Riding Revision: Road Safety 101
Even if you’ve been riding a bike every day for the past ten years, there’s always room for improvement. Riding on two wheels can be incredibly dangerous and cyclists, unlike motorcyclists, often ride without wearing adequate safety gear or giving enough thought to the road around them. We’re not saying that you need to wear a leather suit on your way to work; we’re just going to give you a quick refresher on some of the good habits that you should be getting in to and reviewing the basics of the basics, just in case you’ve forgotten anything!
Riding cautiously, whilst being aware of everything going on around you, is the only way to truly stay safe on the road. We’re bringing this article up now because the seasons are changing, the weather is getting heavier and darkness is rolling in earlier, which also means that the roads are getting slipperier and the overall visibility for all road users is going to get worse. If you combine these things together, you’ll probably understand why a quick brush up on the basics is well worth your time!
Let’s start by going over the really simple stuff; it’s easy to forget the basics and accidents typically happen when the basics are forgotten. The most common types of injuries and accidents can be prevented by having a thorough knowledge of the basics and implementing them every time you ride, even if you’re only nipping up the road for a pint of milk.
Wearing the correct gear is the most important safety feature; although it’s not mandatory in the UK, you should consider wearing a helmet. There have been conflicting studies about the usefulness of cycle helmets but any level of protection is surely better than none at all. Always combine your helmet with bright and highly visible attire; if you’ve got anything bright, eye-catching or reflective, wear it.
Secondly, remember to follow the rules of the road and obey the signage. Ride with the traffic, at an appropriate speed for the conditions and make sure you pay attention to the traffic signals; if there’s a cycle lane that you can use, use it.
Lastly, if it’s dark outside or if the conditions are really bad, make sure that your bike has lights and that you do all that you can to stay visible. Just because you can see perfectly it doesn’t mean that other road users can see you – and that’s when accidents happen!
Ride defensively, ride predictably, ride safely. As a cyclist, it’s easy to get bullied by other vehicles and you may find yourself riding in the curb; this isn’t an ideal place to be. If you try to maintain a strong road position, you may get shouted at by every driver trying to pass you but wouldn’t you rather hear the term ‘bloody cyclist’ shouted at you by an angry driver who has seen you and overtaken you, than physically be a blood covered cyclist laying in the gutter because that same driver didn’t?
The distance between your bike and the curb is one thing but there is something more important and that’s the distance between you and any other vehicles on the road. You need to be in a position where you can see further down the road as well as being somewhere where the driver in front of you can see you too. If you’re too close to the back of the car in front, you’re going to find yourself in the driver’s blind spot and in no position to react to any hazard that might come your way. In stationary traffic, it’s a good idea to filter wherever possible; if you’re left exposed at the back of traffic column, you may get hit. Cyclists often don’t get seen as it is and being staying still can be like acting as a stationary target!
Cycling through the city can be difficult enough as it is but another thing that makes it harder is another cyclist cycling too close to you; leave each other space and a decent amount of room to manoeuvre otherwise you might cut each other up!
Whatever you do on the road, do it with confidence and with obvious intent. If you ride predictably then other road users will be aware of your motive; if you ride without confidence and make erratic and unpredictable moves, the rest of the traffic will have no idea what you’re up to, where you’re going and will ultimately do everything they can to get away from you – taking as many risks as necessary.
Keeping your eyes open might sound like obvious advice but there is a difference between looking and seeing. It’s easy to say ‘stay alert’ or ‘be aware of your surroundings’ but we’re only human and it’s easy to have a lapse in our concentration; it’s in these moments when accidents happen. There are a few tricks to help you avoid these lapses but first we’ll run through some of the things you should be seeing, rather than casually looking at:
Firstly, assess everything you see as a potential hazard, what could happen, when it could happen and where it could be coming from; if you can identify these hazards early enough you should be able to have an emergency plan just in case things don’t play out the way they should. These potential accident scenarios often take place around junctions, from side streets, when your view is obstructed and when visibility is low. If you can get into the swing of assessing these trouble spots, you’ve won half of the battle already.
Secondly, keep your eyes on the drivers of other vehicles. Obviously your concentration should be on the road but wherever possible, take a glance at who’s driving next to you or towards you; if you can make eye contact, you might be able to gauge the driver’s intentions before they make a turn or manoeuvre and pre-empt their next move. If you’ve made eye contact, you can also be relatively sure that the driver has seen you too.
Thirdly, not all hazards on the road come from the hand of man; be aware of the weather. If it’s raining, make sure that you’re going to be seen and that other vehicles can see you; if the sun is rising or setting, make sure you know in which direction and who’s sight is going to be impaired because of it – if the sun’s behind you, the vehicles coming toward you may not be able to see you at all. If you can keep this in mind, you’ll be able to protect yourself by riding more appropriately.
Finally, we’ll talk about a good solution that really works; the inner monologue. If you’ve ever watched an online video from a cyclist wearing a helmet cam, you’ll be amazed at how much they see and capture on film; they aren’t super humans, they’re just observant. They usually do this by talking to themselves. By keeping a running commentary of your journey, you’ll be forcing yourself to look at what’s going on around you and mentally assess everything you see: ‘Will that lady cross the road? Will that truck pull out? Is it school kicking-out time? That driver is on the phone.’ These kind of observations and questions are a great way to keep your mind occupied and focused on the job at hand. Give it a try, it’s fun too.
Keep the basics in your head at all times and you should be able to cycle with confidence, in a safe and secure way. When you forget the basics, trouble happens.