Nowadays, it seems like more bicycles are out on the roads rather than simply ageing or gathering dust in the garage or shed. This increase probably has something to do with increased awareness over the worries of climate change, or it is simply due to the fact we all seem on a fitness drive (of sorts) and are continually looking to keep in shape and lead a more healthy and positive lifestyle.
Whatever the reason, cycling is certainly on the increase and its popularity and the worldwide infrastructure for cyclists is improving, day by day.
In recent years, the number of regular cycle commuters has grown significantly especially, with the number of children and teenagers, as well as working adults taking to the road or cycle path. With more visible bicycles on the road, numerous cities (around the world) have taken note and begun to implement new ideas and infrastructure changes in order to help to cruise around on two wheels much safer and easier, than ever before. Freshly-paved cycle paths, freshly-painted cycle lanes, innovative traffic signals, clever bike share programs and Cycle to Work schemes are beginning to emerge all over the world.
Before joining the party on that rusty old one-speed cycle, just make sure you know and are implementing the rules of the road, which are so often forgotten. Cycling can be fun and just as safe as driving — in fact, some studies claim it is the safest form of transportation for young adults — when everyone follows the laws of the road and applies plenty of common sense.
Following the Rules of the Road
It goes without saying that the rules of the road are there for a reason, but it doesn't always say that they followed. As a result, if we want to make the world a safer place and promote cycling further, then following those rules is a must. This might sound a little patronising, but the breaking of rules is something I see every single day while out on my bike, commuting to work. With that said, it is important to put your pride to one side and consider safety first.
Points to consider:
Simple rules involve always cycling on the road in the same direction as traffic (only cyclists under age 12 are legally allowed to ride on sidewalks/pavements). Even though they might lack a motor, bicycles are considered road vehicles just like cars and trucks.
ALWAYS STOP at red lights and stop signs and continue to obey other traffic signs (i.e. the one-way street sign), just like you would in a car. I see people time after time, taking life into their own hands, by jumping red lights.
Use marked bike paths or lanes when they’re available. Now, I'm lucky enough to live in the Netherlands. They are clearly marked and are literally found everywhere.
When travelling with your children, be extra safe. Make sure children are correctly and safely positioned on a bike. When I visited India, parents carried children were all over the bike. Obviously, this is not good and as you take your life and others into your hands. As a result, I feel strongly all children and adults must wear a helmet at all times — why people don't. I will never know!
In many areas, cycling on the highways and other major routes is illegal and again is something you should not undertake. Stay safe and cycle where appropriate.
Adhere to cycle ethics, when in a group. The group doesn't own the road and must always act responsibly at all times.
The importance of Safety Gear
While there are no set rules and regulations, most cyclists would agree that safety equipment is there for a reason and using it appropriately can help to ensure your safety as well as someone else's.
Important pieces of cycling kit include:
Helmet - the most important piece of kit and using your head could help to save what is in it.
A Bell or Horn - not the most fashionable accessory on a bike, but essential all the same. I previously never had one, but now I am living in the Netherlands it is essential when passing and alerting others when you are in close proximity with other cyclists.
Lights - Massively important and cycle retailers sell an extensive array of great lights at competitive prices. I feel it is essential to have both front and back lights, all year round. Many bikes now have them built in. They are there for a reason, so use them.
Working brakes - say no more. Without them, you could end up somewhere you are not meant to be.
Reflectors - Are so underrated and they can most certainly help you to be seen, especially in dark or foggy, atmospheric conditions. They can be easily applied to the front or back of the bicycle and clothing now has them as part of a striking design.
Clothing - Over the years cycling apparel has become more and more appealing, with many companies such as Rapha and Assos producing fabulous quality gear. Gear that is functional, practical and well designed allowing any cyclist to be seen and even admired at the same time.
During my cycle commute, I always wear the correct gear and I'm very happy to be seen. I feel it is massively important, so I would never shy away from something in orange or fluorescent yellow.
Developing Good Habits and using Common Sense
To make every cycling experience positive (and safe), it is hugely important to follow safe cycling practices. We may not always want to, but most of these important cycling habits are geared toward keeping the cyclist visible to drivers and pedestrians in order to limit and prevent accidents.
