Get fit, save money and justify that swanky cycle-to-work scheme bike you’ve bought, yep, commute to work. Unfortunately you’ve got to do battle with hundreds or thousands of commuting motorists too.
I think a good metric for safety among traffic is to ask yourself: if a crash happens now, how much of the blame can be apportioned to me? If it is a high percentage then you need to be doing something different.
Better still is to imagine what that dickhead might do next, and then take action to reduce the opportunity for said dickhead to involve you.
Mirror – Signal – Lifesaver – Manoeuver
Car drivers are taught mirror-signal-manoeuver. Motorcyclists are taught mirror-signal-lifesaver-manoeuver. The ‘lifesaver’ check is a look over your shoulder in the direction you’re intending to move and its purpose is simply to check that it is safe to move. A bike is much narrower than a car and it is quite easy for something to pull alongside and block your intended path – a cyclist, a pedestrian, sometimes even a car. The point is, always take a look before you move: whether it is a turn or just moving over to pass a stationary vehicle, take a look to make sure it’s safe. Better to brake than to crash.
On an empty road you’d be on the left hand side and clear of the gutter, right? Well, it’s exactly the same when the road is busy! Yes it is tempting to let traffic ‘squeeze’ you further over to the left while you helpfully try to keep out of the way, but it doesn’t help. OK a few cars may get past you and save sufficient time to get through the next lights/roundabout/whatever without stopping but do they really save much time? No. Meanwhile you’ve put yourself at risk, risk of punctures, potholes and wobbles on the poor gutter-side road surface. Yes, keep left, just keep out of the gutter too eh?
Inevitably at some point you’ll get in amongst slow-moving queuing traffic. The safest place to be is between cars, clearly in front of one and behind another. The absolute worst place to be is along side another vehicle – if anything goes wrong you’ve got no where to go. You could easily be in the blind spot, the vehicle turns without knowing you are there (especially if you’re coming from behind), and again you’ve got no where to go. In the shit as they say. (wrong hole? Oops, that was careless wasn’t it?)
I hate overtaking on the inside. It scares me, it’s disrespectful, and it makes it my fault when I collide with another vehicle. If you choose to overtake on the inside then you must take responsibility for both your actions and for the actions of the vehicle you are overtaking. Many drivers do not check the left-side blind-spot before moving or turning left – they simply have no reason to expect anyone to be there. Overtaking long vehicles on the left is even more dangerous – bigger blind spots for you to get lost in and more weight to throw about. Cyclists die regularly in London, wiped out by lorries. Sorry but I can’t help believe that some of the unfortunate soles put themselves into the danger zone on the inside.
Personally I much prefer to overtake on the outside. Drivers are used to watching to their right. You still need to look after your own safety but it helps if the other guy is at least taking an occasional glance in your direction.
Inevitably when you overtake cars they will at some point start moving again, or you’ll get to the front of the queue. There’ll be a period where your speed matches the traffic speed. This is your time to assume a neutral traffic position – usually in the centre of the lane. As the traffic speeds up, you move back to the normal left-side of the road, or if the traffic starts to slow again then you can move back out to the right to overtake. You want to avoid letting the impatient driver behind half-overtake – leaving you in their left-side blind spot.
What will the drivers around me do next?
It’s not that difficult to predict, Newton’s third law: an object carries on doing what it’s doing until someone/something interferes, or something along those lines. So too with drivers, mostly they keep doing what they were doing moments earlier. And if they’re about to do something different it starts small: moving position within the lane, looking in the mirror, maybe even indicating. All clues to tell you to back-off and see what happens next.
It happens. It’s worth carrying one. At least you’ll have something to sniff while you wait for the AA. (or you could fix the puncture yourself!)
Red Lights mean Stop
Just because you can bunny hop onto the pavement doesn’t make you immune from the traffic laws. Sometimes it might seem cool or even safe, e.g. at a left hand turn into a traffic clogged road, but it’s not – you’re not the only fool out there, one day you’ll meet another and there will be a crash. Of all the things to do, running a red light is one I fear most – it might look clear but you just can’t know who has ‘green’ and what drivers might come from that side, racing to beat the change to red.
It’s most embarrassing when you choose to go through a no-traffic-here red light, only to be met by a police car emerging from a direction that you didn’t imagine could possibly have any traffic. There’s no “the lights just changed on me officer” patter – the coppers know they had green and any excuse will just sound like careless (3-9pts) or dangerous (3pts-ban) driving. I didn’t try out running them on my race-rep motorbike, and I’m certainly not going to try on my push bike.
Drink and ride
Oh thank you lord, for we are blessed. Not only do we saunter past traffic jams, park for free as close as we like to our destination, as if that were not enough we can have a couple of beers and ride home with virtual impunity. Not that I’d recommend such a carefree activity of course, but just in case you need to know: you can get a fine for drunk-in-charge (up to £125 last time I looked); you cannot pick up any points. (Same rules apply to pushing a pram.)