Despite the growing popularity of cycling many people are still not using their bikes as much as they would like. The reason given by many people is they are scared to use their bike for commuting because of the heavy traffic they will encounter on the way to work. Safe cycling is a major concern, Here in Leeds we are still a long way from being a cycle friendly city and consequently the amount of people who commute to work on a bike is very low.
We’ve had enough hot air over the past 13 years from the labour government about their commitment to green issues to melt another ice berg, but on the whole this hasn’t manifested itself in hard core cycling friendly policies.
Sure we’ve had some lines painted along the side of some roads which have been designated as cycle lanes. Not a lot from a government which was supposedly committed to getting people out of their cars. Here in Leeds we don’t have cycle ways criss crossing the city and it’s this lack of cycle paths that is preventing many people from using their bike to commute to work.
We just had a four week election campaign and safe cycling policies were on the agenda, and the truth is with the perilous state of the economy, it isn’t going to be on the agenda any time soon in a meaningful way.
If after years of prosperity we haven’t made any significant progression for cyclists, there’s going to be little over the coming years. If you’re going to wait for the government or council to build segregated cycle lanes before you use your bike to commute then you’re never going to use it.
My advice is to forget the government and get on your bike. Here’s some safety rules to follow that will keep you safe on the roads.
Someone once said there’s two main dangers cyclists face on the road, cars and themselves. So let’s have a look at improving our safety on the roads.
To begin with don’t become paranoid. Most drivers are rational decent human beings who will show you courtesy and respect on the road. It’s the idiots who think cyclists are a burden and not a legitimate road user that can be a problem.
Cycling safetyis not just about wearing the right equipment; it’s about your attitude and cycling skills. You can have the best helmet in the world but it’s not going to save you if you cycle like an idiot, taking dangerous chances because you believe you have the right of way.
Cycling safely is simple. It’s about getting from one location to another safely. Your main danger when on your bike is other traffic. But you shouldn’t worry. By adopting some simple strategies you should have no problems.
I’ve been cycling for over thirty years and I’ve never being involved in an accident because I stay alert and use my common sense when on the road. Here’s some tips to keep you safe on your bike.
Road positioning is all about controlling the space around you. There’s no absolute perfect road position that you should adopt. What is important though is that you are consistent in your positioning. Don’t be drifting over the road. Holding your road position is crucial to safe cycling.
New cyclists ride like they are intruders on the road. They hug the kerb and try to keep out of the way. This is a mistake and not a good way to ride. To ride safely you need to be seen, drivers are concentrating ahead of them where the traffic is and may not notice you if you are kerb hugging. Stop trying to hide away from the traffic and become a part of the traffic. Move away from the kerb and give yourself some space. Drivers will see you easier and you won’t be at risk of getting hit by an opening car door.
Don’t think Like a Car Driver
If you’re just starting to use your bike to commute to work don’t think you have to follow the same route into work that you take by car. You bike gives you other options. You may be able to avoid the heavy traffic roads by taking back streets or other routes that are not available to cars.
When I use my bike to commute I manage to avoid the main roads for most of the journey, only having to join them at the end as I near work. Think about your route, can you avoid the main roads? If you can then this will be a good safe cycling stratergy.
Drop The Right Of Way Attitude
Having an inflexible I’ve got the right of way” attitude can get you into trouble. Let’s get real here. You’re a cyclist; a human being on a small piece of metal, the average car weighs in at between one and two tons. Technically, in certain situations, you may have the right of way, but if a selfish or inattentive driver pulls out on you, maybe he hasn’t seen you, then stop or slow down aYou can’t argue with a car. Be alert for cars pulling out on you. Many drivers underestimate the speed cyclists can do and think they have time to pull out when in reality an experienced cyclist on a good bike will easily reach speeds of between 20 and thirty miles an hour on city roads and are moving faster than non-cycling drivers realise. Approach every junction with extreme caution even if you have the right of way.
Don’t Hug the Kerb
If there’s no cycle lane, and the chances are there won’t be, don’t drive too close to the kerb. Come out a little to give yourself some space and avoid pot holes. If this means drivers have to pull out a little to overtake you then let them. A number of accidents are caused by cyclists hugging the kerb then suddenly pulling out to avoid a pot hole. If you know the road has potholes along the kerb side then pull out a little.
Cycling requires concentration. Stay alert and be aware of what’s on the road around you. Cycling in city traffic requires a different mind-set than cycling along a sunny deserted country lane.Keep your head up and be constantly aware of the traffic around you. Watch for pedestrians on the path, they may turn into the road, be especially alert at junctions for drivers who don’t see you or misjudge your speed.
It’s so obvious yet is ignored by many cyclists. It’s your responsibility to make sure you are visible. You can buy good high viz cycling jackets for a small price or high viz cycling shirts. Use flashing lights on the back of your bike in the dark. These are a real attention grabber. I have two lights on the back of my bike, a flashing one and a fixed one.
