How to Survive Cycling in Scotland

A trip to the shops in Scotland by bike is not as easy as in mainland Europe

One of the things you will notice once you move to Scotland is the fact that there are barely any bikes on the road. Fair enough, it’s raining a lot here, but that doesn’t usually keep people inside. Unfortunately, rain is not the biggest enemy of cyclists in Scotland. It’s the fact that roads are generally not made for anyone on a bike.

The infrastructure only includes a few cycle paths, which is especially a high risk on busy streets downtown. And on narrow countryside roads with big hedges on each side, it’s almost impossible to go for a nice cycle on the road without fearing that a car is going to hit you.

Indicators that the cycling situation is probably not the best, can also be seen in the road statistics. Over the past few years, there has been a sharp rise in accidents amongst cyclists in Scotland resulting in serious injuries. A survey showed that only 12 per cent have used their bike for at least 30 minutes in the last month. At the same time, Dutch residents use their bike for 25%  of all trips they make. Obviously, it’s not as rainy in the Netherlands and most of the roads are quite flat, but if you look at Finland, people are cycling even when the pavements are covered in snow.

If you don’t want to miss out on using your bike in Scotland, then here are a few hints that hopefully keep you from any serious injuries and improve your cycling experience.

1. Left, Left, Left

You are not in mainland Europe anymore, so you will need to keep left on the road. When you drive a car, then the position of the gears and wheel are a constant reminder of driving left. But when you are on the bike, everything looks the same which makes it even harder to fight the instinct of cycling on the right side. Especially with cars being able to park in any direction, you can’t always use them as a reminder.

Cycling on the left side also involves looking over your left shoulder and not the right. This can feel quite awkward at the beginning, so maybe practice on a quiet road first. And also practice intersections. After turning left, you might find yourself suddenly cycling on the right side again.  

2. Buy A Helmet

Try to forget about your look and buy a helmet. The roads here are not safe for cyclists and a helmet reduces the likelihood of serious head injuries significantly. Make sure that the helmet fits your head and watch out for the “BS EN 1078” marking. That means that your helmet meets the strict British and European safety requirements. Here is a guide that tells you which helmet is the best for what cycling activity.  

3. Don’t Trust Cycle Paths

Scottish cities are slowly integrating cycle paths in their infrastructure. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are safe, even if they are separated with a small stone fence from the rest of the road. Cars can suddenly drive onto the path or block it by parking on it.

Another threat comes from those on foot. Pedestrians are generally not used to bikes on pavements, so it happens every now and then that they suddenly walk on the cycle path without watching out for bikes. Try to cycle slowly when you see that the pavement is busy and always watch out for people that might jump in front of your bike. 

4. Don’t Trust Traffic Lights

Another thing that you shouldn’t trust is traffic lights. The only advantage they have compared to European traffic lights is the fact that cars can’t cross at the same time there is a green light for pedestrians or cyclists. So you can technically cross the street without the fear of a car suddenly bumping into you when you cross the street.

However, this is only the theory. You will notice that both cars and pedestrians stretch the rules of traffic lights a bit. Since Scottish traffic lights don’t let pedestrians and cars pass at the same time, it results in long waiting times. While Germans wouldn’t cross a red traffic light even if there is no car in sight, jaywalking is so normal in the UK that people don’t even know what the term means.

So, if you are on a bike, always slow down at green traffic lights and make sure that no car or pedestrian might knock you over.

5. Plan Your Route To Avoid Intersections

Since the streets in Scotland are generally not very safe for cyclists, always check roughly which route you want to follow before jumping on your bike. Planning routes makes cycling more complicated than it should be, but fewer intersections and quiet roads reduce the likelihood of an accident and also improve your experience on the bike.

If you plan a long cycle trip, watch out for blue signs. These signs are made for cyclists and show you more quiet routes.

6. Wear A Bright Jacket

If you decide to go for a ride on your bike, think about what jacket you want to wear. If you want cars to notice you, then a black jacket is not the best choice. The best jackets that increase the chance of other people seeing you are neon ones. You can get a so-called “hi-vis” jacket for just £25. They make other people see you but can also protect you from sudden rain. Check out this buying guide that compares different hi-vis jackets in various price categories. 

7. Buy A Bell And Use It

The easiest way to make pedestrians aware of your bike is by ringing the bell. You might have already noticed that people either don’t have a bell or don’t use it because they don’t want to offend anyone. But ringing the bell shouldn’t be interpreted as an affront because it ultimately saves pedestrians, and especially dog owners, from getting a fright when you suddenly pass them on a bike. And also makes it easier for you to pass.

It’s also a handy trick to pass sharp corners. If you don’t want to bump into other people or get hit by another cyclist, ring the bell a few times before you approach a corner. Obviously, you should still slow down, but at least you make people aware of you and your bike. 

8. Get A Lock. Or Two.

This isn’t necessarily related to safety on the roads, but if you don’t want to lose your bike in Scotland you will need a good lock. There is quite a high number of stolen bikes every year and the chances of finding a stolen bike are low. Even if you put your bike in the communal close, make sure you lock it appropriately, because everyone can access the close through the service button.

Once you have a bike, you can register it with the National Cycle Database. It helps to prevent bicycle thefts but the organisation also supports people in finding stolen bikes. 

Obviously, all the hints mentioned above won’t guarantee that you will never have an accident on your bike, but it decreases the likelihood. Fingers crossed that the infrastructure in Scotland will be improved in the foreseeable future and we can cycle more safely.


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