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3 – Know How To Ride

There's a lot of little things that make a big difference to your cycling. Some are obvious, some I didn't know till someone told me. In no particular order.

Stick Your Arse Out
Nice new bike, lovely tight brakes that stop you dead? Excellent, except they only stop the bike, don't they? Going over the handlebars is the most spectacular thing you can do on a bike but it's funnier if it isn't you doing it. The way to avoid it is to keep your weight at the back of the bike so your body decelerates before it gets too far forward. You can make it part of your braking action: stand a little and push your butt back as you pull on the brakes. Putting your weight back is also good for going downhill without using brakes as it makes you a bit more stable. (I learned this from mountain biking but it's handy for rain-slicked cobbled streets too.)

Shift Down
When you see an obstacle ahead, try to shift to an easier gear before you reach it. The way your gears work, changes only take effect when you're pedalling forwards. Shifting when you are stopped or slowing only makes things harder because – clunk! – the gears slip down, you lose balance briefly and probably swerve. Get this right at junctions and when you pull away you get a great moment of acceleration faster than any boy racer next to you.

Signal – See – Slide Over
Hand signals, very important. Drivers being stupid, you need to give them as much chance as possible to see you when you are changing position. To take right turns as an example: signal well before, look over your shoulder to check that no-one's piling past regardless, then move over to the right of the lane before making the turn or halting (in a low gear, of course). If you slow meekly to a stop and then try to cross the lane in a gap in the traffic, it is a lot harder to get to where you need to be. Don't be shy: when you signal you are not asking the traffic behind, you are telling it, (signalling your intentions). Give the boxes plenty of time to see you and check they aren't ignoring you but do move in good time: they'll only get pissed off and do something stupid if you don't.

Be In The Right Place
OK, now I'm being patronising but being in the wrong lane is easy done and guaranteed trouble, often because of bad signposting. Example: two lanes going left and I wanted to go straight ahead (bridge at the bottom of Jamaica Street, since you ask) having followed the bike lane on the inside left. With no advanced stop lane, when the lights changed I was stuck trying to cross the second lane. Stupid and unpleasant and unnecessary (and as a helpful policeman pointed out, I could have got myself killed doing that). There's no trick to this, actually. Know the roads and watch for signs way in advance, especially when you're following lane markings covered by the boxes.

Smile, Laugh and Sing
This is mostly a propaganda thing but it also shortens your journey and in the long run will make the roads safer (trust me!). Drivers like to think that anyone not in a car wants to be in one and sometimes shout over to you for reassurance that it's cold outside and that you're having a miserable time. This is to justify their selfish laziness and must be discouraged. The more folk get out of their cars the safer the roads will be. So don't fret about splashes and downpours, enjoy the sensual pleasure of water trickling down your face. When you're weaving through trapped cars make it obvious that you are going to be home before them and you are enjoying the journey a lot more than they are.

Mind The Doors!
Just because a car isn't moving it doesn't mean it isn't going to try and injure you in some way. Expect a door to open on you and you won't be surprised. Most folk don't look properly when they get out their box and car doors are both metal and sharp. Give them a wide berth if you can, watch for people inside and make yourself as visible as you can using your old early 90s warehouse rave gear (up to and including glowsticks). If a door does open onto you and you can't stop you can either go into the car or try and dodge around it. Not a great choice. Ideally you dodge round but not if you're on a narrow road with oncoming vehicles. Then, coun ter-intuitive as it is, your best option is to hit your brakes and the stationary car. Make a lot of noise so you don't hit the idiot who didn't look (even though they'd deserve it), let the bike take most of the impact (even though it doesn't) and most importantly, get the insurance details of the car you hit. This situation is clear-cut their fault and it'll cost a lot of money to straighten your forks and front wheel. Tap them for a new helmet and paint job as well: the more it costs the less likely they are to do it again.

Don't Take Risks (You Don't Want To Take)
Skipping through red lights. Weaving through rush-hour traffic. Cycling on the pavement. The Highway Code will tell you one thing and common sense will tell you another. If you want to break the rules, do so. It's only your arse you're risking on a bike. Be sensible though. The reason couriers get away with the stuff they do is that they are good cyclists. If you are good you can do similar things without getting pasted but if you don't feel confident about any given situation, give stopping the benefit of the doubt. (For your Mam's sake, if no-one else.) If you do go onto the pavement, be nice to the pedestrians, they are the cyclist's natural ally and it's really tedious to read those newspaper letters that seem to think that bikes are more dangerous than cars. (Fucking drivers, they're everywhere.)

I didn't consult anyone except me about this article and I'm not claiming it's absolute truth and driver-proof. What works for me might not work for you. Have fun, find out where I've been talking mince and don't blame me for accidents: it'll be the chumps in the cages.


More information:

- Well-stocked bike shop, runs maintenance courses
- V. readable bike maintenance book, article about getting a 2nd hand bike
- Critical Mass: You are the traffic
- Glasgow cycle campaign group
- One of 1000s of mountain biking sites
- Sustrans: charity building the National Cycle Network

Article by Chris Haikney

Illustration by Peter Davidson
Bike photo from www.bikesummer.org

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