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PPA Safe Cycling Course

This Level 1 Safe Cycling course was developed and is presented primarily at school-going level.  We have found that this contains the minimum information required to assist newcomers to commuting to do so safely. In the interest of safe cycling, you are welcome to use the information (crediting the Pedal Power Association) free of charge if you wish to present safe cycling courses.

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South African roads are public spaces, and we as cyclists have the right to ride our bicycles on them. However, riding your bicycle on public roads is a big responsibility, and it is very important that you are aware of (and always obey) the rules of the road, and handle your bicycle in a safe and responsible manner. At this workshop, we’ll highlight some of the most important points relating to safe cycling. You are welcome to ask questions as we go along.

And remember:

  • Always wear your helmet.
  • Be visible on your bike.
  • A second time: Always wear your helmet
  • Respect and obey the rules of the road
  • And again: Always wear your helmet


a)    Type and Size

Firstly, it is important that you choose the right bicycle for your purpose. If you intend commuting on footpaths and gravel roads as well as on tar roads, choose a commuting or mountain bike with wider tyres instead of a road bike with narrow tyres, as the wider tyres will cope better with different road surfaces.

It is also very important that your bicycle is the correct size for you. If the bicycle is too big or too small, you could struggle to control the bicycle, which could lead to an accident or to you falling over in traffic. In addition, riding a bicycle that is not the right size for a long period can be very uncomfortable and lead to neck and shoulder aches and pains.

Equally, make sure the saddle or seat height is correct for your leg length, so that you can expend optimum power while riding, as well as properly control the bike when you stop.

How to check the saddle height:
Ask someone to hold the bicycle behind the seat, and sit on it with both hands on the top of the handlebars and your heels on the pedals.

When you look down at the front wheel, the front axle should roughly be in line with the handlebars. If you straighten your leg with the crank arm in line with the down tube, your heel should be on the pedal and your leg should be extended. When standing over the top tube, there should be at least a hand width between the top tube and your crotch.

b)    Quick safety check

It is important to check your bicycle before you set out – you do not want to break down in the middle of a busy road, or far from help!


* Are the tyres free of holes, cuts or any embedded objects? (You don’t want a blow-out on a long descent!)
* Are the wheels pumped hard enough? (Check the sidewall of the tyre for the correct pressure)
* Are the wheels tightly secured? (You don’t want a wheel to come off while you are riding!)
* Check both brakes: Are they working? Are the brake pads/blocks still serviceable?
* Are the gears working as they should? (You don’t want to grind to a halt in the middle of peak hour traffic!)
* Is the chain clean and well oiled? (A clean, oiled chain lasts longer and works better)
* Is the handlebar firmly fixed? Is the saddle firmly fixed? If loose: Tighten first! (You don’t want the handlebars or saddle to fall off while you are riding.. you’ll definitely crash!)
* Are there any cracks in the frame or forks? (A cracked frame can break at any time)
* Do you have a saddle bag with emergency spares attached to the bicycle, including spare tube, a patch kit, and tyre levers? (You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, not being able to get  home again!)
* Do you have lights and reflectors on the bicycle (red at the back, white at the front)


Always strive for maximum visibility and protection while riding your bicycle.


Never, ever ride your bicycle without wearing your helmet. Make sure that the helmet is the right size and fits securely but comfortably, and that it is SABS, ANSI or Snell-approved. The helmet must be securely fastened at all times so that it does not come off in case of a fall. Test this by putting on your helmet and shaking your head from side to side and up and down. If your helmet moves, it is too loose and you need to tighten the straps until it fits securely. Ensure that you put the helmet on correctly (the “pointed part” faces to the back)


It does not help that you wear the latest fashions (either in commuting or cycling clothes) if the clothes are dark, and other road users cannot see you. The clothes you wear also need to be able to protect you in case of a fall – here wearing a few layers will add protection. In case of a fall, the layers slide over each other, instead of your skin on the road.

SO, BE VISIBLE! Wear at least a light or brightly coloured top, or get a bright, reflective vest to wear over your clothes. This will assist motorists to see you in the dark, or in those scary hours early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the light is fading, or when it is misty or raining.

Wear the right clothes for the conditions on the day: If it could rain, take a rain jacket with you; if it is cold, take a jersey or jacket with you: You cannot control your bicycle if you are shivering with cold.


Sandals are nice and cool in summer, but do not offer sufficient protection in case of a fall. Rather wear closed shoes with a flat sole (like running shoes), or cycling-specific shoes. Check that laces are securely done up and won’t get caught in the chain.


Try to get hold of a pair of cycling gloves, and always wear them when you ride your bicycle. In the case of a fall, the hands are usually used to break your fall and wearing gloves will protect your palms from road rash.


a)    Always control your bike

It is important to ride your bicycle in a straight line and in a predictable manner, so that cars and other vehicles can predict where you will be riding and how they must respond to your presence on the road.

Ride as far left of the white line as possible and safe.

