General Cycling Tips

This page has tips for safe cycling, when cycling in the dark or poor weather and bicycle care and maintenance hints.

Safer cycling Tips

Simple Guidelines

Follow these simple guidelines for safer cycling:

  • Make sure you regularly maintain your bike to ensure it is roadworthy.
  • Keep left but slightly away from the kerb, watching out for potholes and drains in your path.
  • Don't veer in and out between parked vehicles - maintain a consistent straight path along the road.
  • If necessary (for example on narrow roads or at intersections) occupy the centre of the traffic lane, so that other traffic can clearly see you and doesn't try to overtake you unsafely.
  • Ride at least a metre away from parked cars to avoid hitting doors opening in front of you.
  • Be careful of painted lines and manhole covers in wet conditions – they can be extremely slippery.
  • Don't use a mobile phone or listen to music while cycling. Keep an ear out for other traffic.
  • Don't ride alongside or directly behind lorries and buses - they can't always see you in their mirrors.
  • Always make your intentions clear to other road users with hand signals.
  • Obey the road rules - don't jump red lights and don't ride on the footpath.
  • Watch out for vehicles, especially at intersections, where drivers may not have noticed you.  Don't assume they've seen you.
  • Wear bright or reflective clothing whenever cycling in dim light conditions.

Roundabouts

Roundabouts are becoming more common around the Wellington region.  They might speed things up for motorists, but are not easy to negotiate on a bicycle if you're not confident.

The key to negotiating a roundabout on a bicycle is to behave like a motorist.  If you want to go straight ahead, look for a gap in the traffic, signal right and occupy the centre of the lane as you enter the roundabout. Move back to the left of the lane only as you exit the roundabout.  If you're turning right, take up the lane and signal a right turn as you enter the roundabout.  Stay towards the right of your lane until you approach the exit point, then move smoothly left.

If the roundabout has more than one lane, use the lane that leads to where you want to go.

Cycling Tips for the Conditions

Cycling in the Dark

Cyclists on the road at night need to be visible to other road users.

Many cyclists ride in urban environments where they feel that they can see well enough to navigate, so they don’t bother with front lights. This can be very dangerous, because motorists often do not see cyclists without front lights, even under street lights. Reflectors can provide good visibility for overtaking traffic, but most dangers of car-bike collisions come from the front or side of the cyclist.

Lights are essential for visibility when cycling at night. However, reflective clothing may help approaching drivers estimate cyclists size and distance more easily and accurately than can just a single lamp or reflector. Ankle or pedal reflectors move and attract attention. Cyclists must remember that reflective clothing supplements, but never replaces, good lights and bike-mounted reflectors.

All cyclists who ride at night should regularly check their lights to make sure they are visible and fit fresh batteries on a regular basis.

When do you need lights?

When you ride on the road during the legal hours of darkness, which are:

  • half an hour after sunset until half an hour before sunrise,
  • any other time when there isn’t enough daylight to clearly see people or vehicles 100 metres away.

What lights and reflectors must you or your bike have?

Your bike must have at least a front light, rear light and rear reflector fitted to it as follows:

  • A steady or flashing forward-facing white or amber light that is visible from a distance of 100 metres. You may fit a second front light but only one of the lights may be flashing.
  • A steady or flashing rear-facing red light that is visible from a distance of 100 metres. You are not limited to the number of rear lights that you may have.
  • A red rear reflector that is visible from a distance of 100 metres

In addition, you must be wearing reflective material or your bike must have pedal reflectors fitted.

LED lights tend to have a narrow beam so after mounting your lights on your bike prop your bike upright and walk behind the bike and crouch down to be the height of a car driver.  Fine tune the light angle to ensure it will be seen at its brightest by drivers.

Look for LED lights that have LEDs on the sides as well as the main beam either forward or rear.  This means drivers waiting on side intersections can see you as well as those in front or behind.

Important tips

Always have your front light turned on at night. It is vital that oncoming motorists see you even if you can see them.

If it is overcast or dull and cars have their lights then you should have yours on.

Rear lights attached to your clothing or a backpack may not be clearly visible when you are riding due to the angle.  Always have a rear light mounted on your bike as this is required by law.

If you use a helmet light make sure you have a front light on your bike as well; your helmet light will not always be visible from the front and by law a light needs to be on the bicycle.

Regularly check that your lights are visible and that the batteries are well charged.

Visit Greater Wellington website Be Safe Be Seen website for more information about cycle light test results.

