Cycling on British roads like a battle between David and Goliath; in an accident between an SUV and a bike, there is only going to be one loser. There may be a lot of injustice, but we can cycle defensively and minimise the dangers to ourselves. Riding in New York has made me reconsider this article and add a few tips for defensive cycling.
- Look and signal before moving. Cyclists are not always great at looking over their shoulder and giving an indication where they are going. Develop the confidence to look over your shoulder; this is important for manoeuvres such as moving into an outside lane to turn right. (turning right)
- Take a good position in the road. Don’t always hug the curb. You are more visible if you ride a 1 metre from edge of road. In the diagram below, it shows how a car can better see the bike cycling further out in the road.
When I stop at traffic lights, if possible I move to the centre of the lane so the car has to be behind me, rather than allowing the car to squeeze past.
See: Best position to cycle on the road
- Be very wary of riding on the inside of large vehicles. This is a potentially very dangerous move. Many fatalities occur because cyclists get caught in a driver’s blind spot when the lorry turns left.
- Anticipate the unexpected. For example, a car may be signalling left, but it doesn’t mean the car will actually turn lef. Therefore, just because a car is signalling, it doesn’t mean it is safe to turn right. The car may have forgotten to turn off the indicator or on a roundabout they may be signalling for the next turn off.
- Steer clear of car doors. Give yourself distance for a car door to open. It can be a very nasty accident to get ‘doored’.
- Try to scan through car windows for pedestrians and cars which may come out of side lanes.
- Be aware. Don’t get distracted with music or daydreaming. When you are cycling in UK / US you really need your wits about you. I’ve never felt the ability to relax; I’m always trying to anticipate potential dangers and problems before they occur.
- Plan your route. Some routes are more cycle friendly than others. It can be worth not taking quickest route, but looking for better cycle paths, which help you avoid dangerous junctions or roads.
- Be wary of pedestrians. They will inevitably cross the road without looking; they are used to listening for traffic. A bell can be a good tool. However, a real problem is that when a pedestrian is crossing the road you start to anticipate that they will continue walking therefore, you take a line, which will miss them. However, if they suddenly hear your bell, they will freeze and stop right where you are, then you will have to change your line. Never expect pedestrians to do the obvious thing of 1) Looking where they are going or 2) continue in a certain direction.
- Avoid getting drawn into road rage. If a motorist makes you angry by behaving in a bad or dangerous way; it is best to avoid making an obscene gesture. Usually, this will be a signal for an escalation and subconsciously the motorist feels he has succeeded in riling the cyclist. If you maintain silence, he has nothing to escalate this. The best thing is to get the number plate and report illegal infractions.
- Be Seen. In 70% of accidents you will hear the excuse from drivers “but, I didn’t see them…” Do the best to be highly visible. If you ride in dark clothes and no lights, you can only increase the chance of being another accident statistic.
- Be willing to avoid a particular very busy road. Sometimes you find yourself on a really busy road with cars flying past at 50mph and it’s really risky to turn left or right. There are occasions when I consider using pavement and pedestrian crossings to avoid the craziest junction. If there are pedestrians are around you can get off and push your bike
- Be willing to stop. It may sound silly, but sometimes as cyclists we get tired and we’re trying to conserve the considerable forward momentum – we become too concentrated on saving energy we forget we may need to come to an abrupt stop
- Common sense. After 20 years of cycling and driving, a lot of problems occur simply because road users ignore basic common sense – seeking to save a few seconds they take unnecessary risks. If you ride defensively and with common sense, you can really make your ride a lot safer. You can’t avoid all dangers, but you can minimise the risk. ‘ Confident, but not arrogant’ is a good motto.
- Wearing a Cycle helmet may protect against some head injuries. Though it’s no substitute for safe cycling.