A reader offers this comment about cycling on rural roads:
I have cycled most of my life in a city. I’ve recently taken early retirement so now cycle purely for pleasure. Last night I went for a ride which took me through some rural roads and also busy A roads.
On the narrow country roads the motorists, though much less in number, didn’t deem it necessary to slow down as they passed me. Also, there were some blind bends and I was concerned that drivers would cut corners not expecting to meet a cyclist.
The derestricted A roads were just as challenging because of the speed of passing vehicles.
I am well used to defensive riding on busy town roads where the vast majority of car drivers are expecting to negotiate cyclists. The speeds are lower which allows more thinking time for the cyclist and the motorist. Consequently, I felt much more at ease when I left the A roads and small rural roads and once again entered the city boundary. As poor as they are, cycle routes in the city feel safer and offer some protection.
I’m not convinced that drivers on smaller rural roads and fast A roads are expecting to see cyclists and they appear to be less careful. If a collision was to occur a cycle helmet would certainly be of no use due to the speeds involved.
I wonder if I will eventually feel at home on rural roads and faster A roads? Time will tell.
Unfortunately, this is a pretty standard experience for cycling on rural A roads. Often cycle safety initiatives focus on city cycling, where there is the largest concentration of cyclists. But, you feel rural A roads tend to get left out of any initiative to improve road safety. I spend more time cycling in the rural environment, my main strategy is to avoid these roads where possible. But, some races and some training routes to go on these kind of roads.
Some issues on rural roads
Most dangerous. Firstly, twisty rural A roads are statistically the most dangerous.
- In 2006, 58% of road fatalities occurred on rural roads, despite carrying only 18% of total traffic volumes Rural Road safety, D of T)
Speed. A big issue is speed. On some twisty roads, the maximum speed limit would be an inappropriate speed to be travelling at. There are calls for more 40mph speed limits, which would make a big difference for cyclists and pedestrians. It would make roads feel more endurable, and reduce the risk of accident (see: 40mph speed limits for rural areas) To really slow down traffic, speed signs are usually insufficient. Actual obstacles in the road, rumble strips, speed humps e.t.c would be needed. Cyclists would actually be excellent traffic calming measures. The presence of cyclists would make motorists have to concentrate more, and avoid the syndrome of cruising at top speed. But, who wants to act as a mobile traffic calming measure?
Safety in numbers or lack of. Because rural roads are often considered ‘unsafe’ many cyclists avoid them completely. This means that motorists may get used to the idea that cyclists don’t use this kind of road, and so drive without expecting any cyclists. If the roads were a little slower and safer, it would encourage more cyclists and increase the visibility of cyclists on roads. But, it’s a vicious cycle with perceived dangers being a major deterrent for the majority of cyclists.
The overtaking syndrome. If a motorist came across a slow moving vehicle, they would slow down and wait for an appropriate moment to overtake. But, many motorists have the mindset, that you can always squeeze past a cyclist, and so appear un-ready to slow down and just overtake regardless. This puts both cyclist and oncoming traffic at risk. It’s only a matter of waiting a few seconds. At the end of the day, you wouldn’t really get to your destination any slower.
It is hard to see what can be done. Lower speed limits might help. There is a scope for better education and awareness, but there are no easy solutions.
How to deal with situation?
The situation is unlikely to change unless we have a revolution in perceptions and ideas. So we tend to mug away. Where possible, I try to avoid the busiest and least welcoming A roads. For example, the A59 from Bolton Abbey to Harrogate, used to have a race a few years ago. But, when I trained on the road, it was too much with heavy lorries overtaking on a road not really designed for articulate lorries. My training routes, are just designed to avoid this road where possible.
When I do ride on A roads. I’d like to be able to say I ride 1 metre out from the kerb making traffic wait for an appropriate time to overtake. But, I don’t. I stay pretty close in. I just kind of wait for the road to end. If anybody wants to prove me wrong and ride the length of the A59 1 metre out from the kerb, good luck, and let me know how you get on.