Riding Safe – From The Commute To The Escape

Cycling in the commute safely

The age-old question: does our environment define us, or do we define our environment?

A colleague and fellow Cyclo-Commuter, was knocked off her bike recently and her commute home ended up in A&E, not safely on her sofa at home.  She got home eventually just more bruised and battered than usual from a day’s work, and fortunately lives to ride another day.

It was a classic car/bike accident, where a car turning right down a side street cuts through stationary traffic but doesn’t anticipate the unsighted cyclists still riding up the inside. Car/bicycle meet at 90 degrees.

Or was it the cyclist not anticipating a car turning right down a side street cutting through static traffic.  It’s rarely clear cut.  Better to be safe than sorry, the onus is on the cyclist to anticipate – they’re the most at risk – and they can’t rely on anyone else to look out for cars, vans, trucks.

The Daily Commute.

Like many others my commute takes me over Putney Bridge through Parsons Green, the edge of Fulham, Chelsea’s Worlds End before I pick up the Cycle Super Highway 8 through to Westminster, past the Houses of Parliament, along the Embankment to Blackfriars before heading north to Moorgate.

I know the route like the back of my hand, I could just switch to Autopilot.  I can’t.  In a City like London it is impossible to ever fully relax.  London’s rush hour cycling reflects this.  The urban environment isn’t kind.  Wet, greasy drain covers, narrowing cycling lanes, confusing junctions.  I’ve memorised them all and know what to expect.  Then there’s the unexpected: cars turning left across cycle lanes, pedestrians stepping out, taxis pulling in, cycle-super-highway near head-on collisions.  I’ve learnt to expect those too.

The London Mayor has a £770 million cycling budget for the next 5 years to make cycling a “safe and obvious choice for Londoners of all ages and backgrounds”.  As I dissect London’s  complicated cycling lanes I think how I would I spend it.  Segregation is a start.

The cycle lane on Victoria Embankment is a great statement of intent but it’s narrowness, lack of road markings and 2-way direction make it dangerous and accidents have already occurred.  A 1-direction cycle lane on each side of the road seems the obvious solution but too late/too expensive for a redesign.  There are other wrinkles, creases, irritations with the new road design, it seems churlish to complain after such investment but it seems that some of the cycle focused road design hasn’t been designed from a cyclists point of view, hasn’t been designed by someone riding a bike.

That’s the key.  The obvious solution is to get more people riding a bike, then whether they are in a car or on foot they may well just see the road situation from the cyclists point of view.

The Weekend Escape.

Free from the City Limits, riding the country lanes are cycling heaven.  Favourite routes with favourite climbs, descents, views and of course coffee stops.  As important as knowing where the best coffee is to be had is reading the road.  The freedom of the country lifts the spirits, it can also lift the speed and lower the concentration.

Riding with mates, needs Group Riding disciplines, calling out hazards – potholes, gravel, junctions – and of course cars in narrow lanes battling for space, rather than sharing it.  Amongst the tranquillity tempers can run high, at odds with the peace and quiet of the idyllic rural surroundings.

Whilst traffic volumes are lower the risk of accidents cannot be discounted.  Awareness of road hazards is key so is awareness of other road users.  So is consideration.  When it’s safe to do so, make space for other roads users, if you’ve held them up – give them a friendly acknowledgment, a wave or a smile and they might pass your consideration on to the next cyclist they see.

Off the Beaten Track.

The tranquillity of the pine woods of Holmbury Hill is interrupted by the early morning screech of disc brakes followed by a howl of joy from a mountain biker.  The mountain biker has volunteered for risk.  They’ve run a complex algorithm in their brain (even if they don’t know it) that calculates the risk of falling off, hitting a tree, cuts & bruises – mountain biking isn’t without it’s risks – but to experience the best joy, excitement, adventure, careful risk management is key.

The calculations don’t stop there. The brain is running millions of risk assessments, “will that berm hold my front wheel?”, “how slippery is that tree root?”, “have I got enough speed for that jump?” Mountain Biking improves your bike handling skills, curates an extra-sensory perception that connects the rider to the bike.  If you can’t get out to the Surrey Hills then Lea Valley Velo Park has a Mountain Bike track within the City Limits – try it out, learn some new bike riding skills that will give you an edge on the roads.

All different cycling environments, all with risk, all requiring different cycling skills but all requiring: Awareness, Anticipation, Assertion.  All of which allow a cyclist to ride more safely.

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