In this article, Cycling Co-ordinator, Don Muir, from the Gloucestershire Road Safety Partnership highlights cycling safety advice. Gloucestershire Road Safety look to make everyone’s journeys in the county safer. More from Don..
As cyclists we are in a great place. Gloucestershire’s roads and lanes offer us a fantastic variety of cycling routes, scenery and challenges. Many people who have ridden here for years with little worse than the inevitable punctures; I also know some whose rides have ended in injury or tragedy.
Not to overplay the cycling risks to safety, they are statistically small but always there and the consequences can be huge. Using over 25 years of club riding experience and 10 years of working professionally to understand the risks cyclists face, here is my guide on what you can do to minimise them.
Be aware when cycling
We share the road network with others. Sounds obvious but it can be surprisingly easy to forget momentarily in the midst of a hard ride or a fascinating conversation with a ride partner. One of the great joys of riding is “getting away from it all” but it is worth making a point of remembering-
- Cycling collisions can happen anywhere so don’t switch off. The most likely location is at or near junctions, particularly if all you want to do is go straight ahead so be extra alert there.
- You could meet motor vehicles at any time, even on the quietest lane. If you can’t see the road is clear assume it isn’t and be ready to react accordingly.
There is no substitute for looking. We can pick up useful information about what’s going on from our ears and, if we’re riding in a group, from other members but don’t just rely on that.
- Look around as you approach any hazard (junction, parked car, pinch point, pot hole etc.)
- Check before any change of line, moving right or left.
- Keep looking if you aware of a following vehicle. It’ll tell you more about what they are doing and, as important, it will affect how they react to you. People are hard wired to respond to faces but not so much to the back of your head.
Be seen on your bike
“Failed to Look Properly” is by far the most common cause of collisions. Police reports suggest that, when cycles are involved, around 70% of these are driver error so our main effort must be to train and educate drivers to look more, and more carefully. At the same time, as the ones likely to come off worse, it is our own interest to do what we can to help them.
- On approach to any hazard position yourself where drivers are most likely to be looking for traffic. This is generally in the traffic flow and being just a few feet outside of that can significantly reduce your chance of being seen. Always look before you change line .
- LED lights can be cheap and reliable. Lights are a legal requirement at night and useful whenever visibility is reduced. A combination of flashing (to attract attention) and steady (to help judgement of path and speed) has been shown to be most effective.
- Don’t assume others have seen you, look for them to react to you and have fingers ready on both brakes in case they don’t.
If you contrast with your background you will be easier to see. Bright colours may increase the likelihood of this, particularly in dull conditions. In practice, with constantly changing backgrounds and people looking from different directions, it is impossible to be sure how well we contrast at any given moment.
Real world studies have indicated that, if you assume your colour scheme is a magic bullet for being seen, you will sub-consciously take extra risks that will cancel out any benefit.
Bottom line- be bright if you want to by all means but don’t rely on it and still follow the advice above.
It may not feel like it but most drivers generally are happy to work around cyclists. It is just human nature that we mainly remember the careless, impatient or downright aggressive minority. For the rest, as long as they see us and understand what we will do next, they will pass without incident.
Currently in Britain cyclists make up just 2% of traffic, around 80% of regular cyclists also hold a driving license but only 15% of drivers cycle regularly. It is certainly not ideal, what with cyclists posing far less risk to others, but that puts us in a stronger position to appreciate the requirements of others and to communicate ours. To do this effectively-
- Plan well ahead to anticipate any manoeuvres or change of line needed in plenty of time.
- Use that time to look around, assess the situation and, where necessary, indicate what you will do next.
- The standard arm out is, of course, a useful signal but not the only one. A look behind attracts attention and also indicates you may change speed or direction.
- Your road position can also be a useful signal. To the left of the traffic flow indicates you comfortable with following traffic overtaking. If you are not (narrow road, approaching hazard or turn etc.) then riding in the centre of the traffic flow indicates you want them to wait or give you more space.
- Always look before signalling or changing line.
In life politeness goes a long way in smoothing our interactions with others. As a cyclist on our roads politeness is good but, on its own, can’t be sufficient. The plain fact is our relationships with people in motor vehicles will always be massively asymmetric. Sitting behind a wheel makes you bigger and more powerful while distancing you from your surroundings and reducing your risk of harm as a consequence of your actions. While a cyclist, particularly a careless, inconsiderate or reckless one, can be frustrating or inconvenient they pose virtually no physical threat to a driver. Even a careful driver, on the other hand, can kill with a momentary lapse of concentration.
A natural reaction to such a one sided power imbalance can be to cringe and cower; another can be to flare up aggressively. Experience suggests that neither of those responses will do much to reduce your risk and may well make things worse. Instead follow the points above to-
- Be aware of your situation and the other road users you are likely to interact with.
- Anticipate any approaching hazards and plan the best way for you to negotiate them.
- Look at the principle threat/s then clearly and firmly communicate your intentions and requirements to them by signal and road position.
- Aim to claim the space you need to feel safe even if that means inconveniencing others. Safety should always trump convenience.
- Avoid being or looking indecisive. If you aren’t clear about where to go or how to negotiate a situation better to stop safely at the roadside than dither in the carriageway.
So, don’t forget those traditional British good manners, a “thank you” for a considerate act will reinforce positive attitudes. On the other hand don’t be overly deferential to others just because they are on four wheels, safety first, convenience second.
Group Cycling Safety Advice
Cycling with others adds a whole different dimension to rides, it can be social, supportive or stretch our abilities and gives us more presence on the roads. There are some costs along with those benefits so here are a few points to help you make the most of it-
- Communicate within the group. Use calls and hand signals to flag up hazards and changes of direction in good time. If your fellow riders aren’t even sure what’s happening how are drivers going to anticipate your movements?
- Be aware of your own capabilities and ride within them. Choose your group carefully, it’s good to be stretched by others but if you push beyond your limits it can be a risk to you and those around you.
- Don’t switch off in the group bubble. No matter how great your peloton is stay aware of the world outside and their reasonable requirements.
- Keep the group size appropriate to the type of road and level of traffic, be prepared to split temporarily if necessary.
Riding two abreast. It seems that many drivers are still not aware of the rules on this so it remains work in progress. That said I doubt most cyclists could quote the official line-
Section 66 of the Highway Code: You should never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends.
What is very clear from that is there is loads of room for differing interpretation. How narrow, busy, or bendy? Then there is the length of the group to consider. single file is twice as long which can make it harder to overtake safely. Also official DfT endorsed guidance is that we should ride in the traffic flow to discourage unsafe overtakes.
Here is my considered view. If you have following traffic and riding single file would allow a safe, reasonable overtake that two abreast will prevent, you should cycle single.
Bear in mind that it takes time to switch from two lines to one so, if safe overtaking opportunities are intermittent (e.g. a twisting road with short straight sections), consider switching to single in advance but have the whole line stay in the traffic flow until overtaking would be safe then all move left.
In all situations it makes sense for the people at the back of the group to call the shots so that clear, effective communication is essential to keep all riders co-ordinated.
Cycling on roads puts us in a potentially complex, dynamic environment. These are the reduced, essential points of my strategy to make the best of the way things are while I continue working to make them better and cycling accessible to more people.
Despite being reduced it has still longer than I would like and can’t cover everything. I would like to hear what you find useful or what I have missed. If you have considered views either way, I will be interested to hear them.