Here’s part two of 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 state of the road
Some of the potholes in Lancashire are so old that they’re mentioned as local landmarks in Dickens’ Hard Times. I believe there’s one outside a cycle shop in Blackburn that was given its own birthday party by the owners. And these chasms can also be of such a size that U2 are considering using one of them as a venue for their upcoming ‘Pompous Humourless Rubbish’ tour.
Potholes for the motorist are inconvenient “those alloys could do with a polish, mate”; but they can be lethal for the cyclist. So look where you’re going including at the state of the road ahead.
Other hazards in this category include department of transport approved manhole covers – mainly when you’re banked over in a corner. Similarly keep the bike upright when on a cattle grid. Watch for loose gravel in corners too by aiming to follow the tyre tracks of cars because the gravel gathers where the car wheels don’t go.
In May 2010 yours truly was admiring the scenery (doh!) when he missed a high but unpainted sleeping policeman on a bridleway. Consequences: grazing to elbows and knees.
“I’ll just squeeze a few more drops of precious diesel into the tank and then I can slosh it all over the road surface.” Once again motorists are to blame I’m afraid. Combined with water, diesel is friction-free, rumour has it that Torvill and Dean used to practice on this stuff but found it too slippery and eventually had to resort to ordinary ice.
Back in 2005 or 2006 I fell off my bike when riding over on ice on Beacon Fell. Cycling in icy conditions isn’t big and it isn’t clever. Heavy rain is fortunately unheard of in Lancashire and this is just as well because motorists can’t see you in bright sunshine so you will definitely be invisible in the rain.
Again, be assertive (read part 1).
At lights or in other traffic queues never but never position yourself on the inside of an HGV or other large vehicle. The fact that they’re not signalling left means that they want to turn left. So they won’t be able to see you even if they bother looking, especially if you’re under their wing mirrors.
I’ll leave you to do the sums but 42 tons versus say 0.1 tons won’t be pretty.
Hi-viz jacket? It’s a good idea to be as visible as possible. However don’t rely on it. The motorist who doesn’t look before manoeuvring won’t see the jacket and some of them see you and move anyway.
The latter point epitomises an interesting attitude namely “I am superior to you because I am in a car therefore you should give way to me regardless of you having right of way”. So keep your eyes open and be prepared for some extraordinarily careless/selfish behaviour from some drivers.
1998 in broad daylight. A motorist turned right into me and hit me broadside. The accident was caused by sun low in the sky behind me – he couldn’t see properly so he turned anyway. Doh! Watch out for the sun behind you factor – it’s happened to me twice.
2006 in broad daylight. A tractor driver looked only for cars before pulling out. He failed to register my presence and pulled out in front of me. I stopped, couldn’t unclip and fell gracelessly sideways onto the asphalt… Ouch.
Haste combined with not looking properly can be lethal. There’s a notorious shortcut near my home that involves crossing the A6. The trouble is that at certain times of day crossing the A6 at this point is similar to trying to cross the Rhine at Arnhem in 1944. So drivers want to exploit any gap in the traffic as fast as they can.
In 2002 old Mrs Smyth was making this manoeuvre and hit me broadside as she was turning right into Regent Drive (the sun was behind me again). Imagine her surprise as I skidded across the bonnet of her car. I bet she hadn’t heard language like it since the war!
Fortunately only grazes, bruises and helmet damage resulted. I bought my current road bike with the proceeds of Mrs S’s inattention. And I’m currently working my way up to a Mercedes but it’s hard to engineer this scale of non-lethal injury.
The most recent aftermath of a collision on this particular junction was in April 2011. This time the poor cyclist was evidently trapped under the front of a car (causing death by dangerous cycling indeed). I’ve also seen a scooter hit here too.
Learning point: Be prepared to brake suddenly if a car is waiting to pull out into your carriageway or waiting to turn right as you approach. Make sure that you look them directly in the eye and hold their gaze if necessary. And be extra wary at notorious junctions too.
Come back next month for part 3.