Cycling in Sheffield: five things I’ve learned

Back on my bike after 20 years

My dad recently bought himself a new bike and in turn offered me his old one as a hand-me-down. I haven’t really ridden a bike since I was a teenager so was a bit apprehensive but thought I’d give it a go. The good news is that I’m quite enjoying it and of course any excuse to do some exercise and put off the full-on arrival of my middle-aged spread is welcome.

Due to its proximity to the Peak District, Sheffield is a bit of a hub for outdoorsy types and cycling seems to be up there with climbing as one of those things that a lot of people do. Team GB’s cycling success at the Olympics will encourage even more people to take it up. So how have I found my first few weeks of cycling here? Below are five observations about cycling in Sheffield I’ve made since being back in the saddle.

1. Our roads surfaces are rubbish

As a car owner, of course I already knew this. But only when you experience all those bumps, cracks and potholes for yourself on a bike do you truly appreciate the rotten state of our city’s roads. The cycle lane on some is even worse than the car lane, which doesn’t really encourage you to use them. Hopefully this will be addressed by the £2bn highways PFI project, which has promised to make Sheffield’s roads and pavements better for everyone.

2. Sheffield isn’t yet a truly bike-friendly city

University Square roundabout: not great for cyclists

University Square roundabout: not great for cyclists

Although the council has made some effort to make it easy to cycle around Sheffield, more could be done. We have some cycle routes, but they aren’t brilliantly joined up. We have cycle lanes and crossings, but these aren’t always in locations where you need them most, for example trying to navigate – or preferably avoid completely – University Square roundabout. We have a council cycle map PDF, but this would work much better as a proper interactive map, plus I soon realised that many of the cycle parking facilities are currently missing off it. Thankfully the cycling campaign groups are pressuring the council to do more for cycling in Sheffield.

3. The hills are steep

Brilliant for cycling down but not so much fun on the return leg. I live near the top of one, which means that nearly every bike ride ends with a punishing slog back home. I suppose it is better having it this way round, instead of needing to shower at work in the morning. No doubt I’ll eventually find them easier but in the meantime I’m still having to push my bike up some of our hills so when you speed past please do give an encouraging thumbs up.

4. Cycling is different to driving

You tend to see roads and particularly junctions differently when you’re on your bike. I’ve needed to brush up a bit on my highway code and look up some of the advice online regarding things like what a cyclist should do in terms of passing stationary or slow-moving traffic. So far, I haven’t had any run-ins with motorists, touch wood. I’ve also made sure I’ve avoided things like cycling through red lights, which is something that can drive you mad as a car driver. You obviously feel less safe on a bike compared to in a car and if there were to be an accident, it is likely that the cyclist will get hurt, regardless of who is at fault. But so far so good. One bonus of cycling over driving is that you don’t have to pay stupidly high petrol and city centre car park prices.

5. Recycle Bikes is great

The old bike I was given needed some basic repairs and someone recommended that I take it to a social enterprise called Recycle Bikes, based in Heeley, It’s an independent, not-for-profit bike project which is involved in loads of worthwhile stuff including recycling old bikes, running youth and adult training and doing very reasonable repairs using recycled parts. They are part of Heeley Development Trust and I think are definitely worth considering if you need a repair, are looking for a cheap recycled bike or even have an old one to donate.

What are your experiences of cycling or cyclists in Sheffield, ? Is there anything else I should know?

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17 Comments

  1. Ann Elk

     /  14 August, 2012

    The most important thing you can say to a new cyclist is

    ****Do not attempt to “undertake” any left turning vehicle****

    Hang back. Let it go. And then follow. The reason being is that the space you aim for is squeezed as the vehicle turns, and if you are in that space this can cause serious injury, or even death.

    Cycling is as safe as walking, and healthier.

    Hills. Take your time. Use your gears. You’ll get better quickly.

  2. Robert Beard

     /  14 August, 2012

    It’s not just that the city isn’t cycle-friendly, a lot of the drivers aren’t either. One man tried to share a far too narrow lane with me and was completely unperturbed as my handlebar caught on his door-mirror. Every provision should be made for disabled drivers and others who genuinely cannot use public transport – or cycle or walk – of course, but otherwise driving should be the least convenient way to travel in the city, just as it’s already the least healthy and environmentally friendly. Much more should be done to give cyclists clear priority over drivers on the more dangerous roads and junctions where no cycle lanes are provided. And whoever decided that it was better to mix buses with cycles rather than with cars (in bus lanes) can’t ever have experienced being sandwiched between two moving double-deckers at rush-hour.

