Over the last few weeks, we’ve been tipping you off on how to survive the winter commute by being visible in the dwindling light, keeping yourself warm and dry and making sure your bike is ready for the season’s inclement/biblical weather. All well and good and sure, no one wants hypothermia, but there’s really no substitute for being aware on the roads and cycling safely.
The chances are, many regular cycling commuters have probably experienced at least one incident on the roads that was hairier than a back-combed member of ZZ Top. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about the taxi driver who doesn’t actually understand basic principles of driving or the woman posting venomous Tweets about #bloodycyclists while at the wheel of her car. There are, however, a number of ways you can lessen the probability of becoming another grim statistic, besides illuminating yourself like the Blackpool Tower.
The Right Side of the Road
Stay on it. Honestly, newbie road cyclists, this is (probably) the most important piece of advice to heed. If you undertake, or cycle down the left hand side of, a vehicle they might not be able to see you, what with the driver being on the other side of the vehicle and all that. If it’s an HGV or bus, they almost certainly can’t see you and if you’re alongside them at the point at which they veer or turn left, there is a greater chance you’re going to get hit. The problem with these massive hulks of metal is that they don’t have to hit you at speed to really damage or even kill you. Never cycle down the left hand side of an HGV and do not under any circumstances sit to the left of an HGV at a junction.
If you’re cycling down the right hand side of a vehicle, remember that if you can’t see their mirrors, they can’t see you and they still might not even if you can. At a junction position yourself about three metres or so in front of a taller vehicles like vans or lorries – they can’t see what’s directly in front of their nose because they’re too high up. If you can’t get that much further in front, then hang behind and wait for the HGV to go, first. If you are ahead of an HGV or similar, try to make eye contact with the driver so you can be sure they’ve seen you.
Look before you leap
Or, in this case, pedal. It might sound obvious, but goodness knows you see cyclists guilty of this all the time. LOOK over your shoulder and ideally INDICATE that you are about to veer out into the road to swerve round something. I’m forever berating drivers for shouting at cyclists but play fair, not everyone’s as clever as you, and potentially not having fully honed their skills in telepathy, there’s no way for a driver to know what you’re about to do (and react accordingly) unless you let them know, first.
Get out of the gutter
The risk of being shouted at by a driver increases by approximately 2000% if you’re not as far to the left of the road as is possible to be, but actually, you’re not supposed to be in the gutter. For a start, you’re increasing the chance of getting a puncture by cycling along the path of debris that’s been washed off the road. Secondly, you never know when some idiot is going to swing open their car door without looking, and you’re probably going to come out of this encounter the injured party.
Finally, you are more visible to drivers if you’re not tucked inconspicuously out of the way. Maybe it does slow vehicles down and maybe that is a minor inconvenience if they’re on their way to the airport, for example. But if they do shout at you, the chances are they’re just rude, which is better than you being maimed.
As Grandmaster Flash never said, are slippery when wet. That’s right, road markings and manhole covers were very sensibly designed to send you wheel over handlebar when it rains. Cycle around them (after indicating!) or very carefully over them – dental bills are expensive.
Twilight is for vampires
Ok, maybe that’s a misleading statement, but one group it’s not for is cyclists. Just before the sun sets, it’s easy to underestimate how dark it is and how little visibility there is of road users other than great big lumps of metal. Your lights are also less effective because they don’t have full darkness as contrast. Ditto reflectives, which won’t do anything if they don’t have a bright light shining on them. Try to avoid cycling at this time of the day if you can, there’s probably one more email you can send before you leave work, isn’t there?
Road to nowhere
There may be some unavoidably busy roads on your commute, but if you live in an urban area, there are probably a number of alternative routes you could take to reach the same destination. Use an online tool like Sustrans’ route mapper which can provide quieter routes if you prefer to avoid busy roads.
Leave it out
Finally, know when to admit defeat and leave your bike at home. If it’s snowing or a hurricane is raging you’re probably going to have at least a horrible journey, if not dangerous. Just don’t bother, even if public transport isn’t functioning – think of all those extra emails you sent while waiting for darkness to fall.