The Guardian asked their readers who commute by bike to share their tips on how to stay dry, calm, and – most of all – safe on their journeys to work. We give you their hard-earned advice (and a couple of useful tips from around the web):
Before you bike
Preparing for your ride is key to staying safe:
Know the law: New York, London and other cities often post their rules and recommendations for bike riding.
Plan your route: If you’re new to cycling, knowing where you’re going in advance will save you time and keep you out of dangerous situations. Less experienced cyclists should plan a route with bike lanes and less-trafficked streets, and avoid construction and busy intersections. (h/t@EastFinchleyite and @PhillipD)
Consult maps of your city for the best route: Google maps gives the option to display directions for cyclists, though it’s still in beta. If you’re participating in a bike-sharing scheme, check out the official website for routes and station maps. London’s Barclays Cycle Hire, New York’s Citi Bikes, Paris’ Velib, and other programs have this information handily posted. Some bike-share programs even have apps for your iPhone.
Take a class: Biking through a busy metropolis is an entirely different experience than a trip through Central Park or down the West Side Highway. If you think you could use some professional guidance, see if bike stores in your neighbourhood offer classes on safety and technique. Organizations like Bike New York in NYC also give lessons and seminars.
Buy the proper gear: It goes without saying that you should never ride without a helmet. But there is other safety gear that cyclists should consider before hitting the streets.
Be seen: Use lights even during the day, wear a reflective vest [or other item of clothing] – SantaMuerte
“Wear protective clothing, skin lasts about three feet scrubbing on the road surface.” – EastFinchleyite
Be prepared for rain: On a bike, you’re exposed to the elements in a way you wouldn’t be in a car, bus, or subway. Take precautions to make sure you aren’t caught in a downpour.
“Buy a good breathable waterproof jacket and some waterproof trousers.” – nickNW
“Have waterproof clothing with you at all times. If it’s raining and you don’t have it, you will get very wet very quickly.” – BobJanova
“Take a plastic shopping bag to tie over the seat so if your bike was parked in the rain you don’t get a wet bum when you go home.” – BarabbasFreed
Got all that? Congratulations, you’re ready for a bicycle commute!
On the road
Here are some practical tips from Guardian readers to remember during your trip:
Follow the rules of the road
“If you break the rules, don’t expect others to treat you well on the road. An extra minute waiting at a red light won’t kill you, but a grumpy motorist might.” – LelaSealion
“If you wouldn’t do it in a car, don’t do it on a bike. Take the lane you are supposed to take.” – Sudders
Keep your eyes and ears open:
“Look behind you. Look where you are going. If you pull out or join traffic, look first. Assume [drivers] can’t see you; you must see them.” – EastFinchleyite
“Learn to quickly glance behind you and take in what’s there without wobbling.” – RidleyWalker
“Make eye contact with drivers. Peek back over your shoulder every now and then – you’ll be amazed how many drivers slow or give you a wider berth.” – LelaSealion
“Remember that pedestrians can – and will – step out into the road without warning at any time.” – metalvendetta
“Don’t wear headphones! Hearing is a crucial sense on a bike; if you listen to music you’re only half there.” – Polako
If there’s no bike lane, stick to the middle of the lane:
Don’t be meek. Make yourself big on the road; stay a good two or three feet out from the curb.” – Polako
Be careful when “filtering,” or riding your bike between lanes:
“Never filter inside a long vehicle where it might be turning.” – PhilipD
Be courteous to drivers, even if they nearly just killed you:
“Say/wave ‘thank you’ to cars when they let you in after your clear signal.” – LVIII
Move into the correct road position early and make it obvious what you plan to do. Don’t force cars to change their speed. – Steve Windass
I experience angry, irrational drivers every day on my commute. How to respond to them is always a question of judgement. Sometimes they look like they want a fight, so I ignore them and stay out of their way. Sometimes they look like they’ll respond to empathy, so I use an empathic approach. The only person whose emotions you can be certain about influencing is yourself. So to make the right call you need to be calm and not act out of anger and adrenaline. – nickNW
Remember that cars are dangerous, even if they’re parked:
At stop lights, get as far ahead of traffic as you legally can at the stop, [and] make sure the drivers can see you. Get moving as fast as you can on the green, otherwise careless drivers will overtake far too close as they try to cross.” – PhilipD
Don’t ride in the door zone. –felixcat
Be careful on turns
“Don’t go up the inside of large vehicles. They won’t be able to see you, and if they turn right there is nothing you can do. If you want to get past, go down the outside to overtake, like in a car.” – BobJanova*
Don’t wind up in the gutter:
“It’s far safer NOT to cycle in the gutter but to be about 2-3 feet out from the curb. Then drivers know that they have to allow some space, and if they do drive too close, at least you have the 2-3 feet to escape.” – J7Sue
“Don’t squeeze yourself into the gutter. It’s where the broken glass, gratings, etc. are. This also avoids car-dooring issues.” – goeast
Don’t show off:
Don’t race unless you’ve got a number on your back. – LVIII
Avoid dangerous routes where possible. […] There should be a quieter alternative to the main car-centric routes.” – BobJanova
Once you’ve arrived
Unless you biked to the gym, where it is entirely acceptable to look sweaty and dishevelled, you’ll probably want to look presentable once you’ve reached your destination. Here’s how:
“Keep a full set of clothes at work, including socks and underpants.” – nhsworker
I have baby wipes & deoderant at work and some spare clothes in a drawer incase I need to change. – missgeorgieo