Never Stop Next To A Lorry
If you’re approaching traffic lights on red and there’s a lorry parked there don’t squeeze to the side of him. He can’t see you; he has blind spots on his mirrors. Stop behind him and allow him to crunch through his gears and move off before continuing.If you stop at the side of a lorry and he turns left you’re history. Hang back. If a lorry is behind you take more of the road so he has to change lanes to overtake you, or at least pull out. If you are hugging the kerb he will be tempted to squeeze past you. This is a situation you don’t want.
Yes they’re still relevant. If you’re changing lane or making a turn look behind you and signal clearly. Make your signal firm and use your finger to point firmly what you are about to do. Don’t be hesitant or timid. Be firm and positive with all your signals. Good firm hand signals are a good tool for enhancing your cycling safety.
Red Light Jumping
Cyclists who jump red lights annoy drivers and give us all a bad name. Obey traffic signals, they’re the law and you’re subject to the law.
Ride Like A Legitimate Road User
Too many new cyclists are timid on the road as though they are intruding on a car party. You have every right to be on the road; you are a legitimate road user. Safe cycling is about riding with confidence. keep your head up and don’t feel intimidated. Don’t hide from the traffic become a part of it.
Watch out For The Gormless door Opener
A lot of cyclist injuries come from the unthinking driver of passenger opening their car door without checking their mirror to make sure there’s nothing coming down the road. I’m seeing this more and more lately. The door is just swung open selfishly with no care for anyone else.If you’re cycling past a row of parked cars be extra alert for the gormless door opener. Give yourself enough space to be clear of someone swinging their door open. If the road is too narrow and you have no choice but to cycle close to the cars then travel slower and look through the back windows of the cars to see if they are empty. Colliding with a carelessly opened door is no fun.
Take The Road
On a narrow stretch of road take command of the road. Pull away from the curb and drive in the centre of the lane. If the road is narrow drivers will be tempted to squeeze past you if you are hugging the curb. This could result in an accident. By pulling into the centre of the lane until the narrow stretch of road is past they will not have this option.You can employ this tactic if you are passing a row of parked cars to avoid getting totalled by a selfish door opener.By keeping to a decent speed this won’t cause problems. Some drivers won’t like it but you’re not out to win a popularity contest but to stay safe.
Know Your Bike
If you’re new to cycling or have just bought a new bike then get to know the bike before you take it onto main roads. Go cycling on quiet roads and get used to your bike. Get used to the gear change and balance. The old saying that you never forget how to ride a bike is true, but if you’ve just bought a new bike after years of not cycling you need to redevelop your control skills. So go practice.
Watch out for these. If you make a regular commute you will get to know where they are. These are another reason why you should not hug the kerb. Study the road ahead all the time. Under no circumstance suddenly swerve out to avoid a pot hole on a road full of traffic. If you’ve been surprised by one and there’s traffic behind you you’ll have to ride through it. Stand up on your peddles to reduce the weight if you’re forced to go over a pot hole. This is safer than swerving out into the road. Ideally though, if you keep away from the kerb and are paying attention, you should be able to avoid them. Being aware of everything going on around you is essential to cycling safely.
If you’re listening to an mp3 player or radio when cycling then you are reducing your sensory perception drastically. A chunk of your concentration will be targeted to the music or radio whether you admit it or not. On a commute through heavy traffic I would not wear one. You need all your concentration focused on your ride.It may be ok to have music blasting from your car stereo, but for a cyclist your ears are a crucial part of your defence mechanism. You will hear the traffic behind you rather than see it.
I always carry mine. If I need to answer it or make a call then I pull over to the side of the road, get on the path and make the call. Don’t do it when you’re cycling or you’re asking for trouble. Speaking on a mobile while weaving your way through traffic is asking for trouble and is the sort of behaviour that gives us cyclist a bad name.
There’s no doubt roundabouts are a hazard for cyclists, the bigger the roundabout the bigger the hazard. You have to take into consideration that drivers entering the roundabout will be concentrating on looking for a gap between traffic and may not see you. Be extra alert when crossing exits where cars need to cross your path to leave the roundabout. Extra caution should be exercised with long vehicles. If it’s rush hour and it’s a major roundabout just get off your bike and walk across it. It’s probably just as fast and certainly safer.
As a cyclist you will at some time encounter selfish, stupid and inattentive drivers but these are not the norm. Most drivers on our roads are good decent attentive drivers who will respect your right to share the road.
The danger points for cyclists are statistically junctions. These account for about 70% of accidents for cyclists. So use extra care when approaching roundabouts, slip roads and crossroads. T junctions are the worse and accidents occur when cars pull onto the main road where the cyclist is crossing the junction. Make sure you’re seen.
Most accidents are caused by drivers not paying attention or misjudging what you are going to do. The answer is to be seen and make your signals clear and firm. No hesitant hand signals but firm ones using your finger to point. Ride confidently commanding the space around you. Stop hiding in the gutter and take your place on the road, you may feel safer hugging the kerb but you’re actually safer away from the kerb where you will be seen.
Keep things in perspective. Life involves risk and the health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks involved. Safe cycling is about using common sense If you ride confidently, obey the rules, wear visible clothing and control your space you shouldn’t have any problems.