Tag Archives: cycling commute tips

A Near Miss

Commuter cycling is the most dangerous form of transport, especially in the morning rush hour. Perhaps this explains why only 2% of us get to work on two wheels. 

I enjoy it because it gets me more alert and relaxed and saves me £11.50 a week, which adds up over time. It’s also exciting whizzing along as clumsy cars wait in a queue.

A few days ago though, I took my eyes off the road for the first time and the unthinkable happened.

I knew it was a possibility – all our cycling friends had been hit at least once. But I thought I was too careful for it to happen to me.

I was a little concerned about setting off late, it was already 8.15am and the roads were incredibly busy. There was a traffic jam briefly in the bus lane and I had to dodge round buses, motorbikes, school transport vehicles and even other cyclists. It was mayhem.

But after the jam everything seemed fine and I continued as usual. 

On my way to the junction I was keeping an eye out for pedestrians, giving space for cars coming out of side roads, slowing down when cars were switching lanes ahead, following all the usual safety precautions.

But as the lights went green I felt the angry breath of the car’s radiator on my back as I sensed it trying to turn impatiently. So I put my head down to get some speed for a split second. Then I looked up just as a white van was turning into me. It hadn’t seen me speeding through in my bright blue top and high visibility vest. I immediately applied the breaks hard, skidding along. I looked opened mouthed at it coming towards me, bracing myself for the inevitable. But by some miracle I stopped just before the bonnet.

I pedalled on furiously in both senses of the word. How could they not see me? I had right of way, they SHOULD have seen me. Arriving at my destination shaken, I got myself some calming chamomile tea and talked about it. They reminded me that the van’s driver would only have seen a blur if anything.

I later celebrated my survival with an indulgent shop at Waitrose.

Cyclist versus vehicle is all too common. In 2011 52 490 cyclists were injured on the roads and the number killed or seriously injured increased by 9%. In my city alone, 15% of “slight accidents” had risen between 2006-11.

In my experience red lanes are inadequate, badly maintained and sometimes completely illogical, like the lane which stops before a vehicle bottleneck. We need street signs raising awareness of bicycles using the lanes.

My brother’s friend was knocked off in a hit and run, a family friend was injured by a car not leaving enough room, and a fellow zero emissions commuter told me how he once didn’t see a Land Rover and ended up in a neck brace. But even as a pedestrian the roads are perilous. A friend tripped over her shoes and landed across two lanes. The car on one side stopped but the bus didn’t see her. She rolled over and the wheels

This picture is not of the subjects referred to belowpassed inches from her head. Quick reactions can be the difference between life and death.

I think myself lucky that I escaped unharmed but learnt an important lesson. I haven’t let it stop me, indeed I cycled in to work today. Due to my added awareness I managed to avoid going into a car that had seen me, but thought that it could turn before I came towards it. How a driver can be on the road with that sort of spatial awareness I don’t know. I also avoided a car crossing into the lane I was in ahead of me, without leaving sufficient space.

I had inspired a friend to think about cycling to work, but she is now deterred by my near miss and safety warnings from her family.

However, I think it’s important to remember that if you keep safety in check, the health benefits will make two-wheeling worth it. Research shows that cyclists have lower weight, blood pressure and insulin levels. It can even cut the risk of breast cancer. I have certainly noticed my stamina and general fitness improve. I think it is still possible to cycle to work safely. Here’s how…

LEAVE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.

  • I have found that the earlier before 8am the better. The roads are quieter, less traffic and I haven’t had an incident yet before this time.
  • alarm-clock-ringing
  • THINK – CYCLE LIKE YOU’RE DRIVING A CAR
  • This is probably the best advice I have seen, from an accident lawyer. Since following this I have not had any trouble. Anticipate just as you would when driving.
  • 1. Pedestrians – are they about to cross the road? If they are crossing the road, have they seen you?
  • 2. Vehicles – have they seen you at junctions? Slow down until you can be sure they are not going to move off.
  • Are they switching lanes? Let them do this ahead of you as they may not have seen you and so may not allow enough room.
  • – Be aware of hidden side roads – cars can come shooting out of them so slow down when you pass them and look right into them.

DON’T RISK YOUR SAFETY FOR A

MOTORIST’S CONVENIENCE

  • If I hadn’t been rushing to try to allow the tailgating car behind me to turn, I would have seen the van coming turning towards me.
  • If I had been cycling in the middle of the lane the van would be more likely to have seen me. It is often better to cycle with the cars than at the side of the road, which can encourage them to pass you, sometimes without leaving enough room.

All this sounds obvious but it’s easily overlooked. Don’t ever get complacent because as soon as you lose concentration like I did, something could happen. But don’t let a brush with danger stop you getting on your bike. Stay safe out there everyone!

Bicycle+messenger+vs+car+in+Helsinki+106381

So what am I taking away from my experience?

 ALWAYS SLOW DOWN AND LOOK AS YOU GO THROUGH A JUNCTION.

