Road Safety Guide:
13 Tips For Cycling
in Traffic

Cycling on the road can feel daunting at times – especially in traffic-heavy areas. To help keep you safe on your journey, we’ve put together our top tips for riding on the road.

Road Safety Guide

Statistically, cycling is a safe (and fun) activity. But riding on the road can often feel daunting, especially if you’re new to it. Despite its relative safety, many would-be riders are still too nervous to swap their car journeys for bike rides – no matter how much they want to.

Like everything, being confident on the road is all about practice – lots and lots of it. But by arming yourself with the right knowledge beforehand, you can get yourself off to a flying start. To help you out, we’ve pulled together all the leading advice about biking safety into one handy guide – perfect for newbies and seasoned riders alike.

Whether you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint or simply skip the traffic jams on your morning commute, here are our top tips for how to cycle on the road safely.

Plan Your Journey Ahead of Time

If you’re fairly new to cycling, or you have a long journey ahead of you, planning your route ahead of time is a great way to stay safe on the road. With your route already sketched out, you can focus on your surroundings without getting distracted by map reading or missed turnings.

Planning your journey also lets you find the easiest, safest route for your ride. If you’re a newbie rider, you can use online mapping tools to find quiet roads and local cycle paths, avoiding those busier main roads. Plus, it gives you a chance to plan your pit stops (in case your sugar levels drop and you need an emergency croissant).

Always Wear Your Helmet

No road cycling safety guide would be complete without this reminder: always wear your helmet. The good news is you don’t need any other cycling protective gear – just a sturdy helmet will do.

It might seem obvious, but a lot of riders still neglect to wear a helmet, which can be especially dangerous when you’re cycling on the road. Luckily, there’s loads of safe bike helmets on the market to choose from, so you can find the one that best matches your ride.

Think About Your Positioning on the Road

When it comes to cycling road safety, one of the most important things to think about is your positioning on the road. Although it can be tempting to stick near the kerb, it’s actually safer to ride one metre away from the edge of the road (approximately where a car’s left-hand tyres would be). As well as making you more visible to drivers, this positioning gives you more room to swerve around things like potholes, debris and slippery drain covers. It also gives you plenty of space on your left to move into if someone in a car tries to overtake you too closely.

Sometimes, you’ll need to take what’s called a ‘primary position’ on the road, which refers to the centre of the lane. This is the position you should move into if it would be dangerous for a car to overtake you – for example, if you’re approaching a pedestrian island. By moving into the centre of the road, you can encourage other drivers to stay behind you instead of trying to squeeze past where it’s not safe to do so.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Just like driving, cycling on the road means being hyper-vigilant about your surroundings. While you’re riding, look ahead for potential hazards in the road – such as potholes, puddles, drain covers, litter, or even badly parked vehicles. By maintaining an awareness of what’s ahead of you, you can move around obstacles in plenty of time – meaning you won’t have to make any sudden manoeuvres that other road users might not anticipate. It also gives you time to prepare for things like junctions, traffic lights and roundabouts.

As well as monitoring what's ahead of you on the road, it’s also important to be aware of what other road users are doing. Watch out for vehicles on the opposite side of the road that might cut across you, and keep an eye on cars waiting to pull out of side roads or driveways, or drivers that need to move into your lane to avoid a hazard. Usually, drivers will indicate to show other road users what they intend to do, but plenty of people forget – so be extra careful!

Anticipate Sudden Movements

Even with your eyes peeled for potential hazards, things can still surprise you – whether that’s a car stopping suddenly in front of you, a cat running into the road, or someone crossing the street without paying attention to traffic. Although you can’t always spot these problems ahead of time, what you can do is prepare for any sudden movements. With road safety, it’s important to be on high alert at all times – so that when something unexpected does happen, you’re ready to react as quickly as possible.

Be Ready To Brake

Whether it’s an unexpected hazard or a vehicle stopping suddenly in front of you, sometimes you’ll need to brake really, really quickly. To make things easier, cycle with your hands covering your brake levers, so you’re ready to brake at a second’s notice. Leave plenty of stopping distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, and take extra care if it’s wet or icy on the road.

Top tip: If you’re new to biking, it’s also a good idea to practise using your brakes safely. It’s usually best to use both brakes at the same time and apply even pressure to the levers.

