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Please give a warm Ella welcome to our new contributor Rae-Anne Hardie. Rae-Anne is a cancer researcher and longtime cyclist. Growing up in Canada, Rae-Ane began mountain biking in high school. She relocated to Australia for her PhD in medicine and raced with Sydney Uni Velo and Western Sydney Mountain Bike clubs while pursuing her degree. These days, Rae-Anne’s usual riding and racing also incorporates longer charity rides and team mountain bike events. Experienced with scientific writing, Rae-Anne is excited to do some less technical writing for Ella.
One of the things I love most about cycling is how accessible it is –just head out the door and you’re on the road. As the most vulnerable road users, we often take for granted how quickly an accident can happen.
Short of wrapping yourself in bubble wrap before each ride, there are safety measures you can take to reduce your risk of an accident. You can’t control everyone around you, but you can put yourself out of harm’s way by predicting the most likely accident scenarios. I’ve learnt a few of these the hard way. Hopefully you won’t have to.
- Be aware
Make this your mantra. It’s the most important, but often overlooked tip. Eliminating distractions will increase your reaction time and allow you to enjoy your ride more. Save the iPod for the trainer –we hear a car before seeing it. Keep your head up and look ahead, scanning for holes, road debris, oncoming cars and traffic lights. Shoulder check often, well before changing lanes and again immediately beforehand. No matter how far into the hurt box you are or how zen you’re feeling on the bike, don’t tune out completely.
- Know your route
Does your ride go through school zones during drop-off time? Is there construction this week? Riding past a popular shopping centre on a Saturday? Do many driveways exit onto that street? Are you trying to ride on a single lane road during rush hour? These are all recipes for disaster.
Modify your route if you can, either to take the backstreets or incorporate some cycleways or leave a bit earlier to beat the rush. Be adventurous but be prepared.
- See and be seen
Always leave the house with a bright white headlight and a red taillight (flashing if solo, solid on group rides). Weather conditions might change suddenly, or you might find yourself riding home in the dark unexpectedly after a puncture or the temptation to do a few more Ks. It’s a good idea to carry a spare in your saddlebag just in case you get caught in the dark.
Wear the brightest, lightest coloured clothing you can stomach on darker rides. Stick a reflector or two on your helmet to really complete the look. Black looks great, but you are essentially a stealthy ninja in the dark to drivers. When in doubt, assume they can’t see you.
- Respect all road users…
…Even those who don’t respect you. In a perfect world, all drivers would be 100 percent aware and respectful of cyclists, but sadly that’s not reality in most parts of the world -yet! For your own safety and that of others, please ride predictably and courteously, obeying all road rules. Stop at red lights and signal before turning or stopping. Make eye contact with oncoming or turning drivers, and wave to acknowledge a polite driver or those who you think might not see you in time.
I know it’s tempting, but try not to pass cars or motorbikes on the curb side or squeeze in between two cars side by side. Never attempt to pass buses or long vehicles unless you are sure they have come to a complete stop – these drivers have a big blind spot and you are invisible to them.
- Know your position
This depends on the road and the situation. Take the lane (carefully) when (a) the road is too narrow for a car to pass you safely, (b) there are many clear lanes for passing or (c) while riding through a roundabout or intersection. When riding beside parked cars, leave a wide berth so you don’t become a victim of the dreaded “door prize” and assume drivers are not checking for cyclists. Ride confidently and hold a straight line. Don’t weave in and out of parked cars.
- Don’t take down the peloton
Along with the tips above, group cycling introduces a whole new set of dangers. You are responsible for more than yourself, and in danger of crashing out the whole group when a mistake is made.
Do’s: Have a well-maintained bike, look up and anticipate what’s ahead, point out poor road conditions, communicate, know the route, relax and have fun.
Big no-no’s: surging, staring at the wheel in front of you, standing suddenly, overlapping wheels and grabbing the brakes without warning.
Obey these, and not only will you be protecting your group, you just might be invited along for the next ride…
Next time you hit the road, remember these safety tips, then relax and enjoy your ride!
What have I missed? What are your best safety tips for road riding?