Common sense is everything and the most obvious things are often the things people take no notice of. Using the phone on the bike baffles me. In a car you should not be using your phone, so why on a bike? Put it down! and I shouldn’t even need to say this, but talking on the phone, texting, or checking your Social Media while cycling are simply stupidity in the making.
Listening to music or an audio-book is also somewhat perilous especially in a busy urban environment. Obviously, it limits your hearing and in turn, can lead to difficulties with approaching traffic and other road users.
It might sound pretty obvious, but ride your bike in a straight line. Sadly, some people cannot or in fact choose not too, by performing some weird and wonderful tricks.
Again, it might seem obvious, but riding correctly and in a predictable way makes it easier for cars and other road users to safely go around you and not into you. This is even more important when cycling in groups, as you cannot always predict what the group will do.
For me, here in the Netherlands, it is important to stay on the right side of the lane, in a single-file line. It is good etiquette and obviously leads to good safety on the road or cycle path. With friends, we tend to cycle side by side, but it is dangerous and can lead to collisions with other cyclists coming the other way. It cannot be always possible, but be vigilant and aware of what is around you at all times.
Sometimes if the street becomes too narrow for cars to pass, cyclists are allowed to ride in the middle of the lane to increase visibility. Even so, be sure to keep an eye out for parked cars or rather, doors from parked cars opening into the street. There is nothing worse than falling off your bike especially when you least expect a door in your face.
Stay out of drivers’ blind spots, especially at traffic lights or stop signs. It is easy to do, but time after time we forget.
Always keep at least one hand on the handlebars. Importantly you will regret not doing so if you suddenly run over a stone or pothole etc.
We all practised and passed our cycle proficiency when we were young, but so often we forget the key skills and rules we learnt. Remember them and use them again and again. Be sure to signal well and always make eye contact with drivers before making a turn or slowing down.
All cycling signals are important and must be used all of the time. Keep hands on the handlebars for stability. If you are not confident about your signalling skills, spend some time practising turns in a quiet area where there is little traffic before hitting the busier roads.
Don’t ride and text or phone... I see so many people riding slow or with lack of control, especially in the city. It is a dangerous pastime and not only puts the cyclist in danger but also others too. It is definitely a habit adopted by the youngsters. It is extremely dangerous, so stop it! If you must insist on having your phone close to you, then there are a wide range of cycle mounts available for you to buy. I generally record my cycling miles using a Quad Lock.
Stay visible. Wear bright colours for daytime riding and reflective materials for the night. I know during the winter months I resemble a Christmas tree, so sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone and looking out of place, can often save your life.
Always travel with a mini tool kit. If your ride is more than 10 minutes or down a lonely stretch of road, you’ll be thankful for taking it with you. Taking time to learn how to do a few quick repairs in advance, is also an important thing to do. Experience tells me there is nothing worse than getting stranded, in the middle of nowhere!
Have fun! Cycling is all about enjoying the great outdoors, so don't forget to wear a smile while you enjoy your journey.
The Top 5 Cycling Countries
It’s no surprise that Germany makes the top 5, considering the first bicycle was created in 1818 by Baron Karl Drais, a German. A version of his bike also called the “Laufmaschine” or the “dandy-horse”, is still used today as a training bike for young Germans.
Not only does Sweden boast a significant share of bike riders, but thanks to the country’s efforts in bike lane maintenance, Swedish bikers ride even in the worst winter weather. A city in Sweden has even run an incentivised experiment to get people to abandon their cars for greater bike use.
Not only does Denmark have a rich cultural history of bike riding dating back to the 1800s, but biking has also become a notable symbol of the country’s egalitarianism: roughly the same share of Danes at all income levels use a bike to commute. Copenhagen has an extensive network of cycling routes.
In a country where there are more bikes than people, cycling is a form of commute used by a huge proportion of the Dutch. This followed a backlash to increased car usage in the 1950s and 60s, the Netherlands’ bike culture grew in tandem with significant investments toward cycling infrastructure. Today the Netherlands is considered one of the safest places for bike riders.
In addition: How the Dutch created a Casual Cycling culture.