29 Oct Everything you never wanted to know about cycle safety (part 1)
Safety whilst cycling is a subject dear to my heart for reasons that will shortly become obvious. And this item is the culmination of a safety project I was tasked with at JOMC and is effectively a ‘blog post’ (no I don’t know either?)… article – call it what you will.
Because some of this content is probably actionable I feel obliged to state that these are my views and in no way represent the views of JOMC and so on. I can also confidently assert that the phone-hacking activities that were employed to obtain source material for this item were limited to one rogue reporter and are in no way endemic through JOMC. I have never had supper with Rebekah Brooks but then neither does the prime minister these days.
Have you noticed how many of my blog posts are cycling related dear reader? Well tough, because here’s my exploration of the factors which affect both the safety and quality of cycling in the UK. As well as some helpful tips I’ve picked up along the way.
The prevailing attitudes towards cycling in the UK are frankly dismal. The culture is epitomised by a piece of legislation considered (on expenses) by our betters in parliament in 2011, namely causing death by dangerous cycling.
This ill-conceived piece of tosh was sponsored by Andrea Leadsom the conservative MP for South Northamptonshire (North Southamptonshire?) who must possess insight that I don’t as precisely no pedestrians were killed by cyclists in 2009 but 104 cyclists were killed by motorists in the same year, and pedestrian fatalities due to motorists on the pavement or verge average 45 per year.
I must stress that the right honourable Ms Leadsom was in no way taking advantage of the sad death of a constituent to grandstand to popular prejudice.
Why is it that a cyclist in the UK is almost three times more likely to be killed than a cyclist in the Netherlands? You could argue that there are lots of proper cycleways in Holland and this would be true but, of course their provision (or not) is a cultural issue in itself.
I guess cycling in the UK will always be viewed by much of the population as the province of cranks and oddballs and as having a slight ‘Brian from New Tricks’ air because most people use their cars for even the shortest of journeys.
In the UK 2% of journeys are made by bike whereas in the Netherlands this is 25%. Unfortunately as most people don’t cycle and the UK to some extent now has an every man for himself culture (big society! – I laughed out loud) the cyclist is going to be seen as an outsider and inevitably will be the loser because of this.
Illustrations of this include the following:
- My wife was once passed by a truck so closely that the wing mirror brushed her shoulder.
- I was overtaken on a blind 90 degree left hander by a Discovery with all of its tyres squealing being piloted by a woman with one hand on the wheel eating an ice cream.
- Last week I was passed by a 17 ton truck doing at least 50 mph which left a 4ft wide Srebrenitsa style ‘safe haven’ between me and a parked car on my left.
All of this despite that fact that almost everyone in the UK has ridden a bicycle at some time in their lives and their kids probably ride bikes… How soon they forget.
The main safety issue is not speed. It’s haste. The need to get from A to B in the shortest possible time combined with lack of consideration for the cyclist leads to hastily made manoeuvres without the driver observing the situation properly because this would add 4 microseconds to their journey. There are also plenty of examples of crass stupidity and even wilful intent to injure.
However, the top and bottom of it is that regardless of right or wrong there is only one loser in a collision with another vehicle which means that cyclists must anticipate stupidity and accommodate it.
All of this aside, cycling can be carried out safely in the UK provided a few simple rules are followed that they don’t teach you on the cycling proficiency course (remember those!) Cycling is great cardiovascular exercise with low joint impact; for short urban journeys it is faster and cheaper than the car; it’s ecologically sound and what’s more it’s enjoyable.
The Lycra lout
I hate to admit it but the Daily Mail has a point here. You have to allow for near hysterical exaggeration and, of course, that the real problem, the bike messenger, is largely confined to London. Sometimes cyclists are their own worst enemies but these really are a tiny minority.
- Only a fool runs red lights on a bike, if you do this not only will you come off worst you’ll be in the wrong too – doh!
- Whilst the causing death by dangerous cycling posturing won’t prevent cycling on the pavement but on the spot fines would, cycling at speed on the pavement is dangerous and selfish. So don’t do it.
- Cycling at night without lights – Jesus wept!
- My personal failing. I am a fairly useless ascender (too fat, too unfit) but a spectacular descender (too stupid) one day this excess will kill me.
Studies have shown that the cardiovascular benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks of injury through accident. Also as cycling is low impact you can continue to do it well into your 70’s unlike running. What’s more, the flies that you eat as you whizz along are an invaluable source of protein and stimulate the immune system.
In slashing rain back in 2004 I think I went over a large stone just as I was getting up in the pedals to start a climb, this unbalanced the bike, off I came. I gashed my knee (par for the course) but insisted on pedalling home with the road covered in liquid cow sh*t. Upshot knee infection and antibiotics.
If you get hurt, repair the wound there and then or disinfect it thoroughly on your return.
Dear reader you cannot be a shy retiring violet on a bike – if you are then this is a green light for abusive motorists to ignore your presence on the road. Be assertive but not aggressive. Don’t hug the kerb and make sure people are well aware of what manoeuvre you intend to make.
Always, but always wear a helmet on a bicycle. You can recover from all sorts of physical trauma these days but brain damage will get you every time. Whenever I’ve been in a collision with a motor vehicle I’ve taken off the helmet, looked at the gouges in it and been grateful that I had enough residual intelligence to wear it.
The helmet is essential and you can supplement it with gloves and glasses if you wish. What’s more, good equipment design means you no longer have to look like a complete idiot wearing this stuff.
Interestingly the Cyclist Touring Club are anti compulsory helmet legislation basically because they think it will put people off cycling so the health benefits will be lost and cyclists shouldn’t have to protect themselves in this way.
Ignore the politics and stick the lid on your head is my advice. Being right doesn’t count if you’re in an ICU. Helmets are a great example of key safety leadership behaviours too. Ever seen a family out on bikes with the children wearing helmets and the adults bareheaded – doh!
Come back next month for part 2 »