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Tips to keep safe on the road

Tips to keep safe on the road

What is safe cycling? You’ll probably get a different answer from every website you read or any other cyclist you talk to. To me, ‘safe cycling’ relates to the combination of common sense, road rules and cycling knowledge to get you from Point A to Point B in a safe and efficient way, preferably with the journey having been a pleasant one and not fraught with danger.

Firstly, please make sure that you are visible when you go out on the bicycle. Fit bright lights to your bike (steady white light in front; flashing red light behind the saddle); wear reflective strips or bands eg around your ankle where the motion attracts attention, and wear bright coloured kit (luminous colours work well) – especially when it is rainy, misty or overcast or at dawn/dusk.

What do you need in order to cycle safely?

You need the right vehicle…

Choose the right bicycle for the job. I prefer using a hybrid or mountain bicycle for commuting purposes. It is more comfortable than a road racing bicycle due to the more upright riding position and the additional gears help when you ride a fully laden bicycle. Try putting semi-slicks on the bike so that you dont get too much rolling resistance when riding on tar, yet are still able to ride on gravel paths or road shoulders without any problems.

I do not like riding with a backpack as I prefer being able to move freely on the bicycle, so I have fitted panniers to my commuting bicycle. In addition to being able to comfortably carry my clothes for work, handbag, laptop, lunch and the like, I have found that cars seem to give me a wider berth when the panniers are on the bike since they make the bicycle appear wider. In addition the weight is carried low on the bicycle, which adds stability.

If you do not like the idea of panniers, a small bicycle trailer is also an option.

Give your bicycle a quick check before you set out: Again, use your common sense here. Regularly check the tyres for cuts or objects that may become embedded in the tyres so that you do not end up with a flat halfway into the journey. Check the brakes – you want to be able to stop your bicycle, especially if you need to brake suddenly. Check the bicycle for any loose nuts and bolts – you do not want your handlebars to come off in your hands as you approach a downhill intersection 😉 Make sure you have what you need to fix a puncture en route. And so on.

You need the right kit…

First and foremost, do not get onto your bicycle without putting on a decent helmet. Apart from the fact that it became law in 2004 that you have to wear a helmet whenever you cycle in South Africa, you never know when a dog will run out in front of you; when a parked vehicle will unexpectedly open a door, a pedestrian step out in front of you, and the like. So be prepared and wear that helmet!

Secondly, always wear gloves. In the unhappy instance of a fall, your hands are usually the first to hit the ground. Palms without skin takes a long time to heal.

Always wear bright, reflective clothing. Nevermind if you think you look like a Christmas tree – make sure the other road users can see you. Light, contrasting colours work well – don’t be afraid to combine red and yellow, or bright pink and white… Bright, luminous sleeveless wind jackets (gilets) or rain jackets are highly visible and well worth wearing.

Fit lights to your bicycle. I have a red flashing rear light underneath the saddle and switch that on even if I ride in the middle of the day – even more so on an overcast day. If you intend riding at dawn or dusk, add a steady, white front light as well.

For the rest of the kit, use your common sense: If it looks like it could rain or get cold during the day, take along something waterproof and/or warm: You cannot adequately control your bicycle if you are shivering with cold. Sunglasses (or clear glasses in the evening) will protect your eyes from dust and the like blowing into it – again, it is difficult to control a bicycle if you are riding down a steep hill, traffic next to you, and something blows into your eyes. Wear the right shoes: Slip-slops or sandals may be acceptable for a very short trip to the café on the corner, but have you thought of what would happen should the sandal get caught, or you get involved in an accident? If possible, rather wear closed shoes (again, make sure the shoe laces don’t get caught in the chain or chainring) or – even better – MTB cycling shoes that will allow you to comfortably walk around when off the bicycle.

You need to know something about road conditions and traffic rules

Safe cycling includes know where you may or may not ride your bicycle, what the general traffic rules are, and what your rights are as a cyclist.

According to SA traffic laws, bicycles are regarded as vehicles, which means you have every right to be on the road. Ride assertively and make eye contact with drivers who may cross your path.

Having said that, most motorists seem to think that cyclists should ride as far left of the road as possible. This is usually not the best place to cycle, for various reasons:

if it is windy, having some space on your left helps should you get caught in a gust

there are often ‘cat-eyes’, gutters or drain covers which could cause you to fall

riding a metre in from the side of the road often will force a vehicle to cross the centre line in order to pass you. This often stops them from passing when there are oncoming vehicles. Having a metre ‘free’ to your left also means you have space to swerve should a vehicle pass too closely

if it is windy, having some space on your left helps should you get caught in a gust

Where may you ride? You may ride your bicycle on any road open to cycling. This excludes freeways (like the M3, M5, N1 and N2 in and near Cape Town), and roads which are closed to bicycles. Use the cycle lane if there is one.