  3. Take command of the road, especially at junctions — i.e. use the whole lane at a junction or roundabout, rather than inviting a vehicle to squeeeeeze by you!

    Look motorists in the eye, which again shows confidence. ALWAYS look behind you before performing any kind of manoeuvre. Even if you have a mirror, it sends a message to the motorists.

    An added benefit of wearing the correct safety gear is that you look like you are meant to be there and will *in general* be treated with more respect.

    And play fair: use clear hand signals to show your intentions!

  4. Robert Beard

     /  14 August, 2012

    I’ve been doing this stuff all my cycling life (c.45 years out of 51) but I’m not risking going under a car’s wheels just to prove a point!

  5. Ann Elk

     /  14 August, 2012

    Agree with Craig Marston. Some really good points about signalling clearly and checking what’s around you if you change lanes – and a lane on a bike is moving even a yard over. It’s mirror-signal-manoeuvre for cyclists.

    Be assertive and confident on the road, without being a dick. This comes with experience. But if you’re a dick there’s not much anyone can do about that :-)

    Strongly disagree with the tone and content of Robert Beard’s posts. I’ve cycled for ~25 years. If you look for persecution you’ll be rewarded by finding it everywhere. Most drivers, and I mean way over 99%, are fine.

    Cycling is enjoyable, liberating, healthy, etc etc.

    Antagonism between cyclists and motorists is just stupid.

    If I feel like I’m in the way, and holding up traffic, then I try to get out of the way, occasionally this involves riding the pavements but this can be done responsibly. If I find myself in this position I think, how fast would I be going if I was jogging, and take it down to that speed.

    I think of myself much more as a speedy jogger than a motorcyclist without an engine.

    At junctions get out in front where you can be seen.

    Lots more to say but the main thing is do not undertake and enjoy it. It’s great.

  6. Robert Beard

     /  14 August, 2012

    What an extraordinarily extreme response to my post, to say nothing of the offensive language used. Who’s supposed to be “looking for persecution”? Who’s promoting “antagonism”? Who’s “holding up the traffic”? Who’s “undertaking” (apart from the driver who cut me up)? Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to encounter more amenable drivers than I have. Maybe you live in an area of Sheffield where courtesy is the norm on the roads, which it certainly isn’t where I live. All I did was report my experience and suggest some ways of making cycling in Sheffield safer. It’s curious that I’ve always found most cyclists to be a friendly bunch but I don’t think I’ll be posting here again. I wish you well.

  7. Cycling in Sheffield is mint, and easily the best way to get around the city. It’s fast, it’s free and (whisper it to car drivers) i\’s great fun. There are so many more people cycling today than even five years ago, and the cycle paths are a lot better than they were.

    There’s still loads to be done though – the most frustrating thing about cycling in Sheffield is when a cycle path just ends, or spits you out in the middle of a main road, or dumps you in the middle of a load of pedestrians who hate you for it. I think we should push for a city-wide, standardised system: there’s plenty of room on the big roads for something like this http://www.streetfilms.org/kinzie-street-the-first-of-many-protected-bike-lanes-for-chicago/

    Re cars/bad-drivers, I think this is something you’ll always find. The key thing to remember is that, though you might have right of way, and be totally in the right, if they can’t see you, or don’t see you, or don’t care, they’ll knock you off. So give way and keep your eyes open. Be assertive, and speak your mind, but there’s no point getting angry. Just pity them. They have to listen to Real Radio and sit in traffic.

    The other thing to think about is pedestrians. A lot of peds don’t seem to get the idea of cycle lanes (particularly in the places where it’s a bike/pedestrian free-for-all), and there are parts of the city centre (eg next to the town hall) where people don’t even look for bikes (again, bad-planning, having cycle lanes run counter to one-way streets). I’d echo the advice above: whenever you’re surrounded by pedestrians, go slow.

    Finally, there’s the choices you make. Bikes are in a funny hinterland between peds and cars. I never jump red lights (some of my friends do), but I often go down quiet one-way streets the wrong way, if it saves me ten minutes going round a one way system. And I will filter through traffic, as long as it\’s safe to do so. Seems to me that the no-right-turn-at-the-bottom-of-this-street sort of sign is to try to prevent traffic jams, which bikes don’t cause.

    I think the best advice would be to find the quiet back-roads that often run parallel to the big roads, and start to learn where the good cycle paths are. Don’t be afraid of breaking the little rules (they’re there because there are too many fat cars) but don’t break the big ones. And stay off the tram-tracks!