Practise how to keep your bicycle under control when you lift one hand off the handlebar to give signals, so that you do not inadvertently wobble into the path of a car or truck. Being able to control your bicycle will also help you when you participate in a funride or ride with a group of friends and want to take a sip of water from your water bottle.

If you ride with a group of friends or behind another commuter, always make certain that your front wheel is at least one wheel length behind the cyclist in front of you, so that you have enough space to take evasive action should the need arise.

In windy conditions, you need to practise extra care, so that a sudden gust of wind does not cause you to lose your line and end up right in front of a car or truck.

Also be aware of the draft caused by a truck or bus: Do not get sucked in when a truck or bus passes you, but be ready for the “wobble” that will follow and control your bike accordingly.

TIP: Always tell someone when you go out on your bicycle, what route you will be riding and when they should expect you back.

b)   Avoid these road hazards

Your instructor will explain why you need to watch out for, and how you can avoid the following road hazards:

  • Oil, diesel or water
  • Glass
  • Drain covers, ‘cat-eyes’ and wet paint
  • Sand or loose stones
  • Pot holes

While riding on the road, there are road signs and road markings that must be obeyed.

c)    Traffic signs you should know (see Road Traffic Signs sheet):

The “stop” sign means just that: Bring your bicycle to a complete halt at any intersection where you encounter this sign, before continuing.

The yield sign means you have to slow down and check for any oncoming traffic before proceeding. If there is no other traffic and it is safe, you can continue.

No entry
This sign means you may not enter a specific road from your current position.

Pedestrian crossing
Watch out for people crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing (and especially near a school). Pedestrians have right of way over cyclists and motorists.

Bicycle lane
According to law, you must use a bicycle lane if one has been provided on a specific road.

Bicycles not allowed
You may not ride where this sign is displayed.

You may NOT ride on a freeway. In Cape Town, this includes the N1, N2, N7, M3 (“Blue Route”) and M5.

Traffic lights
You must STOP at a red traffic light. If the light is orange and you cannot stop safely without being endangered by the oncoming vehicle behind you, you can still cross the intersection but only if it is safe to do so. When the light is green, it is safe to go provided there are no vehicles or pedestrians in your way.

In addition to road signs, roads are marked in order to assist road users. Intersections will be covered in road markings (including channeling lines and arrows) to indicate which lane you must use in order to get to the place you want to get to, while barrier lines assist the cyclist with basic safety.

d)   Road markings you should know:

– Solid lines
A solid line down the middle of the road means you may not cross that line, not even in a funride. A solid line across your side of the road at an intersection means you must come to a STOP before entering that intersection.

Broken lines
A broken line down the middle of the road means you may cross that line, should it be safe to do so. A broken line across your side of the road at an intersection means that you must slow down and check for other traffic (like for a yield sign) before entering the intersection, provided it is safe to do so.

A white arrow comes before a yellow arrow and shows you what is happening to your lane. A yellow arrow is similar to a white arrow, but means that you have to obey the arrow. Once you get to a yellow arrow, you may not change lanes and must stay in the lane where you are.

e)    Where may you ride? Where may you NOT ride?

According to the Road Traffic Act, cyclists have a right to the left of the road. This does not necessarily mean the extreme left of the road, as there is often glass or stones etc to be found there. Ride where it is safe to do so. This also means that you must…

  • Be alert. Keep your eyes open for road hazards, and always be aware of the traffic around you so that you know whether or not it is safe to swerve for a pothole or piece of glass without riding into the path of the vehicle behind you. By being aware of what is happening around you, you can often prevent an accident from happening.
  • You must always ride in the same direction as the flow of the traffic.
  • Ride in single file, so that traffic can safely pass you.

Use the hand signals! By indicating when you want to turn left, right or stop, the vehicles around you can see what you intend doing and react accordingly.

If you have a choice, rather choose a quieter road for commuting than a very busy road.

After an accident, many motorists say they simply did not see the cyclist. Ride defensively, and assume that you have to “think” for the motorist as well as for yourself

>> Slow down and control your bicycle at all times. You cannot avoid a collision if you are hurtling downhill out of control, with faulty brakes, and a young child or a dog runs out in the road in front of you.
>>When you approach a bus stop or taxi stop, watch out for pedestrians getting off the bus and wanting to cross the road. Often they do not look out for cyclists (or realize how fast a bicycle can travel) before they start crossing the road. Slow down and prepare to take evasive action until you see it is safe to proceed.                                                               
>> When approaching a parked car, check to see if the driver is still in the car. Often they open the door without checking first for cyclists, causing you to ride into the door. Slow down, and put enough space between you and the car.
>> Do not cycle closely (draft) behind a bus. You never know when it suddenly needs to stop!
>>Look ahead! The further you look ahead down the road, the quicker you can identify potential problems like parked cars, bus stops, intersections, pedestrian crossings, steep downhills, sharp turns, potholes or sand or water or poor road surfaces.                                                               
>>Get a light so that you are visible. You should have a steady white light on the front of your bicycle and a flashing red light on the rear. You can also never have too many reflectors on your bicycle.                                                                                                    
>>Always try to make eye contact with drivers; that way you can see whether they have seen you.                                                                                                                                                             
>>Always thank motorists or drivers who for instance assist you by opening a gap for you to cross the road. Always be courteous.                                                                              
>>Do not pedal behind a vehicle where you are in the driver’s blind spot. If the driver cannot see you, he/she does not know that you are there.                                                
>>Do not jump traffic lights or stop streets. Only cross an intersection when you are certain that it is safe to do so.                                                                                      
>>And remember to stay off the freeways!

