How not to die: My guide to safe cycling

Simon Usborne

104241388 300x234 How not to die: My guide to safe cyclingThe Independent and i have launched Save our Cyclists, a campaign to cut the number of deaths and accidents, particularly those caused in collisions with lorries.

While much can be done to improve safety, it’s easy to be put off by news of death and maiming. Yet, statistically speaking, cycling is safe and getting safer.

Meanwhile, there is much riders can do to avoid sticky situations. Here’s my guide to bike safety, which is due to appear in tomorrow’s Independent.

#1 Avoid lorries
Never wait between the kerb and a lorry at a junction. If it turns left, the driver may not see you. Stay well behind or, preferably, in front, where you can be seen.

#2 Don’t kerb-crawl
The kerb is not your friend. Keep a line towards the middle of the lane so that drivers have to steer around you. Hugging the pavement only invites them to scrape past.

#3 Show your face
Eyeballing drivers at junctions helps them to view you as a fellow road user they would rather not run over. Do the same to vehicles on your tail. Smiling helps, too.

#4 Use your neck
Learn how to look over your shoulder without wobbling and do so regularly – and always before making a manoeuvre, when you should also stick out an arm.

#5 Obey the code
It can be safer, say, to jump a red light than wait in the shadow of a lorry but egregious violation of the Highway Code can damage you – and the image of cyclists.

#6 Overtake buses
If you’re approaching a bus at a stop, look over your shoulder, eyeball drivers, and move to overtake. If you can’t, wait a good distance behind the bus. Never undertake.

#7 Be bright
It’s more important to show your face and position yourself well, but bright clothing, strong lights and reflectors, while rarely cool, will also help you get noticed.

#8 Wear a helmet
You may look like a dork but, on balance, you’re better off with a helmet. Just don’t think it will protect anything else – or do anything to resist a 40-tonne truck.

#9 Don’t get cross
Sure, drivers can be infuriating but banging on windows or cursing across junctions will only reinforce the view held by a dangerous minority that cyclists are enemies.

#10 Keep it clean
And well-oiled. Regular services will not only make your bike last longer but also reduce the chances of, say, a chain jam at 20mph when there’s a bus on your tail.

Bonus #1 Plan your route
It stands to reason that you’re probably more vulnerable in three lanes of traffic doing 40mph than on a residential side street.

Bonus #2 Find a friend
If you’re a new or lapsed cyclist, venture out first with a more experienced friend. Keep a good distance behind and watch what he does. Then let him follow you and take his advice.

  • watzat

    I too am very puzzled why this happens -and is not opposed by cycling groups chosen as representatives at official meetings. I learn that some of this is designed in intentional “traffic calming” – that the forming of bottlenecks – especially when a cyclist is passing through is intended to slow ie “calm” the traffic! The statistically based argument is that lower speeds decrease serious accidents. However ordinary cyclists find this role as mobile road block intimidating and uncomfortable and avoid this route – thus assisting the cycling safety statistics on this route – and confirming its suitability.

    The sight of young woman at dusk on a bike with toddler behind her entering one of these intentional blockades with a motorist/van driver coming behind and calculating if there is room to squeeze by is chilling. The stock cycling club answer – one that Simon Usborn also advocates – is that the cyclist “takes charge of the road” – ie has the skill and bottle to move across the lane in front of and slow down a column of following vehicles so he/she cannot be passed. Fine in daylight – scary in the darkness and in rain.

    It may well be that the worst danger to ordinary cyclists are the expert club cyclists who currently speak for them in official circles, who see cycling on badly designed roads as a challenge and vindication of their skills.

  • zootytooty

    How many cyclists can be foolish enough to try and “take charge of the road” in front of an articulated lorry?!! Building out kerbs should only be permitted in front of a school or old folks’ home etc. where there is a genuine safety benefit. Where I live in SW London it is a scandal that public money has been squandered on this nonsense while at the same time the roads have been left to crumble with ever more hazardous potholes. This policy flies in the face of Boris Johnson’s amazing achievements in promoting cycling and getting the police out of their cars and onto bicycles.

  • Adam

    Sorry Bellroth, one small study by a self-promoting university type does not prove your point. Neither do your spurious/made-up ‘manifold’ reasons nor the data from Australia which looked at overall population health rather than individual probability and seriousness of injury.

    The fact is that helmets can protect you from head injury during a low-speed impact, which is what you’re most likely to have if you cycle in traffic isn’t it?

  • Adam

    I would add:

    1) Assume that nobody has seen you, whether car, lorry, pedestrian, or other cyclist (I avoided crashes with the latter two this very morning by following that rule)

    2) Don’t be a pr*ck: don’t jump red lights, don’t go on the pavement, be patient – drivers will have far more respect for you and give you space.

  • Bellroth

    Excellent. Points well taken. So bearing in mind the protection they offer from low speed impacts you would presumably recommend their use by pedestrians, car passengers, bus users etc etc. On the other hand if it is okay to walk along the street without the need for a helmet then why on earth would you want one on a bike? Don’t tell me that it is because of the higher speeds of the bike rider, we already know that they are only good for low speed impacts. About the same that would be sustained by falling over as you walk along the pavement. Bike helmets are merely a marketing con, nothing more.

  • burttthebike

    I was really impressed with this until I got to

    “#8 Wear a helmet
    You may look like a dork but, on balance, you’re better off with a helmet.”

    and I stopped reading there.

    If someone writing an article hasn’t even bothered to do the basic research to inform themselves on the subject, their opinion is worthless. Nowhere with a helmet law or massive rise in helmet wearing because of propaganda campaigns can show any reduction in risk to cyclists. So, on balance, you’re not better off with a helmet.

    Helmets are a scam designed to make money from the gullible public. There is no reliable evidence that they reduce risk, and some which shows that they increase risk. There are two kinds of cyclists: those who’ve read the research and don’t wear helmets, and those who refuse to read the research.

    Why don’t you investigate the scandal of helmet promotion, of how the promoters use disproved statistics, of how the BMA meeting which approved promotion of a helmet law was a complete fix, why don’t you investigate why the BBC ceaselessly promotes helmets and has done for twenty years?

  • Dondare

    It’s The Law you have to obey. Know the Highway Code but don’t believe half of it.
    Helmets? Cycling is a lot safer than most things that you’d do without.

  • Dondare

    Pedestrians have a higher death-rate per mile than cyclists; if you understand why this is you’ll understand why the pavements give no protection to cyclists either. Learn to use your bike properly and ride on the road, as part of the traffic and you’ll be safer.

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