Basic bike etiquette for power peddling Cantabs
I’m at Girton, consider me an expert
Cambridge is the certified cycling capital of the UK, and therefore knowing how to handle the humble bicycle, perhaps for the first time, isn’t just advisable, but rather compulsory reading.
Here is a veteran’s guide to navigating Cambridge on two wheels.
Starting from the top – always wear a helmet. This is probably rule number one, but it’s the one that is broken the most often. Helmets are clunky, get in the way and are rarely attractive. They are, though, the only thing between your fast moving head and the painfully stationary concrete curb. In the words of our head porter, better to have flat hair than a flat head. This man speaks great truths.
When it comes to clothing, be savvy. Overloading with thermals and wooden pullovers, coupled with a speedy ride will result in you arriving to lecture halls the BO-ridden sweaty mess that will never recover from their smelly reputation. Similarly, when it’s wet, don’t fret donning the high-vis waterproof. You may think your lovely Levi’s will weather the storm, but the smell of rotting denim permeating your supervision will, I assure you from experience, convince you otherwise.
On the other hand, beware going overboard with gear. Unless you are a recongisable face of Team Sky, the full on Lycra look is best avoided for the good of the community. Don’t be the skintight eyesore.
But do accessorise. In winter, the humble scarf is the perfect accompaniment to your daily commute, providing both warmth and the postcard Cambridge cliché in one college branded garment. Beware though, long scarfs caught in bike chains can cause both mechanical and bodily damage.
Rule one here is to use a lock, and a good one. Leaving your bike lockless for any length of time in Cambridge is akin to leaving your child to pet the puma at the zoo, it comes with great risks. Cambridge is sadly home to thousands of bike thefts a year, and thin, cheap locks can be cut through like butter. Choose a good one; D-Locks usually do the trick.
With Cambridge being so bike friendly, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to locate a parking space. All the major lecture sites have plenty of places to park. Above all, try and lock your bike to something heavy (preferably metallic), and only lock your wheel to your bike frame if there is simply no where else.
If you are parking near other bikes, make sure that you don’t entangle your bike in the spokes of other cycles. Having your gears ripped apart because someone was in a rush to get to the UL is not something you want to deal with on deadline day.
Also, don’t lock your bike to someone else’s. Not only is this unbelievably pig-headed, but you will leave some poor innocent soul stranded, robbed of their way home.
Dealing with cars, buses, humans and tourists
When available, stick to cycle lanes on busy, fast moving roads. Otherwise, keep as close as you can to the side of the road, allowing cars to smoothly pass by. If you need to move into the road, do remember to look first (obvious, yet surprisingly uncommon.)
Only overtake cars when you have good visibility, a long with enough room (and speed) to manoeuvre.
Only overtake buses if you are a certified nutjob, conscious of the fact that more often than not there is another bus coming the other way. Being the filling in that sandwich is no easy picnic, I can assure.
Arguably, humans pose the greatest annoyance to the Cantab cyclist, aloof and unresponsive to the fast moving bikes around them. Most of the time, a gentle ring of the bell in good time will warn off any gormless zombie who dare cross your path. In tourist heavy areas such as King’s Parade, however, ringing if often done in vain. In these situations, dear fresher, you are relinquished of all good manners and entirely entitled to ring, honk, shout, yell and (dare I say) swear your way through the hoards that clog your way.
A bike isn’t just a mode of transport, it’s your mechanical horse, your fifth limb. Ensuring your cycle is in the best condition must therefor be a priority, for your safety if nothing else. A rusty bike chain not only screeches out to the world in metallic pain, but also risks shattering. Good breaks are equally essential. Sanding the soles of your shoes is neither a safe, nor appropriate alternative to stopping.
Do remember to choose a gear that is appropriate to your speed. There’s nothing more tragic than a sweaty cyclist out of puff having got practically no where. Remember you are on a bike, not a gym spinner.
Finally, stay visible. You might boast infra-red vision, and carrying around bike lights might seem irritating, but it’s far less irritating than a late night visit to Addenbrookes.
Clearly, don’t cycle if you feel unwell. Also, as tempting as it might be, hopping aboard HMS Bicycle after one too many is a mistake of titanic proportions.
Only ride at the speed YOU feel comfortable with. Speeding for the sake of placating peer pressure is dangerous as well as unnecessary. If you are in any way concerned about your speed, leave more time for your journey, and don’t be afraid to stop at intervals.
At the same time, confidence is a must. From experience, as many accidents are a result of a lack of confidence as they are from overconfidence. It can be difficult to build this confidence, and the odd fall now and again can set you back. The best remedy? Without a doubt experience. The more you ride, the more natural it feels.