On your bike! The essential guide to cycling in the UK
By Sophie Cannon
Cycling is a popular way to get around in the UK, and it’s a growing trend among students. It's easy to see why... cycling is good for the environment, the bank balance and the waistline!
But before you get pedalling, read our quick guide to staying safe and enjoying your bike.
According to the National Travel Survey, over 43% of people in the UK own a bike, and around 8% say they cycle three times a week or more often.
In fact, the UK government has a long-term ambition to increase cycling from less than 2% of journeys in 2011 to at least 10% of all journeys in 2025, and 25% by 2050.
Wondering why so many people love cycling? Graeme Sherriff from Love Your Bike says: ‘Cycling is enjoyable and has many benefits. It’s an affordable and quick way to get around – and it’s a great way to lose weight, tone muscle and improve circulation. Cycling is a clean and low-carbon form of transport. That means it’s helping to tackle climate change and helps to keep our city air clean.’
Cycling along National Route 8, Taff Trail, Bute Park (Photo ©J Bewley/Sustrans)
Sounds great – but cycling can be dangerous if you are not familiar with road safety, and there are some road laws you will need to follow. Before you jump on a bike, we strongly recommend that you do some cycling research and training. Here are our top tips:
- Take a cycling training course: Your local council, transport authority or cycling organisations such British Cycling may run free adult cycle training courses. Find a British Cycling course near you, or ask your university, college or school if they know of any in the local area.
- Familiarise yourself with the Highway Code – the rules which all road users in the UK must follow. There’s also a good introduction to cycling on the road, the Pocket Guide to Cycling, from Love Your Bike.
- Look after your bike: Make sure you regularly check your bike to ensure it is safe and roadworthy. Your local council or cycling groups may run free basic maintenance courses – or ask your university, college or school if they are running any courses.
Be visible on the road. Did you know it is illegal in the UK to cycle at night without lights? There’s a good reason for that. It is important to have good lights on your bike to stay safe and legal. It’s a good idea to wear bright, reflective clothing too. Find out more about cycling at night. Don’t forget to use your lights in fog, heavy rain and other conditions with poor visibility too.
If you’re wearing a cycle helmet it should be a snug fit and positioned squarely on your head – sitting just above your eyebrows, not tilted back or tipped forwards. Fasten it securely, and check there’s enough room for two fingers between your chin and the strap.
These are just some tips to get you started. For full safety advice, please read the following resources:
- Take care on your bike: Cycling hints and tips from GoSkyRide.com (PDF)
- Tips on riding safely from GoSkyRide.com
- Road Safety for Cyclists from Sustrans, the charity which supports safe and sustainable transport
- Road safety tips from British Cycling, the national body for cycling competitions and athletes.
Buying (or renting) a bike
Road bike, town bike, hybrid bike, mountain bike...? Choosing what bike to buy can be confusing! To help you decide, have a look at the Beginners' guide to buying a bike, by British Cycling.
There are lots of specialist bike shops across the UK. Nearly every town and city has such a store, with knowledgeable staff who can help you to choose the right bike.
If you are on a tight budget, you could buy a second-hand bike. Have a look at notice boards on campus or look in newspapers or online to see if there are any bikes for sale.
Like any machine, a bicycle will work better and last longer if you care for it properly. Get in the habit of checking your bike regularly – follow these simple checks to enjoy hassle-free riding and avoid repairs.
Some campuses and cities have bike hire schemes – where you can rent a bike for as long as you need it, and maintenance is included. Search online for information, or if you live in London, find out about the city's cycle hire scheme.
Keeping your bike safe
It is a good idea to buy decent locks to keep your bike safe from theft. We recommend using two different types of lock – for example a heavy-duty rigid ‘D’ lock (look out for ones with a ‘Sold Secure Gold’ rating) to secure your bike to a stand, and a chain lock to secure the wheel to the frame.
You might also want to buy insurance for your bike, and register it free of charge with www.immobilise.com. This will help the police to return it to you if it is stolen and recovered.
Find out more about bike locks and security, and watch this quick guide by Greater Manchester Police:
Cycling for sport
With world champions such as Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton, Becky James, Liam Phillips, Sarah Storey, Mark Colbourne, Laura Trott and Chris Hoy, the UK is a hotbed for cycle sport. Whether you love mountain biking, road racing or track, there are many activities on offer for both beginners and more experienced enthusiasts.
Have a look at the British Cycling website for information about cycling sport in the UK.
Joining a club is a great way to get the most out of your cycling. There are over 1,800 cycling clubs affiliated with British Cycling – some are geared towards off-road, BMX or cycle speedway, while others specialise in road riding, racing or leisure. Find out more here.
The start point for the 2014 Tour de France – in Yorkshire, England (Photo ©VisitBritain/MattCant)
Discover the UK’s countryside
Cycling is a great way to explore the UK’s beautiful countryside. For inspiration, have a look at these planned routes:
- Sustrans maintain the National Cycle Network and have developed a series of themed routes across England, Wales and Scotland, and you can also buy local cycling maps from their online shop.
- With British Cycling’s regional cycling guides, you can search for popular cycling routes across the UK, or you can plot your own route.
- The National Trust has teamed up with British Cycling to offer guided rides from a host of stunning National Trust properties, offering cyclists a combination of lovely routes, great facilities and friendly support from trained Ride Leaders.
You might also find that your university, college or school has a cycling club or society, where you can join other students for day trips and other bike-related fun!
Find out more
For more information about cycling in the UK, go to:
- British Cycling: www.britishcycling.org.uk
- Sky Ride: www.goskyride.com
- Love Your Bike: www.loveyourbike.org
- Sustrans: www.sustrans.org.uk
- Highway Code: www.gov.uk/highway-code/introduction