CHECKLIST 1: Before you set off, what must you do?
* Perform your bicycle safety check
* Put on your helmet
* Look right / left / right and check for oncoming motorbikes and cars (they are often faster than you think) or pedestrians

CHECKLIST 2: Check that you know the hand signals and procedures when you want to
* Turn left
* Turn right
* Stop at a stop street or traffic light
* Approach a traffic circle and/or yield sign
* Ride past a parked vehicle
* Ride past a bus stop or taxi stop
* Cross a busy intersection
* Change a lane

How can cyclists share the road with other road users?
* Obey the Road Rules and stop at all red traffic lights and stop signs.
* Wear bright coloured clothing, and use lights especially when cycling in poor visibility.
* Ride predictably and indicate to motorists when you intend to turn or to change direction.
* Allow at least 1 meter clearance when riding past parked cars.
* Wear a bicycle helmet at all times when cycling.

SUMMARY: The five rules to avoid fatal crashes:
1.    Never ride out into a street without stopping first and looking. Always assume that the driver has not seen you.
2.    Obey all stop signs and yield to crossing traffic.
3.    Check behind you before swerving, turning, or changing lanes.
4.    Never blindly follow another cyclist without applying the rules.
5.    Before you get on your bicycle, put on a helmet!

Good luck and safe cycling!

(This session is presented after the theoretical session, with the aid of at least one assistant. You’ll need some cones, and traffic signs.)

  1. Identify the various traffic/road signs & what they mean and how the cyclist must respond to them
  2. Identify road markings, what they mean and how the cyclist must respond to them (solid line; dotted line; road markings at stop streets and traffic circles; road markings near intersections etc)
  3. Describe and identify road hazards (oil, sand, water, wet paint, drain covers, cat eyes, pot holes etc)
  4. Describe and identify traffic hazards (cars turning at intersections, drivers riding out of driveways etc)
  5. Describe and identify hazards relating to the bicycle (cuts in tires, loose brakes, loose handlebars, saddle too high or too low; incorrect clothing eg shoes with loose shoelaces)
  6. Discuss the 10 commandments of cycling
  7. Discuss how things change when you have to ride in the rain or heavy wind
  8. Discuss how to carry stuff on the bike, if needed
  9. Discuss how to fix a flat tire
  10. LEVEL 2: Discuss specific problems a commuter may face (traffic laws; traffic signals and signs; road hazards; how to deal with impatient drivers; how to deal with parked cars (opening doors without looking); how to deal with narrow lanes when there are cars in the lanes as well; route choice – how to identify safe cycling routes; safe parking for your bike; visible clothing; basic bike maintenance; how to cope with the weather). Discuss how to make eye contact with motorists. Discuss why it is a bad idea to draft behind buses or taxis


Demonstrate how to:

  1. Ride in a straight line using both hands (a) fast (b) slow (bike control)
  2. Ride on a narrow painted line (try to ride on the line as long as possible, demonstrating bike control)
  3. Ride a figure of eight (demonstrate looking ahead and through the turn correctly, as for a motorbike)
  4. Ride a serpentine (show proper bike control)
  5. Ride in a straight line using only one hand (eg demonstrate proper bike control when you are getting ready to signal)
  6. Ride a serpentine using only one hand
  7. Ride a figure of eight using only one hand
  8. Demonstrate the correct hand signals for stopping, left and right turns while riding
  9. Demonstrate looking over the right shoulder to check for vehicles while still riding in a straight line (cyclist must show he is checking blind spots)
  10. Demonstrate looking over the right shoulder to check for vehicles, indicate turning right, then turn
  11. Demonstrate controlling the bicycle with one hand; carrying eg a full paper cup of water in the other (do a little race)
  12. Demonstrate taking a  water bottle in and out of the bottle cage without wobbling
  13. Demonstrate riding in single file in (a) a straight line (b) figure of eight
  14. Demonstrate riding in single file with the front rider peeling off and going to the back of the bunch (echelon riding)
  15. Demonstrate riding in single file, correctly identifying road hazards
  16. Demonstrate general bike control, including emergency stopping
  17. Demonstrate all the correct techniques when riding around a traffic circle
  18. Practise efficient cycling skills: Sitting still on the bike without moving hips from side to side; using the correct gears; relaxed shoulders; slowing down before a red light so that you do not have to come to a complete standstill; etc
  19. LEVEL 2: Demonstrate safe cycling skills and principles out amongst traffic, including stopping at a stop street, going round a traffic circle, the correct hand signals, riding in a straight line, coping with pedestrians and buses; and riding in a safe and predictable manner

 Atay wider poster