As a cyclist, you need to obey all the road and traffic rules. Jumping red lights and riding on pedestrian-only pavements is illegal and can also be dangerous and frighten other road users. Don’t do it!

Watch out for the following:

Vehicles that are turning left and who may not have seen you approaching in their blind spots

Drain covers that run in the same direction as your direction of travel

Glass, sand, water or oil spills

Wet paint

Any road debris

Vehicles that have just parked, as the driver/passenger may open a door without first checking to see if there is a cyclist approaching

What about other cyclists on the road? Keep your eyes open for children or novices, as their bicycle handling skills may not yet be up to scratch and they may get a fright should you pass them too closely. Also keep your eyes open for other cyclists when approaching intersections.

Safe cycling tip of the day: Make sure you are always aware of your surroundings. Know what is behind you and watch out for what is in front of you. Always be on the lookout for road hazards; sand and gravel, glass, railroad tracks, parked cars, oil spills or rubbish. Sewer grates and cracks in the road can catch your wheel and cause you to be thrown from the bike. Watch for parked cars where people may be opening doors on the driver’s side of the vehicle without looking. Always wait until you have ample time to make your move, whether you are changing a lane or turning a corner. Do not expect to always be granted the right of way.

Safe cycling tip of the day: Put down the phone. We shouldn’t even need to say this, but talking on the phone, texting, or checking social media while cycling are major no-nos. Also refrain from listening to headphones because they can make it more difficult to hear approaching cars and pedestrians.

Safe cycling tip of the day: Where may you ride? You may ride your bicycle on any road open to cycling. This excludes freeways (like the M3, M5, N1 and N2 in and near Cape Town), and roads which are closed to bicycles. Use the cycle lane if there is one.

As a cyclist, you need to obey all the road and traffic rules. Jumping red lights and riding on pedestrian-only pavements is illegal and can also be dangerous and frighten other road users. Don’t do it!

Safe Cycling tip of the day: There are so many cyclists out there at dawn and dusk without lights. Fit lights to your bicycle. A red flashing rear light underneath the saddle is a good choice, switch that on even if you ride in the middle of the day – even more so on an overcast day. If you intend riding at dawn or dusk, add a steady, white front light as well.

General tips

Always check your blind spots

Cycle predictably so that vehicle drivers around you can guess (correctly) what you are doing

Give appropriate hand signals when you intend to stop or turn

Watch out for disembarking passengers when you cycle past a bus or taxi that has stopped

Watch out for the draft from a passing bus or truck

Give yourself extra room if it is raining so that you have enough time to stop – remember also that wet brakes are not as effective as dry ones. “Pump” your brakes a few times before reaching a stop street to remove water from the rim before pulling the brakes for stopping

Using a cell phone while cycling can distract your attention. Rather pull off to take the call

Using an iPod or radio could restrict your hearing – make sure you can hear the road users around you

Be polite…


The following safety tips are applicable to all cyclists, but even more so for commuters who often ride on their own as opposed to in small groups.

Always wear a helmet. Apart from it being South African law since 2004, you never know when a dog runs out in front of you or a car cuts a corner in front of you and causes a fall. And as they say: If your head is worth R50, wear a R50 helmet…

Obey the traffic rules:

Most cyclists get killed riding on the wrong side of the road or because they were not visible. Always have a steady white light on the front of your bike and a flashing red rear light between sunrise and sunset, and wear reflective kit.

ALWAYS STOP AT RED TRAFFIC LIGHTS AND ALL STOP STREETS. And even if the light is green for you to cross an intersection, look out for motorists jumping the lights. Watch out for other road users at stop streets. Even if you are continuing straight at a T-junction stop street, there may be horseriders or people walking dogs in the area, and by not stopping, you could cause an accident.

Ride in single file, unless you are overtaking.

General riding tips:

Ride defensively but decisively: Follow the K53 principles and keep a clear space around you. Make it easy for a driver to anticipate what you are going to do (eg stopping your bicycle, turning left or right, etc) so that he/she can act accordingly. Ride in a straight line without swerving unnecessarily fromside to side.

Indicate your intentions, and check if the driver has seen you. Preferably get the driver to acknowledge you before turning in front of a vehicle. A quick smile and a “thank you” wave also works wonders…

Wear gloves. It improves grip on the handlebars, and may save some skin should you get into contact with the tar (most cyclists put their hands out to break a fall).

Be careful: Ride as if you are invisible to traffic until you are sure a car has seen you.

