Cycle safety in Cambridge
Cycling is often the fastest, cheapest, and safest way of getting around the city, but if you're not used to cycling in traffic there are some useful things you need to know. You will have already noticed that there are a lot of cyclists here, who play a key part in reducing congestion and help to give Cambridge a unique feel.
This section will give you a bit of sensible guidance and introduce you to some of the schemes CUSU will be implementing in conjunction with the Colleges.
The Government's own cycle safety website has some excellent cycling advice, but the pages below are more Cambridge specific.
Information on this page:
- Buying a Bike
- Bike Shops
- Cycling and the Law
- Registering your Bike
- Road Signs
- Cycling Etiquette
- Lights and Reflectors
- Cycling on the Road
- Useful Links
Cambridge is very flat so you do not need many gears, and three speed city bikes are very popular, practical and easy to maintain. If you have brought a valuable bike with you, make sure you invest in some good quality locks.
Cycle theft is the most common crime affecting Cambridge students, so don't spend more than £200 unless you are willing to invest at least 20% of the cost of the bike on locks or have somewhere secure to lock it. There are numerous bike shops in Cambridge, although the quality of bikes marketed at students can vary enormously and as a rule-of thumb you might want to spend £170-230 brand new, or £60-100 second-hand. While cheaper bikes are certainly available, be a little wary of special deals where a mountain bike will be sold to you complete with lights, lock and a basket: these bikes can be unsuited for on-road riding, and the accessories which come with them may be cheap, and therefore easily break. There is plenty of choice out there and you will be able to find a bike that suits you.
Cambridge is full of bike shops, 35 in fact! Most shops will offer a discount if you ask nicely, but the following shops offer a student discount with your CUSU card:
- 5% off repairs at The Bikeman, Market Square.
- 10% off goods at Howes Cycles, 104 Regent St.
- 5% off new bikes, 10% off spares, accessories and clothing, 20% off labour charges at Townsends, Light Blue Cycle centre, 72 Chesterton Street.
- 10% discount at Blazing Saddles, 110 Cherry Hinton Road.
You should always bear in mind that nearly all areas of the Highway Code which apply to motor vehicles apply equally to cyclists and can carry a minimum fine of £30. In particular:
- It is illegal to cycle in the dark without front & back lights and a red rear reflector.
- Cycling when drunk is illegal.
- Running red lights is against the law and extremely dangerous.
- For an interesting read and further information click here.
The Police will often fine cyclists in Cambridge for cycling the wrong way on Trinity and Sidney St, as well as for cycling without lights after dark. On Burleigh St/Fitzroy St (near The Grafton Centre) there is a cycling ban Mon-Sat from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, and PCSOs are able to issue fines if they catch cyclists riding there.
This information was up to date as of August 2012. Further information on cycling law can be found here.
Registering your bike as well other valuable items, such as your laptop, iPod or mobile phone, will make it easier to get it back if it gets stolen. The University also requires all students to register their bicycles with their College and it is worth registering with Immobilise, the national property website at www.immobilise.com - service used by all UK Police forces. Of all the bicycles recovered by the Police, only 10-30% are registered.
If you turn your bicycle upside down you should find a reference code stamped into the frame (usually at the point where the pedals go through). Use this code and a picture of your bike to help register it on Immobilise, having a picture is useful to prove ownership for insurance purposes.
Locking your bike properly is important and it is worth buying a good quality lock. As a general guide, D-locks, Dutch Dial locks and chain locks are the ones to go for, but you should aim to spend £20-£25 on them. This may sound like a lot of money, but compared to the cost of a replacement bike the investment is minimal. Where possible lock it through the rear wheel and frame, to a solid object in a public and busy place. Parking can be difficult sometimes, so a longer lock is beneficial, but there are two dedicated cycle parking facilities at the Grand Arcade and Park St car parks.
If you have quick release wheels and seats, it is possible to replace those with security bolts, just type in 'security skewers' on eBay for some suitable examples.
There are a number of cycling related signs, but most are the same as regular road signs and have to be adhered to if you're cycling on the road:
This sign means No Cycling, but it looks like it allows cycling - it really should have a red stripe through to make it clear.
This means the pavement or path is Shared Use and you may cycle on it, although the sign can be quite small sometimes. You might also see the path painted red or have a bicycle sign on it, but remember be mindful of other path users.
