Survival tips for cyclists
March 29th, 2011
I’ve been commuting for more years than I care to remember and since 2005 this has been by motorbike. I work in London and travel around 135 miles per week on London’s roads. Recently there have been far too many accidents not involving me but involving cyclists. Some of them have been quite horrific to consider and in almost all the ones I heard of the “fault” could be laid at the feet of the vehicle driver. However cyclists are not innocent and could do more to look after themselves. How do I know this? Because I see them every day taking risks that quite frankly seem reckless to me. Most commuting cyclists will know the safety advice stuff so I’m not going to go over it here. What I will do though is point out some observations I think that many cyclists either don’t consider or think are low risk. Remember I’m not trying to have a go here, I’m genuinely trying to stop so many of you getting hurt.
Yeah yeah I know the reasons you jump red lights and understand it (up to a point). Once you’ve got a head of steam up the last thing you want to do is stop and start all over again. That said: please take the opportunity to look for other cyclists jumping the lights the other way. Also think about pedestrians. I’ve seen a few cycle-on-cycle smashes where both flew across the lights without looking. Yes the law says you must stop and yes some of you won’t but if you are not going to stop then at least look and be prepared to slow down or take evasive action.
Two hands on the handlebars
Okay so you use one hand when signalling (you do signal don’t you?) but sometimes it seems like many of you are flapping rather than signalling. Practise riding with one hand – seriously. A car/van/whatever will happily pull to close alongside your right flank and if you wobble while signalling it’s your life and their paintwork. Aside from this there are some – what seem – obvious things not to do while cycling on a busy road:
- Texting, or browsing on your phone
- Holding an umbrella (no really I’ve seen it)
- Opening a packet of sweets/cigarettes
and my particular favourite
- Pulling a wedgie out the crack in your bum
I’ve seen all of these more than once and most times the cyclist is all over the place while doing it.
Yeah I know it looks awful but hi-vis gear will save your life. Look at the photo and tell me which one you saw first. For car drivers that’s the one you focus on. I’ve seen near misses where a car has pulled round a hi-vis cyclist and “not seen” the low-vis one beside them. Yes the car driver should look but let’s be honest in traffic they don’t look so you have to make yourself obvious. While we’re at it you know those flashing lights you have? Use them. In the day time too. Any kind of flashing light immediately grabs your attention. Most modern motorbikes have their lights always on regardless of time of day for the same reason. Again I’ve often seen a flashing light way before I see the bike behind it – particularly in mirrors.
You know what they’ll do, you know they’ll do it without looking. They are you without wheels. Most of ’em have music playing, many will be texting while they walk and will therefore miss the fact that the pavement is about to run out. Last week I saw a pedestrian step off a curb into a passing cyclist who swerved and was narrowly missed by a car overtaking him. Use your bell/horn/mouth/whatever and let them know you are there.
Indicators and blindspots
You know about not undertaking lorries but honestly the same danger exists if you overtake a lorry when he’s turning right. Actually every motor vehicle has blindspots and you are pretty tiny. In the past two weeks I have had near misses with cyclists who thought they could whip the inside of me while I was turning left (indicator going). Scared the crap out of me to be frank and I don’t thinkl they enjoyed it either. One of them even had the cheek to tell me my indicator was on (5ft from a corner, why do you think it was on?). Look no matter how much right of way you have, bigger vehicles don’t look as much as they should (particularly on the nearside). Motorcyclists don’t either but they do look more than cars (it’s our lives too) and in my experience cyclists rarely look. If you see a hand or an indicator please don’t try to beat the corner. Better to stop than get hurt.
I know this all sounds like I’m some perfect rider who hates cars and bicycles but honestly: I just want to see less blood on the road and I am sure that car and van drivers would sooner not hit you. The point I’m making is that years of motorcycle commuting has taught me that people make mistakes. Sometimes they forget to look or they do something rash because they’re in a hurry or stressed or whatever. It doesn’t matter why or even that I may have right of way: if they hit me I’m dead. Maybe not dead but every accident has that possibility. My old biking instructor once said that riding defensively was “letting the other guy win because in a few minutes he’ll be stuck in a queue and you’ll sail past him. Last thing you need is an angry person behind a wheel”. Seems to make sense to me. I also wear a lot of protective gear, more than cyclists. So for you guys it’s even more dangerous, unless you look out for yourselves a bit more. I know it’s a drag at times but safe and defensive riding will keep you alive and hoepfully I won’t be arriving at work with yet another tale of how a cyclist almost (or actually) bought it.
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