I have followed the 'helmet crash experience' discussion with perplexity. I was wondering: why do people have so many bicycle accidents? Several posters mention they had several crashes. I had one (minor) crash when I was learning as a kid. That’s it. I haven’t had any bicycle accident in 30 years.
Could it be just luck? You can never tell for sure. Maybe I’m just lucky.
As I thought a bit more about it, I realised that there are a lot of things that I do in an attempt to avoid bicycle accidents. I’m going to try to describe some of them below. Most of you probably already know this, but hopefully there might be something useful in there still.
The main skill set is what I call defensive riding
. This comes from motorcycle riding (I have been riding motorbikes for 20 years). When you ride a motorbike, you are much more exposed. You are operating in an environment where most people are protected by a cage, but you are not. People protected by a cage, like car drivers, tend not to be as carefully as they should around you simply because the risk to THEM is much lower than the risk to YOU. So you need to take extra precaution. You don’t ride a motorbike like you drive a car. Here are some essential motorcycle survival skills that I believe can be useful to cyclists:
1. Don’t assume that car drivers have seen you. Put your light on. Get bright clothing like a red helmet and a white jacket for example. Black may look cool, but it increases your risk of not being seen by car drivers. Even though car drivers SHOULD watch for bicycles, not all of them do it all the time. You need to take some responsibility by increasing your chances of being seen.
2. Don’t ride in a car blind spot. Position yourself on the road where others can see you easily.
3. Don’t assume that drivers will do the right thing
. Most of them do, but the occasional one that doesn’t can send you to hospital. I might have right of way, but I don’t assume that the car driver has seen me. I slow down, I got my hand on the brakes, ready to do an emergency stop in case the driver doesn’t do the right thing. I don’t go through intersections at full speed, I slow down, ready to do an emergency stop.
4. Practice doing emergency stops. An empty parking lot is usually best. Brake as hard as you can, but be careful of not locking the wheels. Start slowly, then increase the speed progressively up to your normal riding speed. Chances are, if you haven’t practiced doing an emergency stop, you won’t be able to do one effectively when an emergency arises. This also gives you an idea of your stopping distance.
5. Keep a safe distance from all other vehicles. That gives you time to react when something unexpected occurs.
6. Know where the greatest dangers are likely to come from. In Sydney commuting, I find taxis & vans the most dangerous. They are commercial drivers who seem to be willing to take a few more risks than others. Keep a safe distance from them & watch them carefully. Other cyclists have reported that parents driving their kids to school can be a little inattentive. I guess the type of danger depend on the environment in which you are riding. What are the ones in your area?
6. Be aware of the traffic around you
. You must know at all time what is in front of you, on each side, and behind you. This is essential to know your ‘escape routes’ should an emergency occur. Is it OK to slam on the brakes? Do you have room on your left or right to swerve around? Don’t position yourself on the road where you have no escape route. For cyclist, I believe that a rear view mirror is essential for safety. The danger often comes from behind, from cars who may not have seen you. You must be aware what is happening behind you.
7. Traffic jams: Some drivers can get very frustrated in traffic jams and attempt to change lane impulsively. Watch the car front wheels. A front wheel starting to turn is the first indication of a driver trying to change lane (unless they use their indicators).
8. Parked cars. People could be opening the door suddenly. First, ride in middle of lane if there is nobody behind you (another reason to have a rear view mirror). If you must ride close to parked cars, watch for cars with stop lights on, or a shadow in the car front seat that indicate somebody is inside.
9. Beware of pedestrians. Some get distracted by mobile phones or iPods and are barely aware of what's happening around them. They can change direction quickly, unexpectedly blocking your path. In areas where there are lots of pedestrians, I slow down and put both hands on the brakes, ready to do an emergency stop. You never know what's going to happen with pedestrians.
10. Slow down in the rain. People can't see you as well, and brakes are not as effective.
Theses are the core riding skills that I use. There are also planning skills. I mean planning which route to take, which depends on your journey. For me in Sydney, I avoid all main roads. I only go through suburban streets, bicycle paths & occasionally secondary roads. I believe that traveling in Sydney on a main road limited at 70 or 80 km/h is exposing yourself to many car drivers coming from behind. It only takes one inattentive car driver to send you to hospital. The basic idea is to choose a route where the traffic is the lightest & the slowest, reducing the risks you are exposed to.
Something that is also useful is knowledge derived from accident statistics. This gives you an idea of the most frequent type of accident, so that you can be aware of situations that carry higher risk. As I was looking through the safety research, I noticed that the most common way to get killed for cyclists is to get hit from behind by a car. This is another reason why I believe in rear view mirrors and avoiding main roads as much as I can.
Another interesting result from the research is that most bicycle injuries are from teenagers, especially boys. In urban areas, almost half of serious cyclist injuries are kids under 16, especially boys. They occur most commonly at intersections, or where riders merge with car traffic. In most cases, the rider was at fault, not being careful enough. If you have kids riding, please take the time to show them how to cross intersections and merge with traffic safely. Show them where the dangers is more likely to come from. It is a little bit like showing kids how to walk across the road when they are little. It seems a bit tedious and takes a little time, but it is important. For example, with our kids, we have done the trip to school together several times and shown them exactly where the most dangerous spots were, the dangers to watch for, where to position themselves on the road, etc …
This is what I do in order to avoid accidents. It is specific to the type of riding that I do and the roads that I ride on. I don't really know whether it is enough or whether I have just been lucky, but so far so good.
Everybody’s circumstances & cycling environment is a little bit different. I am sure we have difference tips to reduce the risk of bicycle accidents. Do you what any tips you are willing to share?