pedal should be clipped in. It's easier to clip in at the bottom of the pedal stroke, then pedal backwards until your foot is in the right position. This isn't possible on a fixed-wheel bike unless you apply the front brake and push forward on the handlebar to lift the back wheel slightly off the road.

Getting moving

You don't normally need to signal right to set off from the side of the road. It can sometimes be useful to signal at a junction when you're stationary, if other traffic arrives after you got there. But your road position should be clearest indicator of where you're going. Take that lane!

When you're setting off from the side of the road or from a junction that isn't controlled by lights, you may need to spend quite some time scanning – in both directions - the road you're joining. Take that time. Check and check again. You cannot muscle your way into traffic like a careless cabbie. You can eyeball drivers, however, which will make it clear what you're doing. Even on a busy road, a driver may then yield you enough space to get going.

When you're setting off from the side of a narrow road, you'll need to wait for a gap in traffic in order to merge into the traffic flow. On a wider road, with more room for traffic to pass you and no oncoming cars, you may be able to set off to left of the traffic stream, and then merge with it (if necessary) further on. Only do this if there's definitely enough space for you to set off into, and if you're confident that other road users have seen you, understand what you're doing, and are set to move safely past you.


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