Cycling in Cambridge
Most students end up with a bicycle, as Cambridge is flat, cars are largely banned from the city centre, parking is a nightmare, and it is possible to get virtually everywhere conveniently by bicycle. For graduates working at Addenbrookes or the West Cambridge site, or those living in one of the more distant hostels, a bicycle is particularly useful. The provision of cycle lanes in Cambridge is improving, with Madingley Road and Grange Road now quite convenient for cycling. Moreover, an increasing number of hostels have covered cycle sheds, either fully enclosed or fitted with racks to which bikes can be securely locked. If you’re looking to escape the bustle of town, a number of well-maintained cycle paths put the beautiful Cambridgeshire countryside within easy reach. Cycling is an excellent way to get around and have some fun in Cambridge.
Buying a Bicycle
Bikes and anything related to them are quite expensive in Cambridge. Although it is possible to buy a new bike for as little as £70 or a used one for less than £50, the quality of either will typically be low. Expect to pay £100 or more for a high-quality used bike, or upwards of £200 – £300 for a new one. Cheaper new bikes of good quality can be found in stores further from the city centre (e.g., Mill Road). If you’re willing to shop via classifieds or the internet, prices can be much lower, although delivery and assembly may be something of a hassle. Some of the more reputable used bicycle vendors in town (see the ‘Shopping Guide’) offer three or six months of free repairs, a definite advantage if you plan to do most of your riding in Cambridge. For most students the best choice is probably a hybrid or a city bike (Dutch bike). Though heavier and less agile than a road bike, they are much more comfortable to ride, especially for commuting. Those interested in longer rides or touring might consider a road bike. Fixed gear bicycles are becoming more popular in Cambridge, but are too impractical and unsafe to be a good choice for most riders. Wicker front baskets are a Cambridge tradition and a convenient way to carry small and light items on your bike. For heavier or larger loads a rear rack and pannier bags are far safer than a front basket, and far more comfortable than a backpack. Full details on where to buy bicycles and accessories, both in town and online are provided in the ‘Shopping Guide’.
Bicycle theft is one of Cambridge’s biggest industries. Nevertheless, there are some simple things you can do to protect your property. The first thing you should do after getting your bike is register it with the porters. This will allow you to store your bike in the secure bike shed in Forecourt, and will help you recover it should it be stolen.
Always lock your bike: Secure the frame of your bicycle to a solid object, such as a metal railing or cycle rack, with a well-made lock. (U-locks are a particularly good choice.) ‘Free-locking’, locking the wheel to the frame without securing either to a solid object, is fine for a quick dash into Sainsbury’s, but a bad idea for any longer period of time. While your bike can’t be ridden away when free-locked, it can be carried away! Many cycles these days have quick-releases: a small lever mechanism that allows the wheels, and often the saddle, to be removed without any tools. In Cambridge, these are an invitation to theft or vandalism. Replace them with a simple nut and bolt, available from any hardware store. If you choose to keep your quick-releases, use an auxiliary lock to secure your wheels to the frame of the bike.
Cycling Safety and the Law
Cycling laws are much more rigorously enforced in Cambridge than in other parts of Britain. For your own safety, and to avoid getting a ticket, it’s important to be acquainted with a few basic points:
- When riding after sunset or in inclement weather, your bicycle must be fitted with lights: white in the front and red in the rear. (Be aware that the sun sets before 4pm (!) here in winter.) A set of lights costs around £10-£20. Being caught at night without them incurs a £50 fine.
- While it’s perfectly legal to cycle without a helmet (yes, people from the antipodes, you read that correctly), it’s a bad idea. As a graduate student, your brain is your most valuable asset. Why should your iPhone have a protective case when your cranium doesn’t? A helmet may cost upwards of £25, but it’s certainly a good investment!
- Cycling on the pavement (sidewalk) is both illegal and discourteous. Cycle only on the road or in designated cycle lanes (these are marked in red).
- Cyclists must obey all traffic regulations, just the same as automobiles. This means stopping at marked pedestrian crossings and stoplights, and not cycling across zebra crossings or pedestrian crossings at traffic lights.
- Before turning, signal your intention to pedestrians and other vehicles by extending your arm in the direction you intend to turn.
A bell is extremely useful in Cambridge. Use it to signal when coming around blind corners and to (politely) ask pedestrians to move out of your way if they’re walking on the road or on a shared pedestrian/cycling path.
Look out for and obey signs marked ‘Cyclists Dismount’. These typically indicate a dangerous confluence of pedestrians ahead, such as a bridge.