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Filed under Cycling, Life of Lydia

My First Cycling Commute

bike-runs-on-fat-saves-you-money_car-runs-on-money-makes-you-fat

Today was the first time I have cycled to work! It was twice as fast as the bus and once there I felt invigorated and powered through the morning.

I used to use my brother’s bike. He cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats as a teenager and raised hundreds of pounds for Cancer Research UK, and I was inspired by this to try a commute. After all if he emerged unscathed from a trip like that, half an hour on the roads should be no problem.

I rode until the bus and cycle lanes finished and then decided to keep safe by walking through town. Red lanes here are ridiculous, one stops at the top of a hill before cars go into a bottleneck at the bottom, so you often have to go on the pavement as the queue doesn’t leave enough room.

Cars often park in the lanes meaning you have to weave around them. But at least most of the vehicles were generous with space.

My bag was a bit heavy – I had to carry both locks in it – you should have one in between the wheel, over the main frame and round the bar and the other securing the back wheel going through the main frame and round the bar. If this sounds a bit confusing have a look at the  image below.

locked_bike_large

I considered getting insurance – it would probably cost me less than the bus.

I thought it would be a lot harder returning uphill than it was – whenever it got a bit much I could get on the pavement and walk. I was clearly a first-timer – other 2-wheel commuters were whizzing past me as if they were in the Tour de France. I felt like a fancy dress runner at the back of a marathon.

The only thing is that it’s not that safe to be zooming down when the road is wet, so most of the time the weather will prevent me from commuting in this way. But I enjoyed regaining control for the day, no longer forced to wait in the cold for a bus that may or may be late, smelly or snail-slow.

On arrival the facilities were sufficient – there was a shower, although it was a bit basic not having a changing room. I was amused by a notice requesting users to direct the shower head away from the door to avoid a “swimming pool” floor, to which one indignant bather had responded in red capitals “OR YOU COULD INVEST IN A BETTER SHOWER CUBICLE!” I hovered around my stuff on the one chair whilst changing and as there was no mirror I did my makeup in the toilets.

My verdict? You can bike to the top of town from my area using the bike/bus lanes. Just be careful of the buses as they don’t leave much space and will come up right behind you if you hold them up (despite the fact that they seem to be quite happy to go slower than the speed limit at any other time). Look behind you when coming out of bus lanes – I squeaked as a bus sped right past me almost as I was coming out of it, leaving no room whatsoever.  It was a little annoying having to walk right through town as there are no decent lanes running through – for example there is a strip on one side of the road going down but not coming up. But really it depends on our changeable weather…I don’t fancy getting cold and wet.

As for elsewhere – I’ve heard cycling in London can be quite risky and from what I have heard I wouldn’t recommend it!

Top 10 First-Timer Tips

1. Follow the rules of the road. If you’re not sure read the Highway Code. Or copy what more experienced cyclists do. Signal clearly well before turning using the signals below. Make sure you keep your balance whilst you do so.

2. Give your bike an M.O.T the night before – check the tyres to ensure they’re hard enough, cycle round a bit to check the gear chain is in good working order and the seat is at the right height.

3. Make sure you have a helmet and wear a reflective jacket even in the day. IfFlyer-Front you’re wearing  clothes that make you noticeable, keeping as far to the side as possible and following the rules of the road then there is no excuse for anyone driving.

4. If you’re going to wear work clothes, wear a “wicking” shirt underneath that draws away the sweat. Secure your trousers with reflective bands or they’ll get shredded in the gear chain axle. I’d advise wearing skin tight “pedal-pushers” (three-quarter length trousers) a t-shirt and a light longer sleeved jacket as a wind-breaker.  A shower is also recommended!

4. ALWAYS LOOK BEHIND YOU WHEN COMING OUT of a lane. Be it a bus stop marking or from behind a car. It’s best to wait for a gap in traffic or wait for a car that’s seen you and has therefore left space.

5. AVOID ROUNDABOUTS – it’s tricky to stay in the right lane and cars can’t always leave sufficient space and may not be looking around their lane as they come round the bend. Also, beware of slippy roads in wet weather and AVOID TRAM TRACKS – many friends have fallen off riding on these.

6. Beware of potholes on bike lanes – where I live there are quite a few! Also beware of broken glass in them. Your commute will be much slower with a puncture. Then if possible, walk to work from the end of the bike lane like I do – I’d rather take a bit more time getting there than risk my safety.

7. ANTICIPATE – just as important as when driving, leave space for people getting out of parked cars. Keep an eye on pedestrians, they may not be aware of you when crossing the road.

8. Lock both front and bike wheels to the main frame and the bar. If you are concerned about security perhaps consider insuring your bike, it’ll cost less than replacing it and perhaps less than using public transport.

9. Make sure you have a hearty lunch or a snack approximately two hours before you leave. It’s no fun cycling on an empty stomach. But don’t eat less than two hours before or your blood will be involved in digestion rather than powering your muscles.

Above all…

10. ENJOY!

Try it and write about your experience. It fulfilled my exercise needs of the day, saved me time and money, was carbon-neutral and had positive effects on my mood and productivity.

bike_to_work

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Filed under Life of Lydia, Uncategorized, Work