HOW TO BIKE IN THE CITY

Our guide to urban cycling is aimed at bicycle newbies and those curious about riding in the city. It runs through everything from pre-ride route planning to how to make a turn in a busy road.

Cycling is great way to get around the city – it’s cheap (think free parking and zero fuel bills), green and keeps you happy, stress free and active. Whether you are commuting to work or riding to the corner shop, knowing the basics of road safety, ensures that you stay safe and enjoy your ride even when cycling on busy roads.


PLAN YOUR ROUTE

Plan your route around quieter roads or cycle lanes. Use our Travel Guides & Bike Maps to find the best routes near you. Even better is to start cycling with friends or colleagues who are more experienced than you or who have a similar commuter route. Cycling in a group is fun and much safer than cycling alone. Motorists have an easier time spotting groups of cyclists and riding together reduces the risk crime. If you do cycle alone, it’s a good idea to carry your emergency details with you and let someone know where you’re going.

GEAR UP

Get the right bike and gear for commuting and/or carrying cargo. Wear a helmet. Fit bike with lights and reflectors (required by law). If you have a short commute, ride in your work clothes at a relaxed pace, you do not need to war lycra. For longer commutes keep a spare set of clothing to change into. Dress appropriately for the weather. Follow our Guide to Commuter bikes and gear.

CHECK YOUR BIKE

Keep your bike road worthy and check it over before you ride (check tires are inflated, the brakes are working and the chain is clean and lubed). Learn how to repair a flat and carry a repair kit with you.

FIND YOUR ZEN

Be aware. Be careful. Be confident. Ride decisively and anticipate what drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists will do next. Keep a clear space around you. Be predictable – ride in a straight line unless avoiding hazards or passing.

MIND THE DOOR ZONE

When cycling next to parked cars, it’s safer to ride at least a meter away from parked cars, to stay outside the door zone, even if it means taking a whole lane of traffic. Watch out for passengers disembarking from buses or taxis.

CLAIM THE LANE

If possible use the bike lane, but if you feel safer outside the bike lane, or it is obstructed by parked vehicles, then ride in other vehicle travel lanes. Merge when safe and signal when changing lanes. When riding with traffic, if the lane is too narrow for cars to safely pass you, rather claim the lane until it is safe to move over again. In areas with lots of side streets or driveways to your left, move away from the extreme edge so that cars turning right can easily see you. At traffic circles, ride in the lane to be more visible and prevent motorists from hitting you as they exit the circle.

CAREFUL WITH TURNS

Use hand signals and look behind you before turning, slowing down or stopping. Make eye contact with drivers to check that they’ve seen you, and thank them if they let you through. Fit a bicycle mirror to help you monitor traffic without constantly having to look behind you. Be extra alert when cycling at night.

…AND INTERSECTIONS

Make eye contact with drivers, stay out of their blind spots and use your bells and lights to alert them to your presence. If need be, occupy a whole lane of traffic to avoid getting in the way of turning vehicles. Avoid ‘undertaking’ vehicles at intersections as they may suddenly be turning left. It’s safer to hang back until the vehicle has moved off.

DON’T RUN OVER PEDESTRIANS

Follow the Street Code – our guide to responsible, safe cycling etiquette. Always yield to pedestrians. At pedestrian crossings, stop behind the line, leaving the crossing clear for safe walking. When riding on shared paths be courteous to pedestrians and other path users. Slow down where space is limited and when approaching junctions, bends or any other ‘blind spots’ on the path. Use a bell to let people know you’re approaching or passing. But be aware that not everyone will be able to see or hear you.

SHARE THE ROAD

Obey all the Rules of the Road. The laws that apply to motorists also apply to people on bikes. Don’t jump red lights and don’t cycle on the pavement unless it’s a designated cycle path. By law motorists are required to give cyclists a minimum of 1m passing distance. To make it easier for motorists to pass, keep left and ride in single file. Allow space between yourself and the curb and gutter in case you need to swerve if a vehicle pass too closely.

KEEPING COOL IN THE HEAT

Ease off your normal pace a bit and avoid cycling in the heat of the day. Skip the backpack. Fit a rack and get some panniers to carry stuff. Check if your workplace has showers located in the building; ask about access. If you’re not near shower facilities, baby wipes and other toiletry items can work well. Wear light colors and fabrics that wick and breathe easily. Find out more…

RIDING IN THE RAIN

Wear bright colors and reflective gear to be visible. Waterproof and breathable clothing with layers underneath keep comfortable and dry. Fit front and rear fenders to keep you and your bike dry. Lube your chain before and/or after a wet ride to replace the lube that washed off. Watch your speed as surfaces may be slippery and it may take longer to stop. Follow our tips for cornering, braking and wet weather hazards. Find out more…

RIDING AT NIGHT

Wear bright colors and reflective gear (vests or jackets) when riding at night or in rainy or overcast conditions.
Vests are a cheap solution and can be easily stored in your bag; and reflective bands for ankles and sleeves also work well. Use a front white light, rear red light and reflectors when visibility is poor or when riding at night. (This is required by law). Be extra alert when cycling at night because the dangers you face from both criminals and careless motorists multiply as soon as the sun sets.

BIKE LOCKING & PARKING

It is best to look for indoor parking or ask your employer/building owner to provide safe, covered parking. For short term parking, lock your bike to an immovable object in a highly visible area, close to pedestrian traffic and streetlights. Use a U-lock or heavy duty chain lock and learn how to secure your bike properly through the frame. Find out more…

Video created by Daniel Penner / @heypenner

  • Author Posts
Director & Founder of BICYCLE SOUTH
Cape Town based designer & bicycle activist, Leonie is passionate about sustainability and green living. When she is not busy advocating for bicycle cities or blogging on Cape Town’s bicycle culture, you’ll find her adventuring beyond the city limits on her steel frame touring bike.
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Director & Founder of BICYCLE SOUTH
Cape Town based designer & bicycle activist, Leonie is passionate about sustainability and green living. When she is not busy advocating for bicycle cities or blogging on Cape Town’s bicycle culture, you’ll find her adventuring beyond the city limits on her steel frame touring bike.

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