10 tips for cycling safely in the Highlands
Cycling has never been more popular in Scotland. The increase in national cycling is due to many factors including the availability of cycle to work schemes, the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games and active lifestyles.
It is expected that by 2020, 10% of all journeys in Scotland will be by cycling.
Cycling safely through the Highlands
There are many ways to explore the diverse, rugged and impressive landscapes that the Scottish Highlands has to offer, whether this is on or off road. This may include participating in organised race events, charity events or even exploring for fun.
Renowned routes such as Bealach na Ba to Applecross, sections of the North Coast 500 and events such as the Highland Cross or the Loch Ness Etape see thousands flock to the Highlands each year.
As enjoyable and thrilling as these routes are, safety must always be a paramount consideration.
1. Plan your ride
Irrespective of whether it is an organised event or a social ride, knowing your route before setting off is a must.
It can save a huge amount of time if you miss a turn in a poorly marked race course or can save miles for those who may take a wrong turn on a social ride.
It also allows you to plan how long and demanding you want your ride to be taking into account factors such as the distance and gradient.
It is also imperative for scheduling those coffee, CAKE and comfort breaks.
Checking the weather forecast. It may not always be reliable but an indication of bad weather ahead is better than a long cycle into gale force winds.
2. Be Seen
As a cyclist you are more exposed to the dangers of the road. Cyclists want to wear the most practical, light weight and comfortable clothing to allow us to manoeuvre freely and without restrictions.
Although this is all important, we must consider what makes us more visible to other road users.
For that reason, wearing light coloured or fluorescent clothing helps other road users to see you not only during the day but significantly improves your visibility in darkness. Items with reflective strips and/or accessories such as belt, arm or ankle bands also assist.
In terms of our bikes it is stated under the Highway Code that a cyclist when using a bicycle on a road must have the following:
- White front and red rear lights lit.
- White front and red rear reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen.
- Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp.
3. Be Heard
Whilst most bikes do not as standard come with a bell, it can be worthwhile when cycling through busy towns or villages to makes pedestrians aware that you are there. They may not be a very trendy accessory but it is better than cycling into a pedestrian.
4. Protect Yourself
A good quality helmet is without doubt fundamental. Sunglasses will protect you from not only bright light and glare, but also from wind, rain, bugs, dust and road debris.
5. Stay Warm
Layers! Be prepared for all eventualities and organise your gear the night before.
We know that in the Highlands we can experience all four seasons in one day. Taking multiple layers allows you to change clothing to suit the conditions.
In cold weather, layers will protect your extremities to make the experience and cycle much more enjoyable. This can include:
- Warm under layers,
- lightweight waterproof jacket
- over shoes,
- hat and gloves
6. Don’t allow yourself to hit the wall
Ensuring that you have sufficient food and water will prevent you from becoming exhausted. You should be aiming to consume 500-1000 ml of fluid per hour depending on your build and conditions.
Carbohydrates need to be consumed early, in small amounts and frequently. The promise of a coffee and a cake at the end of a cycle is always worth that last almighty climb; therefore having a waterproof pouch of money will come in handy.
7. Stay contactable
A fully charged mobile phone should always be taken.
8. Emergency Tools & Equipment
Taking the right tools and equipment could save a very long walk to the nearest town or village. Carrying a puncture repair kit or spare inner tubes, tyre levers, air canisters or a hand pump are a must. It is not uncommon for Highland roads to catch you out with debris or rogue potholes.
9. Cycling Etiquette
When cycling in a group, extra considerations should be given to other road users and also your fellow cyclists.
The rules in the Highway Code state you must never ride more than two abreast, ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends. This allows you to be more alert and determine the best way to cycle in a group.
By appointing someone to take the lead deciding on the best passing place, ensuring that the cyclists behind are made aware of the pot holes, cattle grids, railway lines and so on.
Equally the rider at the back will let the group know when a car is approaching. It makes for a safer, less stressful and more enjoyable ride.
10. Road Conditions
Expect the unexpected.
Don’t be surprised if you come across a sheep crossing the road or need to dodge other items on the road, patches of ice or wet leaves.
Ride sensibly in mind of the road conditions assessing your speed and distance given to other cyclist and road users, especially on different road surfaces and varying weather conditions.
The traction of your bike will be different depending on the road surface and dampness. Many Highland routes have sharp bends and descents.
Enjoy and be safe.