Do not ride in the gutter or close to parked cars. Be aware of drivers of parked cars suddenly opening a car door. Ride wide and take the lane if it is not safe for a car to pass you. Watch out for glass on the road, cat-eyes, drain covers, oil, sand etc, which can often be found in the far left of the gutter.

Use lights (a steady white light in front and a flashing red light at the back) if you ride in the dark, dawn or dusk. In fact, consider having a flashing red rear light at all times, even in the middle of the day.

Always carry identification with you. Programme the details of your next-of-kin into your cellphone under ICE (In Case of Emergency). Carry your medical aid details with you, if applicable. Have identification both on your bicycle and on your person, should you get separated.

Do not use an iPod or phone while riding! You need to be able to hear approching traffic, or other cyclists who may be warning you about a problem. You cannot do so if you are listening to an iPod! Be sensible, and leave the iPod for the gym.

Where may you ride?

You may cycle on any public road other than a freeway, or where expressly forbidden by law. This means, near Cape Town, that the Blue Route and M5 are OFF LIMITS, as are any roads that are signposted to be accessible only to eg official vehicles or goods vehicles.

The law says you must ride on the left of the road, but that does not mean the edge of the road. Ride a safe distance from the edge to avoid glass, cat-eyes, manhole covers and drains.

Be careful when riding past parked vehicles, as they may suddenly open their doors. Give yourself enough space (also see above).

Where should you rather not ride?

Narrow, twisty roads without a yellow lane (road shoulder) often pose problems for cyclists because cars battle to pass cyclists and, when there is not enough space, “squeeze” the cyclists off the road. If such a road is part of your day-to-day commuting road – please take extra care and make sure you wear highly visible clothing. If you have a choice, rather choose another, safer road.

Examples of the above include Constantia Nek into Hout Bay; Rhodes Drive (Constantia Nek to Kirstenbosch); Newlands avenue (Kirstenbosch to the M3); Main Road Kalk Bay, and the like.

If you do have to use these roads, try to do so outside peak hours, and at all times ride in single file

What does the SA law say?

The National Traffic Act 93 of 1996 and the National Road Traffic Regulations 2000 promulgated on 17 March 2000 in Gov Gazette 20963 (as amended from time to time)  includes the following bicycle-specific laws:

You must be seated on your saddle

You must ride in single file

You may not deliberately swerve from side to side

If you are riding on a public road where there is a bicycle lane, you must use that bicycle lane

Regulation 296 of the National Road Traffic Regulations 2000 states: “A person driving a vehicle on a public road shall do so by driving on the left side of the roadway … .”. Driving is defined in the Act to include riding a bicycle. There is no requirement to ride on the far left of the roadway or on the shoulder. The Road Traffic Regulations impose the same obligations on a bicycle as on a motor vehicle in this regard.


Regulation 298(1) requires a vehicle to pass a cyclist at a “safe distance”.  A safe distance depends on many factors, one of which is the vulnerability of cyclists.  A safe distance would be even further under particular circumstance, such as manhole covers or uneven road, strong winds, recumbent cyclists, steep hills, tandems, children on bicycles, which factors might make it more likely for a cyclist to suddenly swerve or fall.  In Europe many countries have specified a safe passing distance of 1.5 meters to pass a bicycle.  That distance should be increased by any of the special factors mentioned before.

In case of an accident, what must you do?

  1. Report the incident within 24 hours to the SA Police
  2. Send us an email with the following information:
    1. Date of incident
    2. Time of day
    3. Venue/place
    4.  A brief description of what happened
    5.  Your contact details

The SAPS may not refuse to open up a case in a criminal matter. Once they take the affidavit from you ,they have to supply you with a CR number. If they refuse to do so, you have the right to ask for the chairman’s name of that station’s Police Community Forum (non-SAPS, consisting of normal community members)  and report the matter to him/her.

And if the Police don’t seem to be too interested?

Click here to read the full text of the Road Traffic Regulations. Note that the regulations on this website do not reflect subsequent amendments.

The British Department of Transport has an excellent web section called “Drive Safe, Cycle Safe” which can be reached on READ MORE .

Some of their tips include:

What motorists would like cyclists to know

Motorists get upset if cyclists ride without lights at night, ignore red traffic lights or hop on and off the pavement.

Motorists usually travel faster than cyclists and may have less time to take account of hazards.

Motorists may not always see cyclists.

Motorists are made uneasy when cyclists seem hesitant, move out suddenly or wobble around potholes.

Motorists can feel delayed by cyclists.

Motorists don’t always understand that some road surfaces, junctions or traffic conditions cause problems for

cyclists. Read the rest