  8. Just one wee correction – the roads PFI is more like 2.5 Billion over 20 years, not 2m! Cyclesheffield along with the other cycling groups in Sheffifeld is working with the council and the contractors, Amey, to make sure the scheme delivers the best possible deal for cyclists, and you can help by joining the campaign – http://www.cyclesheffield.org.uk/join-us-google-form/

  9. Sheffield blog

     /  15 August, 2012

    Thanks Simon I’ve corrected that figure. And thanks to everyone else for their cycling advice – there is some good stuff in there.

  10. yaxu

     /  15 August, 2012

    I know exactly what you mean about that cycle lane opposite the town hall Tom, pedestrians don’t look both ways there, and it’s easy to understand why. I saw a lady step into the path of a cyclist there, could have been nastier than it was.

  11. yaxu

     /  15 August, 2012

    My big piece of safety advice is don’t cycle too fast. Zooming down a hill is fun but unless the road is clear of traffic, junctions and potholes, hit the brakes. You’ll have more time to anticipate problems, and if you do fall off you’ll be far less likely to get serious injury.
    Also, stay out of the “door zone”.
    There is a book called cyclecraft which is supposed to be good.

  12. My advice on Pinstone St is don’t cycle too fast, as you say yaxu, and ring your bell – a lot!-
    or have some other kind of audible device – like whistle or have a big gob. It is the case everywhere in the City Centre that pedestrians tend to behave as though they have right of way over everyone, & I think that’s a good thing actually.

  13. garry

     /  16 August, 2012

    Remember, you’re not in the way of traffic, you are traffic. I commute maltby to chapeltown and average 17mph – the average inner city speed for motorised transport is 17mph. Its just cars are stop/start.
    I’d reiterate, whats been said.
    Stay 1m away from the kerb – it’s full of debris that’ll cause punctures
    Stay 1m away from the kerb – it’ll give an ‘escape’ in case of close passes.
    Don’t pass on the left near junctions – especially large vehicles and wagons.
    Stay out of the ‘door zone’ when passing parked vehicles.
    Ride wide through ‘pinch points’. If it’d be dangerous for a car to pass, ride wider so they can’t.
    Read ‘Cyclecraft’ by John Franklin. It’s the basis for Bikeability, the new cycling proficiency taught at schools.
    Enjoy yourself and don’t feel you have to apologise for taking up tarmac!

  14. The most important piece of advice I would give is always wear a helmet- sounds simple but have seen countless cyclers without one and it really saves lives- I know of two people who got hit cycling – one was wearing a helmet and the helmet cracked and he was fine and another that wasn’t and ended up with severe head injuries!

  15. jightymoe

     /  6 October, 2012

    The biggest thing for me is visibility. Far too many cyclists don’t take simple actions to make themselves more visible. I personally think people cycling on roads should wear hi-vis vests at all times. It makes them so much easier to see. I started driving late in life and could not believe how difficult some cyclists are to see. You see people riding in black clothing at night, with one tiny flashing red light at the back. It’s frankly scary. It doesn’t matter how good or bad drivers are, why not take every step you can to make yourself more visible and safe. After a long time out from cycling I bought a bike and came a cropper on the tram lines. I was worried that a Van driver hadn’t seen me as he pulled out (he stopped with his front end slightly out of the junction) and moved to go round him. As I was worried about him I didn’t make a big enough turn and ended up face down in the tarmac with the front wheel stuck in the tram track. A harsh lesson.

  16. Visibility is important but I don’t think cyclists should have to wear hi-viz in broad daylight. Actually so many people wear hi-viz these days that its use has become devalued. At CycleSheffield we hear of people who’ve had near-misses or collisions while wearing hi-viz, so I don’t think you can rely on that, or any one thing, to keep you safe. If you take a training lesson from Pedal Ready (the first two hour session is free) you will learn that such skills as making eye contact with drivers and positioning on the road are important. Also the tram tracks are inherently dangerous and no amount of hi-viz will alter that, although Pedal Ready trainers can teach you how to cross them safely. In the situation you describe, jightymoe, I simply would have stopped and let the driver pull out, and explained why I’d done that to him if I got the opportunity – I hope you’ve recovered, by the way.

  17. Monique

     /  28 November, 2013

    @ Ann Elk, there’s also a simple rule for drivers with regards to left hand turns, don’t turn left if a cyclist is already in the space where you need to turn, hold back and let the cyclist pass instead! I still have some nasty bruises from such incident from last week to show some drivers are impatient and inconsiderate, thankfully I didn’t come off my bike this time.
    Next time I may not be so lucky!

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