Cycle commuting in the UK used to be a solitary pursuit: you rode to work and saw maybe a handful of other cyclists. Nowadays, particularly in certain hotspots like London, you can encounter masses of cyclists. That's fantastic! More cyclists is better for everyone. Yet it demands a change in attitude - a spirit of cooperation, a bit of give and take. Cycle commuting today is a team game. If you've come to commuting from club cycling, you'll be used to integrating with other cyclists. If you've only ever ridden alone, don't worry: it's mostly a matter of common sense and good manners. Here are some additional pointers on how to observe cycling etiquette by following the road cycling unwritten rules.
Semaphore for cyclists
Hand signals are a vital way to communicate with any road user. Other cyclists need to know what you're doing and where you're going just as much as drivers. Don't just swing left or right. Look, signal, manoeuvre.
There are additional signals you can give specifically to inform a cyclist behind you:
- A hand or finger (rather than an arm) pointed to one side - I'm going that way e.g. to filter around this stationary traffic.
- A cupped left hand swept sideways behind one's back - move out e.g. to get around a parked car ahead.
- A finger pointed down at the road - look out for that pothole.
- A hand held horizontally, patting the air - slow down.
- A hand out to one side, sweeping forward - come past me (a flicked elbow is also used for this).
There are two caveats with these subtler signals. Firstly, they're not a substitute for the hand signals you'll find in the Highway Code but an adjunct. Secondly, they may only be understood by sporting cyclists!
Ride your line
Your 'line' is simply an imaginary line from where you are now to where you seem to be going. Other road users – cyclists and drivers – will expect you to stay on it. In other words: ride predictably and make any direction changes gradually. Don't swerve suddenly and don't jink carelessly around stationary traffic when filtering. If you suddenly deviate from your line, you may cut across in front of another cyclist, 'shutting the door' on them, as racers say, and forcing them to brake or take evasive action.
Pass or be passed
It's not a race. You may want to mash those pedals round for maximum training effect. You may want to drop that guy when you accelerate from the traffic lights. Fine. But don't focus on this personal competition at the expense of focusing on the traffic environment you're in. If another rider comes up behind you on a narrow cycle track or bridleway, move to one side to let them pass when it is convenient and safe for you to do so. (They shouldn't have any problem passing on roads or wider tracks).
Overtake with care
Look, signal, manoeuvre.
Give the cyclist you're overtaking plenty of room. You should be able to pass at least an arm's reach away. Don't swing in too soon or you risk clipping their front wheel with your rear wheel, which could see you both on the tarmac. Don't undertake other cyclists, but be alert that this may happen to you, especially if you're taking the lane or are about to turn left.
If you're overtaking a cyclist on an off-carriageway cycle track or bridleway, let them know: ring your bell or call out a greeting ('good morning') and/or an explanation ('overtaking on your right'). Moderate your speed and give them room. Don't blitz past at 25mph with millimetres to spare.
Don't be a wheel-sucker
It's bad form to sit in another cyclist's slipstream for miles. They're doing the grunt work, pushing the air out of the way, while you're freeloading, saving energy. Take your turn in the wind.
Be wary of whose wheel you sit behind and how close you get. Some cyclists will ride predictably; others won't. Sudden braking or swerving in front could put you both in trouble if you're too close to react. Keep your distance unless you're sure of the rider in front, and don't get too close to any cyclist in a busy urban environment.
Stop means stop
Some cyclists ignore red lights. They may zip past you when you stop instead, so hold your line as you come to a halt to prevent being rear-ended by an idiot.
Joining other cyclists in the green 'cycling box' at an Advanced Stop Line at traffic lights is often useful. Barging in front of everyone there is boorish and unnecessary. There will be plenty of time to overtake once you get rolling. Note that you're not allowed over the white line at the front of an ASL; you have to stay in or behind the box.
Dim the lights
Ultra-bright lights intended for mountain biking at night can and do dazzle. The Highway Code, rule 114, says: 'You MUST NOT... use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.' If you have a super-bright light, toggle it down to a lower setting when other road users are about. It's a particular problem on cycle tracks as you'll be shining your light right in the face of oncoming cyclists; there isn't the width of a road to separate you.
Headphones are a bad idea when riding in traffic. You might be able to hear cars, albeit not as well, but you will not be able to hear other cyclists.
It's not about the bike
Don't turn your nose up at other cyclists for their choice of bike or equipment. It's up to them what bike they ride and what they wear while riding it, even if you don't agree. That chubby guy on a rusty old mountain bike is just as much a cyclist as you are on your premium road bike. There is no transport pecking order.
Don’t ride on the pavement
A question we often hear from new cyclists is: can I cycle on the pavement? Unless it’s a shared-use path, you’re not allowed to cycle on it. You risk a Fixed Penalty Notice – and the ire of all the pedestrians on that pavement.
The anger that pavement cycling causes is disproportionate when compared to the danger posed by drivers. Department for Transport statistics show that well over 100 pedestrians were killed by vehicles on ‘footways or verges’ between 2009 and 2013; one pedestrian was killed in an incident with a cyclist on a footway/verge in that period. Nevertheless, pavement cycling causes distress even when it doesn’t cause physical harm. And it’s illegal. Don’t do it. You must look out for the blue shared-use sign that permits you to cycle on footpaths.
Acknowledge good behaviour
If a driver has waited patiently behind you for an appropriate place to pass, give them a friendly wave or thumbs up when they do pass. Do the same when a driver pauses because it’s your right of way. You’ll make them feel like a virtuous driver – and they are. It’s a small step in reinforcing good behaviour.
Conversely, when a driver overtakes too closely or does something else that’s poorly thought out and dangerous, resist the temptation to swear and flick them a hand signal. It creates confrontation out of what might have been a mistake, and it’s more oil on the fiery tempers of the real idiots. If you want to fight back, don’t raise your fist: buy a helmet camera and take the evidence of bad driving to the police.
Park your bike sensibly
Locking your bike to street furniture is sometimes the only practical option when parking your bike. The Highway Code for cyclists says: ‘do not leave it where it would cause an obstruction or hazard to other road users’ and ‘secure it well so that it will not fall over and become an obstruction or hazard.’ The word MUST is not used, so it’s not law. It’s just common decency. What if the next person to come by can’t pass because they’ve got a pushchair or a wheelchair?
Help fellow cyclists
If you spot a cyclist who is lost or has a mechanical problem that you might be able to fix, stop and help. It’s good manners and good karma. Encouraging them to keep cycling is good for you too, because cycling gets safer the more cyclists there are. There’s a safety in numbers effect.
At night, that means using decent lights and reflectors which, as far as possible, comply with Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations. During the day, it’s more a matter of road positioning. When you cycle further out from the kerb, drivers can’t help but take notice of you. It’s not inconsiderate to take the lane if there’s no room for you to be passed safely. It is considerate to relinquish the lane as and when it’s safe for you to do so.
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What’s the best way to alert other road users to your presence while cycling – bell, horn, whistle, voice? Here’s what you need to know.