Urban cycling isn’t an extreme sport, but there are times when it seems that we’re pedaling through an assault-course, dodging pedestrians and cars parked in cycle lanes. In a utopia, roads would always be squeaky clean and in pristine condition, with potholes and drains being things found only in nightmares and scary movies.
Sadly, the reality is quite different. Though the government has invested millions of pounds into cycling infrastructure all over the country, there are still a plethora of difficulties that the average cyclists face when riding in towns and cities. From safety hazards to coexistence with motorists and pedestrians, urban cycling has more challenges than just physical endurance. We’re going to discuss some of the obstacles we face while cycling in urban areas, and what you can do to overcome them.
Potholes are an evil that come in all shapes and sizes, and that multiply during the wetter weather. Depending on factors such as speed, size, and type of ride, and of course, the size of the pothole, you can suffer from a slight loss of control, damage to the rim and tyre of your bike, or even a fall.
The best way to get around a pothole is to anticipate it. This is easier on routes that you’re already familiar with. When you roll through unknown territory, it’s advisable to keep your eyes fixed on your path ahead so you can see what awaits you. On busier roads it can be difficult to avoid, as potholes can appear out of nowhere, in this case it’s best to jump it with your front wheel.
Drains, cracks, and gaps in the road
Storm drains aren’t designed in a way that make them safe for cyclists; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Grates oriented in the direction of traffic are more than an inconvenient bump in the road, they’re downright dangerous as bikes comes to an immediate halt when a wheel gets caught in the grates.
Our first recommendation is to always avoid the drains that are on the side of the road and put yourself in a primary position to the centre of the lane. If this isn’t possible, the safest way to get over it is to go perpendicular to the direction of the gird. As with potholes, if you can’t avoid it, try to jump over it, preventing the front wheel from getting caught.
It’s not uncommon to find streets with large cracks, gaps or potholes due to lack of maintenance or just down to poor construction in the first place. Fall into one of these cracks, and you can seriously damage your wheels, or worse, fall off your bike and suffer an injury.
If you need to cross a ditch, crack or even tram track, it’s best to point the front wheel towards the ditch and lift it when crossing so that you avoid hitting the edge. If your wheels have already fallen not the ditch, pull the front wheel up and shift you weight to the side.
Driving a car in the rain is already risky, so when it’s done on two wheels it becomes especially dangerous. Beyond not having a chassis that protects us from the rain, it’s tricky to ride without slipping.
The most perilous time to cycle is when the first rain shower falls, this is because oil residue left behind by vehicles begins to loosen and forms a slippery multi-coloured film, this is eventually washed away after a few rain showers.
So, when pedalling on a wet surface, extreme precautions must always be taken. It’s essential to ride with a greater distance between you and other motorists or cyclists so that you have an increased braking space and more time to manoeuvre. It’s also important to apply the brakes periodically for two reasons, firstly to make sure that they are working, secondly to reduce excess water on the rim or disc. Finally, when turning, try to load your weight on the outer pedal and keep it in a lower position, this helps to achieve a better grip.
Obstructions in the road
It’s not uncommon to find objects such as cans, boxes and general rubbish on the roads which can represent a danger for cyclists. In most cases, you will find these on the edge of the road, but not always!
The best way to get around these obstacles is to be aware of what’s coming your way. If you’re attentive to what’s 20-30 metres ahead, you have a better chance of reacting in advance. Ride in the primary position, as previously mentioned, you’re less likely to encounter debris and other objects that don’t belong on the road, and so that you have more space to manoeuvre.
Parked cars can pose as a problem for cyclists for many reasons. Car doors are one of the most common causes of cyclists’ injuries- thankfully they’re easy to avoid. Always pass parked cars on the right and avoid getting too close to them in case someone opens their door without looking for (you’d be surprised at how common this is!)
Cars parking in cycle lanes is another kettle of fish; bikes have a hard time navigating around cars parked in a cycle lane, which forces them into traffic where they may get hit by another car. While it is illegal for cars to park in cycle lanes, unfortunately, there are still people ignoring this rule.
Pedestrians in cycle lanes
We’ve all done it, consciously or subconsciously, sauntered across a cycle lane blissfully unaware of the danger we’re causing. We’ve also thought that pavements should be paved with the same material since walking in the cycle lane is much nicer and bouncier.
However, we often forget that the purpose of these lanes is to facilitate the circulation of cyclists, not pedestrians, and walking in these designated cycle lanes is dangerous. Though pedestrians should be aware of the traffic ruling in their towns and cities, as a cyclist you may have to take an extra precaution to ensure both your own and their safety. Having a loud bell attached to your bike is a good way to alert others of your presence, as pedestrians tend to amble with their ears and not their eyes!
Whether you’re a seasoned urban cyclist or are just looking to get started, it’s good to know what to expect. Problems are inevitable in the cycling world, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop riding!
Of course, there are ways to deal with these problems, and you can start by simply being aware of them. Always be on the lookout for these dangers, plan ahead and try to find workarounds when possible. Urban cycling is a very rewarding exercise, an efficient way of commuting and an opportunity to have a healthier lifestyle.