Cycling has never been a more dangerous pursuit, with more and more vehicles appearing on our roads every year, and people’s lifestyles so increasingly hectic that politeness and tolerance of other road users are becoming extinct species. All cyclists need to get tooled up in order to cope with and survive today’s car-eat-bike world, and thankfully, there are some handy tips to make sure you have the correct tools – wear highly conspicuous cycling shirts, always use cycle lights, always wear a bicycle helmet, and know the rules of the road so you can be aware and anticipate other drivers.
There are four cornerstones of road safety for cyclists, which in order of importance are Personal Visibility, Bicycle Visibility, Safety Equipment and Training. Many people go out cycling with their bike helmet on their head and think they will be safe. But if they are riding at night, wearing a black jacket and dark jeans, they will almost certainly need the crash helmet; the absolute priority before safety equipment is to be seen! You really do not want to be reliant on your headgear; in many cases head injuries are the killers of cyclists who end up in bike accidents, but broken limbs and severe internal abdominal injuries are also common. If you light yourself up with a shockingly bright and colorful cycling shirt you will immediately become visible to car drivers. Think about adding a high visibility vest to your bicycle clothing, and even light-reflective wrist straps, so you can indicate clearly when you want to change lanes to turn left or right.
That covers cycling shirts and your own personal plan to be seen; what about your bike? Lights should always be used at night or in deteriorating visibility. Make sure they are clean, and it is a good idea to carry a small pack of essential tools when out riding, for dealing with punctures and tightening assorted bolts etc. Keep spare batteries in this pack, reserved solely for your lights. Most modern bikes are sold with front and rear reflectors, and sometimes a reflector on each wheel; these help you to be seen from all directions so do not remove them.
It is only now we have dealt with prevention – by guaranteeing other road users can see us – that we should deal with survival during and immediately after a collision. Accidents do happen, so you really must wear a cycle helmet. Since most cyclist deaths are due to severe head trauma – normally due to the head hitting the road surface – the head needs the most protection. Other injuries, such as broken bones and abdominal injuries can usually be fixed in hospital, as long as they are diagnosed in time, so other protective equipment is not normally required. It is a personal choice if you want to wear gauntlets or knee pads to prevent scrapes in minor crashes and trivial near misses.
The fourth cornerstone is Knowledge – the training you have had, so that you know where you can and cannot go when out on the road; so you know a stop sign means “Stop!” You would be amazed how many people think the traffic laws only apply to motorized vehicles and they can do what they want on their bicycles. Learn to be aware of what is around you, and what their engines sound like. You can tell by listening whether a car is slowing down; is he going to cut across the front of you to turn right? If ever in doubt, pull over, even lift your bike onto the sidewalk, and let the vehicles pass before continuing.
One final tip: you might be “in the right” if a conflict arises on the road, but the other guy is in a truck. Best to let him win than have “I was right” carved onto your headstone!
Ride safely and remember: Cycling Shirts, Cycle Lights, Bike Helmet, Be Aware.