Cycling in the Wet or Winter

Wet Weather Equipment

For cyclists, rain comes from all directions: down from the sky, up from the bike wheels, and sideways, both driven by wind and splashed by cars.  Here are some tips on protection from wet weather:

  • Bicycle wheels spurt a steady stream of water towards a cyclist's ankles (from the front tyre) and back (from the rear).  Mud guards make all the difference. Many bikes for kids and commuters already have mud guards installed, but mountain bikes generally don’t.  (For serious mountain bikers the mud is a badge of glory.)  Inexpensive, removable plastic mud guards that simply clip or screw on are a great investment for everyday cycling.
  • Rain-proof cycling clothes made of waterproof and breathable fabrics like Gore-Tex are available in specialty shops.  For everyday bike commuters making short trips, a regular lightweight raincoat goes a long way; however, a cyclist will quickly overheat in a normal raincoat on longer or more strenuous rides. For surprise showers, it’s handy to carry even the cheapest plastic rain poncho (they can cost as little as $1) in a pocket, purse, backpack or pannier.
  • Shoes will get wet while cycling, so consider taking a change of footwear and socks, or leaving a change at your work. 
  • If it's chilly, a thin merino or polypropylene beanie under the helmet will help keep your ears and head warm on icy mornings.  This combined with a scarf and gloves means cycling is comfortable even on the coldest days.  In Europe, they have a saying that "there is no bad weather only bad clothes", with people still cycling when the temperature is minus 25 degrees.
  • A high visibility back pack cover helps keep your bag dry and you more visible. 

Wet Weather Riding Tips

  • When brakes become wet, stopping time increases a lot.  Ride slower in wet weather, and practice braking when first becoming accustomed to it.  Pump the brakes gently while going down hills; this will reduce the bicycle's speed slightly and dry the tires a bit.
    Puddles can be surprisingly deep, and can conceal glass and bumpy things, so avoid them. This is just one more reason to ride a bit further away from the curb; about a metre is recommended by many bike safety experts.
  • Wet leaves are treacherous. Try to avoid riding through them, and especially avoid turning sharply on them, to avoid skidding through a messy puddle.
  • Finally, remember that motor vehicles also have less control and visibility in wet weather, so pay special attention to their behaviour when it rains.

Winter Bicycle Care and Maintenance

  • The bicycle should be stored indoors if possible.
  • Clean the bike regularly.
  • Keep the bicycle chain especially well lubed with a product designed for winter.
  • Cushioned handlebar tape will keep hands warmer.
  • Visibility is often reduced in winter.  You may be out much more often after dark when days are shorter, so get into the habit of carrying lights and reflective gear all the time.
  • Don’t under-estimate the blinding effects of the low afternoon sun (both for cyclists and motorists). Wear sunglasses and a helmet with a visor; also remember that riders may be invisible to cars when the sun is at their back.
  • Lip balm and moisturiser for hands and face can be very welcome before and after a winter ride.
  • Don't forget to keep hydrated even though it's not hot and sunny outside!
  • Dress in layers to conserve warmth, and also because cycling builds up body heat fast; it may be necessary to remove a layer after the first 20 minutes on the bike. In really cold weather, both the body and the legs should have a soft, fleecy layer closer to the skin and a windproof shell outside.  Proper cycling gear is made with zip features to allow for underarm ventilation and other variations. Denim jeans are not sufficient for cold-weather riding but – perhaps surprisingly – pantihose or stockings do offer a little insulation when used as an under-layer.
  • Adjust bike helmet straps to allow for comfortable wearing of a close-fitting wool or synthetic-fibre toque or a headband.
  • A scarf or neck warmer can be a vital item because it keeps cold air from entering the front closure of a winter coat, and can be quickly removed if it's not needed.
  • On the hands, a close-fitting pair of lightweight gloves is a good first layer, with a more tightly-woven, wind- and waterproof outer shell. Bike gloves will often fit over light gloves.  It's still a good idea to carry a Gore-Tex-type shell mitten. These are sometimes shaped like "lobster claws", with a division between the second and third finger to allow for extra dexterity.

Further Reading

"Everyday Cycling"  by Alastair Smith published by Awa Press, is a NZ book written with information about riding in NZ conditions.

See Everyday Cycling in Aotearoa New Zealand

If you want to use a bike in your daily life - to get to work, play, school and the shops - this is the book you have been waiting for, an informative, comprehensive and inspiring guide that helps beginners get started and experienced cyclists ride more confidently, safely and enjoyably. Discover how to:

- select the right bike - or improve the bike you have
- choose accessories for safety, visibility and efficiency
- learn safe, effective cycling skills
- manoeuvre through traffic and complex road layouts
- carry loads safely and well
- handle challenging terrain and weather
- deal with mechanical problems such as flat tyres
- safely introduce your children to cycling