No Entry for Motorised Vehicles, but cyclists can cycle the wrong way on a one way street. This is a new sign, that was part of a trial in Cambridge in 2010, and then approved by the Government later in the year. Keep to the left and be considerate of oncoming motorists, as some won't be aware of the rule change.
Cycling in Cambridge can and should be stress free, but your patience will be tested on some streets where tourists or pedestrians wander aimlessly across the road. Instead of dinging your bell, just slow down and/or change gear noisily and most will react in a positive way. Dinging your bell furiously or trying to zip past people, just gives cyclists a bad name and will lead to unnecessary confrontation. Most of the city centre is a pedestrian zone and although there are clearly marked roads, it doesn't give cyclists right of way.
Be polite, thank drivers who let you out etc., and enjoy your cycle trip.
Lights and Reflectors
It is illegal to cycle in the dark without lights, and the Cambridge Cycling Campaign have produced the following poster to help:
Flashing lights have been legal since October 2005, but lights should be fixed to your bike. Powerful helmet or head torches can be potentially blinding for other road users and are not recommended – it is illegal to dazzle another road user. You should also consider wearing bright colours during the day and reflective clothing at night, to make you more visible to other road users.
CUSU offers the cheapest deals for bike lights via college students' unions and from CUSU reception – drop by or contact the Student Support Officer for more information. You can also get various types of lights from all bicycle shops, but spend at least £15 on a pair of lights (the cheapest supermarket lights are not up to the job). Most come with quick release clips, as sadly they will disappear if you leave them on the bike when you pop to the shops.
It is also worth buying some reflective tyres or adding extra wheel reflectors, as these will help cars at roundabouts see you more clearly. Reflective tape is another useful investment and makes your bike look less desirable to thieves too.
Cycling on the Road
Cambridge is the safest city in the UK for cycling, mainly due to the sheer number of other cyclists and favourable road layouts, but there are a number of important preventative measures you can apply to make your journey even safer. Even if you think there is nothing behind you, always have a quick look (as it may be a speedy and silent cyclist) - Cambridge could reduce cycling accidents by 40% if cyclists looked over their shoulders more often. Other common mistakes are riding through red lights, riding unroadworthy bikes or wearing helmets incorrectly. The local press also relishes any cycling accident that involves a cyclist wearing headphones, so if you do listen to music on the go make sure you're aware of your surroundings often.
Roadworthiness (Bike Check)
Do your brakes work well? Are your tyres pumped up properly? Is there some oil on your chain? Do the ABC (Air, Brakes, Chain) check and make sure that your bike is roadworthy, as no one wants to experience cycling down Castle Hill without working brakes. Flat tyres will make cycling harder and punctures more likely, so make sure you're unable to pinch them with a finger and thumb.
Bikeability (Cycle Training)
This is the best investment you can make, as it will teach you skills that will make your journey much safer. Cycle training has moved on a lot in the last few years and covers comprehensive bike checks, bike fit, as well as challenging tasks to help improve your skills and awareness on the road. Too often it is dismissed as unnecessary, but anyone who has done just one training session will rave about it and the training is tailored to your abilities. Often you will feel like you have a new bike and your fitness and speed will also improve dramatically too.
Outspoken Training are your local training provider, a young and dynamic company who also run a cycle-based courier business.
Should I or shouldn't I wear a helmet? This is probably the most divisive issue relating to cycling safety, but it is a matter of personal choice as there is no legal requirement to wear one. A helmet cannot prevent an accident from happening in the first place, but a helmet MAY lessen injuries to the head. They are great for low speed crashes, but they are not designed for impacts with cars. Basically, don't rely on a helmet to keep you safe on the road, checking your bike regularly and doing some cycle training are much better investments.
If you cycle sensibly accidents are quite rare and head injuries are even rarer, but it might be a good idea to wear a helmet when cycling as head injuries tend to be life changing. Helmets can be picked up fairly cheaply from all cycle shops, but make sure you look for a sticker on the inside of the helmet which confirms it meets suitable quality standards. The more you pay the lighter it will be and easier to adjust (important). Polystyrene-based helmets do not re-expand after impact so if you have an accident, buy a new helmet.
Any helmet should be level on your head and the straps not too tight or loose – you should only be able to get two fingers between the strap and your chin.
Cambridge Cycling Campaign is the main body campaigning to improve cycling in Cambridge, and they offer a student membership which gives you discounts at many bike shops. Other resources of interest are: