How to: commute on a bike – a guide to urban cycling

If you want to ride to work on your bike but find the idea dodging traffic, staying dry and negotiating roundabouts a little overwhelming, I’m here to help! Here are my top tips for zipping about safely and stylishly, gleaned from years of cycling in cities and shouting at bus drivers.

bike City Cycling Guide - How To Cycle Safely In Cities

DO: Be bright and be safe
The more visible you are, the better. Simple as that. Cover as much of your body and bike as possible with flourescent yellow tabards, flashing lights and other bright baubles, and then pop a helmet on top. You may not look cool, but cool < alive, amiright? Knowing that you’re easy to spot will give you confidence and make you stand out on the road, even on dark rainy nights. Get kitted out with decent gear from a good online cycle retailer.

DON’T: Assume all pedestrians can see you
I am frequently a pedestrian myself, so I know they’re not the enemy, really. Most of them must be reasonably intelligent. But cycle towards them and suddenly they’ll decide to do some rather silly things. They’ll step off the road in front of you, walk in cycle lanes and occasionally simply freeze in your tracks like a rabbit in the headlights. Assume that they’re all visually challenged and be on your guard. This also goes for…

DO: Assume all cars are idiots
Of course they aren’t. The huge majority of the drivers I encounter each day are courteous, safety conscious individuals who watch out for bikes, let you in, let you out, give you space. These are lovely people. That doesn’t, however, mean you can let your guard down. You need to constantly watch all the cars around you and assume that they’re all drunk, blind morons who may cut you up or emergency brake at any given moment. If a driver is nice to you, wave merrily and say thanks, you’re doing the cycling community’s rep a favour. If someone treats you horrifically, don’t let anger jeopardise your safety – keep calm and cycle on. The one time when you should definitely wade into a fight is when taxis or buses drive badly around you. Take down their license place and company and report the f*ckers. It really does make a difference – last year I had a bus driver suspended after he forced me into oncoming traffic.

DO: Get an ugly bike
I love my hybrid Giant bike, Tasha. She’s comfortable, powerful and takes a lot of abuse on and off the road. But she isn’t the prettiest of two wheeled beasts, with peeling handles, a much-mended gear system and the occasional rust spot on her ancient frame. This is, however, a blessing in disguise – I can lock her up everywhere and she’ll never get nicked, not when there are nicer rides about. If you’ve got a beautiful road bike in the garage, save it for weekend trips and touring, and get yourself a cheap, run of the mill hybrid to commute on.

DON’T: Pick flashy accessories
Whilst Tasha herself has always been safe and sound, my beautiful wicker basket (with flowers on! people are horrible) was recently removed from her handlebars in the dead of night. Bah. A bike basket is a great thing for popping all your bits and pieces in when you’re commuting, but pick a plain, functional one that attaches to your bike with more than just leather straps and it’ll be less likely to go walkies. This one from Halfords is the right combo of sturdy and subtle.

DO: Have a plan B for bad weather
Riding in storms is a part of the exciting ups and downs of urban cycling, and it makes you a better person, honest. However, if it’s icy on the road or there’s a bout of torrential rain and driving wind predicted, don’t put yourself in a scary position, especially at night. Walk or take the bus instead and cycle tomorrow – it’s not worth slipping and scaring yourself.

DON’T: Neglect your skin
The urban jungle can take its toll on the freshest of faces, especially when you’re riding in and out of bus lanes each morning. I asked the Elle Beauty team what they use to rectify the situation. They recommend using an antioxidant-rich cream by Murad to fight the effects of pollution, and regular purifying masks from Elemis to get rid of accumulated grime.

DO: Get wardrobe savvy
Hey girlie girl! You can still wear your pretty summer dresses and cycle around, promise. You just have to be clever when you get dressed in the morning. Wear leggings underneath skirts or pack a change of clothes, and invest in some decent waterproofs to keep your rad outfit dry. My commuter style post is here to help you. I love Cycle Chic, a one-stop-shop for biking lasses about town, or if you’re a vintage-loving lady, check out Day Glow Doris – I met these stylish chicks at L’Eroica festival last weekend and I can personally confirm that their hi-vis capelets are just darling, darling.

DON’T: Wear headphones
For the love of Pete, people, stop wearing headphones on your bike. You’re rendering your hearing, one of your essential spidey senses, completely useless. Reacting fast to sights and sounds in traffic is what keeps you alive, and if you can’t hear cars, horns or even someone yelling at you to get out of the way, you’re drastically increasing your chances of ending up as roadkill. I can’t believe this is even legal. //rant over//

DO: Enjoy it!
I’ve been cycling about merrily for years and I love it more than ever. Plan a route today and get on your bike, and by the end of the week you’ll be happier, healthier and richer. If you’re a little nervous, start small with a five minute cycle to the shops, or stick to cycle paths and build up slowly to road cycling. Think confident at all times – you have as much right to the road as other users, so take up enough space to feel safe, cycle at a speed that’s comfortable and enjoy rocking up at the office looking all smug.

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3 Comments

  1. June 23, 2014 / 6:56 pm

    GREAT post 🙂 I love a cycle commute …as you know!! I’m organising a Big City Cycle in London on July 6th…I went on one last year and it really helped with my confidence levels!

  2. sian
    June 24, 2014 / 9:04 am

    Haha Elle I thought of you whilst writing it because we were the least organised cyclists EVER in Shoreditch! Oh well, you live and learn! Ooh that sounds amazing, let me know how it goes! xxxx