Watch Out for Car Doors

Car doors are a huge hazard for cyclists. Unfortunately, lots of drivers neglect to check if the road is clear before swinging their car door open – which puts cyclists at a huge risk of collision. To minimise that risk, try to move out of the range of any car doors that might suddenly be opened. When you’re approaching a parked car, check behind you to make sure it’s safe, then move at least a door’s width away from the car you’re passing.

Communicate With Other Road Users

Communicate with other road users just like in a car, you should always try to indicate to other road users what you’re planning to do – whether that’s turning at a junction or pulling out to avoid an obstacle. When approaching a turn, check behind you for any hazards, then use one hand to signal the direction you want to go, giving plenty of notice before making your manoeuvre. If you need to turn right, make sure to not move so far into the right-hand side of the lane that other road users may be tempted to undertake you. A good rule of thumb is to move over to where the right-hand tyres of a car would be, and then turn when it’s safe.

Top tip: If you’re nervous about taking your hands off the handlebars or checking behind you while moving, try practising in a safe, traffic-free area, such as a park or a cycle path.

While you’re on the road, it’s a good idea to make eye contact with drivers, especially at places like junctions, roundabouts and side roads. This will help you work out if another road user has seen you – if they’re not looking at you or they don’t react to your eye contact, assume they haven’t spotted you and be prepared to brake.

It’s also a good idea to have your bike fitted with a nice, clear bell. That way, if a driver hasn’t seen you, you can use your bike bell to signal your presence. It’s also handy for letting people at pedestrian crossings know you’re there, just in case they aren’t paying attention.

Check for Gaps in Traffic

Obstructions – whether that’s a fallen tree branch or a broken-down car – are an unavoidable part of cycling on the road. Sometimes, you’ll need to move into the flow of traffic to avoid these hazards. Before moving out into the road, always check over your right shoulder to make sure there’s a big enough gap for you, and (if necessary) signal to other road users that you need to move out. If there’s a car too close behind you to move out safely, slow down and wait until there’s enough space for you.

Avoid Undertaking Lorries

One big thing (literally) to watch out for when you’re cycling on the road is lorries. Most lorries have blind spots on their passenger side – which means if you’re riding on their left, there’s a good chance they won’t have seen you. If that lorry is planning on turning left, this puts you at a huge risk of being hit. To avoid putting yourself in that position, try never to undertake a lorry (which means never pass them on their left-hand side).

Sometimes, however, the road layout means you might have to pass a lorry on the inside – for example, if you’re in a lane designated for buses, taxis and bikes, and there’s a lorry in stationary traffic on the outside lane, or if a lorry was trying to overtake you but got stuck at the traffic lights. In these cases, it might make sense to move past and in front of the lorry on its left-hand side – but make sure the vehicle is completely stationary when you do. Assess each situation with care, and remember to never assume a lorry driver has seen you.

Stay Visible in the Dark

Visibility is one of the most important elements of cycling safety – and it’s especially crucial on the road. But it’s not just about staying safe – according to cycling laws in the UK, cyclists riding between sunset and sunrise are legally required to have working lights on the front and rear of their bike. There needs to be a white light at the front and a red light at the rear, both fixed to your bike and clearly visible – so make sure your saddlebag isn’t obscuring them. Although there’s no legal requirement to use your lights during the day, you should still switch them on if you’re cycling in foggy weather. It’s also a good idea to carry a spare set of lights, just in case your first set fails.

Along with your bike lights, you’re also required to have reflectors fitted if you’re planning on riding at night (legally, this means any time after sunset or before sunrise). These include a red rear reflector and four amber pedal reflectors – one at the front and rear of each pedal.

Although there’s no legal requirement, you might also want to consider investing in some high-vis or reflective clothing when you’re riding in low lighting.

Consult the Highway Code

If in doubt, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on the Highway Code. On GOV.UK, you’ll find the latest version of the Highway Code, along with information about traffic signs, legal obligations and advice about road safety.

Road Safety for Kids

Although it can feel a bit daunting for parents, there’s actually no legal age limit for kids riding on the road. However, kids don’t fully develop their traffic awareness skills until they’re around nine years old, so younger kids will need close supervision while they’re out and about. After that, it all depends on how confident and experienced your little rider is. Try to pick quiet routes without much traffic, and avoid busy roads and complicated junctions where possible.

A good way to help your kids get road-savvy on their bikes is to involve them in Bikeability training courses. Check to see if your child’s school offers a training course, or use Bikeability’s course finder to find your nearest programme.