Fun, convenient and eco-friendly, cycling is often the go-to method of transport for many students across the UK. And when you factor in the savings you can make on gym membership (now that you’ll be exercising regularly during your daily commute), cycling to university each day can really take some strain off the purse strings.
However, it’s no secret that cyclists can be a lot more vulnerable on the roads than, say, cars or motorcycles, which means that it’s particularly important for cyclists to keep safety at the forefront of their minds when commuting to university each day.
With this in mind, here are 10 tips to stay safe while cycling around your student city.
10 student tips for safe city cycling
1. Know the law
Although it can be difficult to make the distinction, there is a difference between the Highway Code and the law. The Highway Code is a mixture of guidance and legislation which applies to all road users in the UK - although there is a separate version that applies to Northern Ireland.
Anything outlined in the Highway Code that is mandatory (required by law) is referred to as something you ‘must’ or ‘must not’ do. A breach of these rules is a criminal offence, and you could face prosecution if you don’t comply with the relevant legislation when cycling around your student city.
Remember, road laws aren’t just there for your safety, but for the safety of everybody around you – including drivers and pedestrians - so make sure you’re cautious and considerate when cycling on busy roads.
2. Make sure you’re visible
Now this one actually is a legal requirement, but it’s probably also common sense. Cyclists are easy to miss, especially late at night. Which means that it’s a good idea for cyclists to make sure they’re visible by wearing high visibility clothing and a helmet when they’re out and about at night – although you’re not legally required to do so.
However, if you’re cycling between sunset and sunrise, you are legally required to ensure your bike has front and rear lights that are clean and in good working order. This can include flashing lights, but they need to flash between 60 and 240 times a minute to ensure you’re seen. You are also legally required to affix reflectors to your bike, including a red rear reflector and four amber pedal reflectors – however. Similarly to normal lights, these rules only apply between sunset and sunrise.
3. Assume you haven’t been seen
Although you’ll obviously be taking every possible precaution to ensure you’re seen by other road users, sometimes you might slip into a blind spot – which means that it’s sensible to always assume that you haven’t been seen by the cars and people around you. This will ensure that you don’t take any unnecessary risks and always err on the side of caution, especially when merging lanes or going through junctions.
4. Know where you’re going
It’s difficult to multi-task at the best of times, so you don’t want to be having to focus on figuring out where you are when you should be keeping an eye on the surrounding traffic and pedestrians.
That’s why it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the local cycling routes before attempting to make the trip on your bike, just so that you can feel fully confident that you know exactly where you’re going. Go for a stroll around the area and figure out which cycle paths are going to be the most convenient for your trip to university. That way, when you come to make the commute, you’ll only have to focus on your own safety.
5. Stick to the cycle lane (if you can)
It’s a common misconception that cyclists are legally required to use the cycle lanes. However, this isn’t strictly true, and the Highway Code advice is that they should be used dependant on ‘your experience and skills.’
You may opt, for example, not to use a cycle lane that is littered with glass and potholes, and instead cycle on the road. This is completely your prerogative – however, bear in mind that it might still be safer to stick to the cycle paths, out of the way of the faster-moving traffic.
6. Don’t wear headphones
Again, this is probably common sense, but it’s a good idea not to wear headphones when you’re cycling around the city, as it could either be distracting when you’re trying to concentrate or diminish your ability to react to situations that arise on the road - such as a car beeping its horn to warn you about something, or an ambulance siren trying to get through the traffic. Although it can be very tempting to listen to music as a means of alleviating the boredom of the average commute, it’s probably best to leave your vision and hearing unimpeded while you’re out cycling.
7. Stay away from the curb
Although, it’s not a legal requirement to stay in the cycle lane, most people do tend to, and best practise is to stick to the middle of the lane wherever possible. By cycling too close to the curb, you could end up caking your bike wheels in dirt from the side of the road, so it’s a good idea to stay in the middle of the lane so you don’t have to wash your bike too often. You might also want to keep an eye out for potholes, as you don’t want to be taken by surprise during rush-hour traffic.
8. Remember where you left your bike
When you’re in a rush, it’s very easy to simply lock your bike up somewhere and not really think twice about where you left it until you try to find it later on. However, anybody that’s been to a student city that is particularly popular with cyclists will tell you, while there may only have been one or two bikes there at 8am, by 5pm there’ll be an entire university populations’ worth of bikes locked to yours, and you’re going to have to try to remember exactly where you left it.
Similarly to when you park your car at an airport, take a photo of any distinguishing features or landmarks in the area surrounding your bike to help you locate it again later on.
9. Take something to change into
Everyone wants to make a good impression at university, which means that you’re probably not going to want to turn up to a lecture drenched in sweat (or rain) from your morning commute!
Wear cycling-specific clothing, such as leggings and rash vests (attractive as they are) to help you stay comfortable when you’re cycling around the city. It’s also sensible to take some wet wipes, deodorant and a change of clothing so you feel fresh and ready to start a day of lectures once you arrive.
10. Make sure you’re covered
If you’re relying on your bike to get you to university each day, then you might want to consider taking out bicycle insurance to make sure your bike is fully protected when you’re out and about in your student city. By making sure you have the right bicycle insurance in place, you can ensure your bike is protected should it get lost, stolen or damaged while you’re away at university.
However, you’ll want to double check whether your bicycle insurance policy requires a particular type of lock for your bike, as some insurance companies will specify that a lock meets a certain standard – such as a lock which meets ‘Sold Secure’ Gold standards, or which has a security rating of 8 or above.