There’s more to commuting than picking a destination and pedaling, writes Kath Bicknell. Use your head as well as your legs to make the journey safer, more relaxing and, ultimately, more enjoyable too.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

It's a strange time cycling on city roads at the moment.

In some ways, I've never felt safer and more cared for as a cyclist. I'm part of a large group at lights in peak hour, there's an expanding network of separated cycling lanes, and I feel that, most of the time, there is a growing respect between different road users.

Times are also tense, and there are constant reminders that cyclists are vulnerable. And, unlike cycling for simply for pleasure, commuting can take us away from ideal routes, or mean we travel at less than ideal times.

Since publishing my thoughts on why I'll keep riding, another collection of thoughts have been accompanying me as I pedal. These are reflections on habits, planning and vigilance; safe cycling practices that help to reduce some of the risks (and increase the pleasures) that come with cycling on the road.

Many cyclists do these things already. This article is for cyclists who wouldn't mind a reminder or affirmation, and those who are still working these things out ride by ride.

1. Know your route
Plan your journey to take advantage of safer back streets, cycle paths and wider roads. Think ahead about upcoming turns so you're not trying to change lanes or scrub your speed and signal at the last second.

If there's a section of your journey that makes you feel tense, consult a map, or give yourself time to explore some alternate twists and turns. The safest way is not always the most direct, but the most direct doesn't always provide the best exercise or enjoyment either.

2. Think like a car
If you're riding on a busy road, expand your awareness to predict the behaviour of the cars around you. Don't trust the lack of an indicator to mean someone isn't going to merge or turn. We predict the behaviour of other vehicles when we're driving. Do it when you ride as well.

3. Avoid getting caught in blind spots
Particularly when you're passing slow moving traffic or you're approaching the front of a queue at the lights. Keep an eye on the situation ahead. If the traffic is about to start rolling make sure you're in a position where you can be seen.

4. Be safe, be seen
If you're riding on roads where safety relies on being seen at a glance, opt for brighter more visible clothing. A fluoro vest or backpack cover is a good alternative and has the benefit of not needing a wash after every ride.

Bright colours on moving body parts grab attention too. Cycling fashion is affirms that fluoro is back in at the moment. There has never been a better time to buy that expensive jersey or some flashy new socks.

If you're riding at night, good quality lights are an important investment too, and don't cost nearly as much as they did a few years ago. If you think you might be staying somewhere late throw your lights in your backpack just in case.

5. Be wary of the car door zone
It's not always possible to ride a safe distance from parked cars. If you're in the door zone be extra vigilant. Look through windows to see if anyone might be about to jump out. If you can't see through windows, look for other signs of a vehicle moving: tyres, indicators, the crack at the door.

6. Listen
You'll be surprised what information you'll glean through your ears, particularly from behind you or either side.

7. Give buses and taxis extra space
It must be so hard being a bus driver right now, what with pedestrians wandering around with their heads buried in their phones, and more cyclists on the roads than before.

Most taxi drivers are quite considerate of other road users, but the nature of their job makes them less predictable, and sometimes more impatient, than other cars. Give these drivers room, and avoid making their jobs (and your day) more stressful.

8. Make eye contact with other road users
If you're not sure if someone's about to move onto that roundabout, cross that road, turn that corner…make eye contact. Clear communication helps good things to happen.

9. Be courteous to other road users
If you're slowing down traffic and there's an opportunity to let others pass, merge left for a moment. If someone does you a favour, give them a wave of thanks. If you pass another cyclist, share the old smile and nod. You'll surprise yourself by how much more relaxed this makes you feel, especially as it happens multiple times a ride.

10. Don't be in such a rush
Commuting in peak hour isn't about punching every gap and getting a thousand PBs. It's about sharing the road and getting safely and smoothly from one location to another.

Plus, when we rush, we take more risks. You can always extend or re-route your ride to make it more of a fitness-based journey. Either way, allow yourself time to arrive at your destination without the stress that comes from watching the clock.

11. Consider sharing this list with your broader networks
It's sometimes the riders who are less immersed in this sport who are less aware of small actions that make for better experiences.

This list is by no means exhaustive, nor is it ranked. If you have some other helpful tips, please add them to the Cycling Central Facebook post accompanying this article or in the comments section below.