The world is a changed place. Once there was normal and now there really isn’t.
As people adjust to the new uncertainties there are a few bright spots. One of these for me has been the growth of cycling. According to recent research in London there has been a 120% year on year increase.
The resurgence in cycling across the UK (and elsewhere in the world) has been in response to the Covid 19 pandemic. During the lockdown in the UK and some countries cycling remained a permitted form of outdoor activity and, as motor traffic levels plummeted, old bicycles were dragged from the back of the shed or the garage.
With the easing of restrictions people remain reluctant to use public transport where they may be in close confiment with others and have started looking for alternatives. For some they have started using their cars more resulting in massive increase in traffic and the resultant pollution. Many, however, having caught the cycling bike, continue to ride their bikes.
Efforts are being made by national and local governments in the UK and elsewhere to make the roads safer for cyclists by taking up road space to create protected bike lanes. However these will take time and they will not exist everywhere.
In the meantime, there are a number of things cyclists can do to help keep themselves safer on the roads. As you may have noticed from some of the postings on this blog I am a regular cyclist. A little while ago, drawing upon my experience as a cycling instructor, I wrote about the process of learning to ride a bicycle if you have never had opportunity to do so as a child. This time I want to write about the next stage – riding your bicycle safely on the road.
Here here are my top four tips:
- Be ready to stop
- Other people on the road are people too
- Ride out
- Ride on
Note: I was a cycle instructor working in the UK. The information below relates to the practice of cycling in that country. If you are reading this in another country you may be subject to different regulations.
Be ready to stop
There are two things you can do to be ready to stop:
First of all pay attention to what’s coming up ahead; not just on the road but on the pavements and in side streets as well. There might be a person standing on the kerb twenty yards down the road; do they look like they might be about to step out into the street and into your path?
This brings us to the second thing to do; cover your brakes. Keep your fingers over the brake levers as much as possible so that you are ready to stop at any moment. It won’t be practical all the time but hands over the brake levers should become your default position when riding along.
Other people on the road are people too
It’s very easy to forget that there is somebody in that car (we haven’t got to self driving cars just yet!). How often do you talk about cars rather than the drivers operating them? One of the ways you can keep yourself safe is to be aware that there are other human beings, many of them with the same concerns you have irrespective of their form of transport.
How does knowing this keep you safe?
Instead of treating the road like a moving obstacle course treat it like a crowd of people you need to negotiate with to be able to proceed. At the heart of this is communication with your fellow road users.
There are two things you need to be able to do to communicate with other road users:
The first one is to be able to look over your shoulders to see who is there and to look directly at the driver behind you. There is an argument that a mirror could do the same thing but a small slightly wobbly reflection of the car behind does not offer the same communication than if you look directly into the driver’s eyes.
The second is to tell other road users your intentions. Typically this will be when you want to turn left or right. To do this, raise your arm staight out to your left or right side. You should combine this with first looking over your shoulder (a mirror, signal, maneouvre for cyclists). It’s worth pointing out that you only really need to signal if there is somebody to signal to. If there is nobody around then there is no point signalling but do keep looking as you make your maneouvre.
Use the roadspace you need to cycle on. Don’t stick to the side of the road but ride out. This one can be quite scary when you try it for the first time. It can also seem counter-intuitive. “Surely,” you think, “I am safer over here than in the middle of the lane.”
Remember a little earlier that person standing on the kerb who might have been about to step out without looking? If you ride closer to the kerb you are more likely to hit him – if you are further out you will probably miss him entirely. Also he might have seen you earlier – when you cross the road you tend to scan the middle where most of the traffic is, not the side.
Riding out avoids pedestrians stepping off the kerb, car doors flung open, and cars pulling out from parking bays and from side roads.
It also makes you more visible to drivers behind you which can be a bit scary as you might think you are in their way and they might try and run you down. However, the likelihood of a homicidal maniac coming up behind is very small compared to a momentarily inattentive driver opening their door in your path. Also, if you have been paying attention to what’s coming up behind you then you will know well in advance and can take appropriate action, moving to the side where it is safe to do so to let them pass.
The final bit of advice? Keep cycling. The roads are busier now and at the time of writing we are into the autumn; the days are shortening. But the most important thing you can do is not to give up.
if you need help find an accredited cycle instructor who can offer one to one training on the road (in the UK local authoritiesoften often provide this service – check out the Bikeability website for more information). As an instructional designer I once created a couple of short online courses on checking your bicycle and filtering through traffic which you can access at the links below.
Other online training may be available but the most useful thing is to get out there and practice.
We are living in strange times when everything seems different and there is much talk of making the world anew. You can help do that simply by continuing to ride your bicycle.