Listed below are some helpful hints and pointers to keep you safe on our busy highways. This isn’t as exhaustive as the highway code (other road safety books are available) but it will get you started.
- Be visible. Try to avoid dark clothing, bright is best. Use lights whenever daylight fades or conditions are foggy. Hi Viz is a good idea when darkness falls.
- Don’t ride in the gutters of the road, these are usually full of hidden gems like pot holes, car parts, and other bits and pieces likely to cause punctures or wheel damage. Give yourself some room, this will enable you to plot a steady course without having to swerve around said obstacles. It also gives you somewhere to go except the hedge when something passes to close.
- Do be considerate and courteous to all other road users, remember they have the weapons, try to acknowledge good driving with a simple wave, bad driving could also be acknowledged with the same gesture, other gestures and verbal exchanges are not recommended. If riding in a slow moving group with vehicles behind look for somewhere safe to pull over to allow safe passage of the motor vehicle, you have the moral high ground, the motorist will be stressed, have high blood pressure (and probably colesterol), and be breathing recycled air. You on the other hand will be breathing natures air conditioning, have your blood pressure and blood sugars under control and be totally stress free! Oh and for good measure give them a wave as they pass.
- Horses. As most of our riding is done on minor roads and lanes we must share this space with others enjoying the outdoor life. Horses pose their own set of problems as both riders and creatures can be temperamental. When approaching from the rear it is advisable to call from some distance, a simple shout such as “behind” or “cyclists” should be enough to get attention, slow to almost walking speed, ask the jockeys if they are ok, then pass giving as wider berth as possible, a hoof in the face is no fun. Similarly if you are racing along approaching the beast at great speed from the rear, the consequences of not stopping in time are unimaginable. This leads on nicely to the next topic.
- Slippery Stuff. As if there aren’t enough hazards to contend with, random deposits of slippery stuff can catch the unsuspecting cyclist out at any given time particularly when the roads are wet. Watch out for the following: Mud, usually from tractors in the lanes, animal deposits in the same lanes. Diesel and petrol, pretty rainbow patterns in the road are the tell tale signs of a fuel spill, try to avoid getting it on your tyres as this reduces friction to something like a childs tongue on an ice cream. More permanent slip hazards are manhole covers, white lines and varying conditions of road surface. If you recoginise that you are in a slippery situation, avoid sudden application of your brakes, try to keep in a straight line and relax, you’ll get through it.
- Maintain your bike or ask someone who can, the importance of having a roadworthy machine can’t be emphasised enough, if you are taking your steed on to the road it must be able to stop. Tyre pressures are also crucial to maintaining the stability of your machine. Don’t be affaid to ask for advice. The cycling charity Sustrans has some useful maintenance tips on their website.
- Without putting yourself in danger, greet everybody, walkers, joggers, cyclists, everybody. I don’t mean stop and have a chat, just a good morning, you never know if you or a fellow cyclist may need help one day, a bit of civility can go a long way.
- Hand signals are very important, motorists will have their radios on loud and be talking, tweeting and texting on their phones, so it’s up to you to make them aware of your intentions, bold clear hand signals are good, but don’t rely on that for alerting them that they are about to be inconvenienced. Be vigilant, look over your shoulders, look at the drivers, check that you have their attention, when you have and it is safe to do so, make your manouver and give the driver a cheerie wave if you can.
- Wear a helmet, it’s saved my life.
So there you have it! There’s lots more to consider that I haven’t mentioned but don’t be put off, go out and have fun, but bearing in mind all of the above it may be worth checking your insurance or joining British Cycling or The CTC for their insurance and legal protection benefits.