Wednesday 11 December 2013

Essential cycling skills for urban riders

Tip: Learn how to: start and stop, brake safely, turn corners, ride in the wet, cross tram tracks and ride in traffic. This post summarizes the most essential advice and skills for urban cyclists who simply need to get around cities safely and with confidence.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by William Ward

1. Start off the seat with one foot on a raised pedal
Don't start seated. Straddle the bike and as you push off the raised pedal, you will naturally push up and can settle onto the seat. See photos here: > Beginners guide to essential cycling skills

2. Stop by first moving off the seat onto the pedals
When slowing down to stop move off the seat so your weight is on the pedals. As you stop lower one foot off the pedal onto the ground. You don't need to lean the bike as you should have no issue touching the ground. If the top tube is too high for comfort, check your bike size is correct.

3. Rely on the front brake and keep your weight to the back of the bike
- The front brake is far more effective than the back and when at peak effect (the back wheel starting to come off the ground) there is no added advantage from applying the back brake.

- As you'll need the front brake for emergency stops and applying it too quickly can throw you over the handlebars, it's important to practice using the front brake so you can control it. The best way to get the feel of it is to use it on its own (without the back brake).

- In an emergency its common to stand on the pedals or go with the forward motion as the bike stops. However, this makes it harder to apply maximum braking without tipping over the front. Instead you should shift/keep your weight back to prevent the rear wheel coming off the ground. If you make a habit of this as you brake, you're more likely to react this way in a real emergency.

4. Lean to turn rather than turning the wheel; brake before turning not during
- Stop pedaling and keep the inside pedal up so there is maximum clearance to the ground when you turn.

- At anything higher than 15km/hr, you should lean to turn corners not turn the handlebars significantly. Counter-intuitively, a trick to start the lean is to briefly and lightly turn the handlebars slightly in the opposite direction to your turn just before you lean.

- Never brake as you turn as braking removes weight on your back wheel and thus your bike can slide or fishtail (especially if its wet). If you need to slow down, brake before the turn while heading straight.

5. Cross slippery tracks (e.g. tram tracks) at larger angles
- If crossing over metal tracks running in the same direction as you are travelling, try to briefly maximise the angle you cross them rather than slowly drift across them. The greater the angle the less likely your tyres will slip on them.

6. Ride predictably, signal, make eye contact, put your safety first
- There are dozens of tips on riding safely on shared roads so this will have a separate post. Among the most important are to ride predictably, know how to signal your intentions, make eye contact with drivers rather than assume (e.g. at roundabouts) and always prioritize your safety (stop if necessary, avoid conflict with cars, ride on the pavement if required).