The recent and tragic death of Chris Boardman’s mum – Carol – has again highlighted the dangers we all, as cyclists, face. At sad times like these, I think it is worth each and every one of us, taking some time to reflect on our own safety strategies when it comes to road cycling – especially road cycling of the more rural kind.
As such, I want to share with you my 11 top tips to follow in order to make your road cycling far safer – not only for you, but for the others sharing the road with you.
And being safer, doesn’t mean you need to compromise on your enjoyment. Far from it. Safer riding, can lead to even greater levels of fun.
The following, according to the urban dictionary, is the meaning of safe:
1. a cool person
2. to signify agreement
3. to signify something is good
I would say that's pretty much spot on. Now, here’s how we as cyclists can get it right when it comes to being ‘safe’, too.
1. Choose your routes carefully
A great way of doing this is by looking at online tools such as Strava, to identify the commonly used cycling routes. Gaining insights such as this will give you a good idea on where is safe to ride. The insights will also normally point out any possible dangers along the popular routes, that without knowing could catch you out.
Also seek out recommendations; either by asking individuals directly or by obtaining the information from publications, blogs or other online resources. Social media is of course a great platform for conversations to take place on. In fact, recently one of our followers on Twitter, having experienced the wonders of cycling in On the Rivet land, asked us for some route recommendations. We of course, dutifully provided her with some of our favourite - ride friendly - routes.
2. Ride in an established group
Building on from my first safety tip; one of the great things of joining and riding with a cycling club/group is that they are a great source for ride routes.
Riding in established groups, with experienced and qualified riders, will also expose you to the written and unwritten rules of the road. They will have their own code of conduct for you to abide by, which will teach you good road cycling habits. You’ll improve your technique, your group riding skills, and importantly you’ll become a much safer rider.
3. Know your road riding position
When it comes to the spot you should occupy on the road, there are two key positions to be aware of:
1. The primary position
2. The secondary position
The below diagram from British cycling best shows the difference between the two.
Simply, the secondary position is best described as ‘normal’, where the primary position is ‘taking the lane’.
In the ‘normal’ position, you are far enough from the side of the road to avoid the edge, and it ensures that you can be seen by other drivers and that they have to manoeuvre to overtake you.
By riding in the ‘taking the lane’ position, you are basically saying how you do not want to be overtaken right now. This should be adopted when you are preparing to turn, overtake or change lanes - and when riding past parked cars, so that you can avoid any car doors swinging open!
Also, when riding in a group, you should not be more than two cyclists abreast. And always try and single out on busy roads so as to let traffic safely past.
What I have just touched upon is something that I am sure will strongly come across in this post. That being how considerate for other road users is crucial for safety.
This is a simple, and what should be an obvious point to make. Yet, I see it far too often for my liking. Undertaking long vehicles.
You should never undertake buses, lorries, or any other type of long vehicle. The likely hood is they just won’t be able to see you. It’s a truly sad fact, but the majority of cycling deaths involve a big, long lorry. It’s wise to always remember that sobering thought.
5. Improve your decision making by better understanding risk
The riders who often find themselves in trouble are those who fail to acknowledge risk. We all want to avoid unnecessary risks, but the key is not to ignore them, but to manage them.
Being more aware of possible risks, doesn't mean we just stay indoors on the turbo trainer. No, we get out there and experience a whole host of challenging riding conditions; only when we do, we are better prepared to deal with them. This is because we understand the potential risks and so are able to make better decisions in relation to this understanding.
But it’s important to point out. This is not riding in a constant state of fear. It’s riding with confidence, due to the awareness of your surroundings. Riding with assertiveness is crucial for your safety.
6. Ensure your bike is road fit
To me, cycling isn’t solely about just being out there on the bike. Sure that’s where most of the enjoyment is. But more so, cycling is about everything else that comes with it. The training, the social element, nutrition, and the love of a good coffee shop! These are just some of the elements that contribute to the cycling life we love.
Of course, there is one other hugely important part of your cycling life – your bike. Or perhaps more likely; your bikes.
And sure, when it comes to your bike(s), regular services are a must. But you should also be taking more responsibility for the safety of your own bike. I’m guessing, probably by your own admission, you’re no mechanic. But I do think we should all try to be more of one - a mechanic. I mean there’s nothing we can’t find out the answer to online. So, at the very least we can better maintain our bikes, before they become unsafe and dangerous.
7. Be seen
The shielding of light by dwarfing trees and foliage, combined with the scarcity of road lighting, means unlike city riding, when the sun falls in the countryside, it can get ‘proper’ dark.
When riding at night, make sure you are well lit. This is achieved by wearing high vis reflective clothes, and equipping your bike with a good set of lights. And it’s not just the pitch black you need to guard against. You should ensure that you are bright and visible to others during low-light conditions, such as dawn and dusk
8. Fuel yourself
You probably wouldn’t head off on a long drive in the car, to an area where petrol stations are few and far between, without having first made sure you’ve got enough juice in the tank, right? Yet, when it comes to a cycling journey, it’s an easy mistake to make…
Before embarking on a road cycling adventure, be sure that you are well hydrated and have eaten appropriately. But also take with you some liquids and energy snacks. Us cyclists like to push boundaries, often going a bit beyond what we can manage, so it’s important to refuel when – ideally before - we dip into and deplete our reserves.
In some rural locations, you never know where you’ll next find a shop. Unless of course you've got a support vehicle in close attendance - like you'll find on our retreats ;-)
9. Ride distraction free
There’s more cycling related gadgets now available to us, then we could ever have imagined. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for using gadgets – they give an amazing insight into performance and how it can be improved. However, I can’t stress enough just how important it is to not become distracted by it all when you’re out on the road.
Riding distraction free, helps us to escape the everyday and clear our mind – giving us a sense of freedom and reviving and revitalising us. Furthermore, it allows us to concentrate and give full attention to the ride we are on, and our immediate surroundings. Surroundings such as potholes, cars, other cyclists, even road side terriers of the furry kind!
If you’re playing with your latest gadget when out riding, and so ignoring your surroundings, then there’s a high likelihood that your surroundings will try to make their presence felt. The result of this isn’t normally pretty, and often it involves you experiencing some pain.
Surroundings don’t like to be ignored.
10. Let others know of your whereabouts
Although I have just referred to the abundance of tech and the connectedness this brings. And so, even though your ride may be getting logged, I’d still suggest you let those close to you know of your plans, where it is you’ll be riding and for how long. Just a simple text/whatsapp message will do the job.
Given we’re drawing to the close of this article, I’ll very soon be stopping writing. Consequently, you’ll soon be forced to stop with your reading. Stopping, if you hadn’t already guessed, is what I am drawing attention to here – specifically the stopping at red lights. Introducing, my eleventh and final point:
11. Stop at red lights
Cyclists running red lights is something that unfortunately still happens far too often. It just isn’t worth doing. Firstly, it’s illegal. And secondly, the lights are red for a reason. So, every time you do fail to stop at a red light you are putting yourself and other road users in danger.
Remember, the overriding factor for staying safe on the road, is consideration and acknowledgment of everything and everyone around you. Something that is symbolised by stopping at a red traffic light.
There you have it! My top tips for staying safe when out on the road.