Monday, January 2, 2012

How to Have a Safe and Pleasant Cycling Journey

It is heartening to see that there are more and more people picking up cycling in Singapore. Be it for commuting or just leisure cycling, I have noted that there are more people on bikes compared to perhaps a year ago. However, I feel that although many cyclists know how to ride a bicycle, they do not know how to ride safely. Therefore, I have written a short list of Do's and Don'ts for cycling. By adhering to these simple guidelines, it will go a long way in ensuring your personal safety while riding.

Cycle safe, cycle fun!


Do

  • Ensure that your bicycle is in good working condition before every ride:
To avoid having troublesome or even dangerous breakdowns during a ride, do check that the bicycle is functioning properly. The bare minimum to check would be the brakes, the tire pressure and any folding joints if you ride a folding bike.

  • Bring your own tools and spares:
Bare essentials include a pump, tire levers, spare tube or patch, and a multi-tool. Learn to use these tools! Do not expect people to give you their spare tubes or repair your bike for you, although there may be kind souls who will do so.

  • Ride in a single file:
This allows vehicles enough room to overtake safely. If the vehicle overtakes in the next lane, there is plenty of room between bicycle and vehicle. Also, the cycling group will be seen as taking up less space on the road, as compared to riding two abreast and taking up the whole lane.

Additionally, staggering the line slightly can increase each rider's visibility of the road, as you can see further down the line without being blocked by the rider directly in front of you. Alternate riders (Eg, 2nd, 4th, 6th rider and so on) can ride slightly to the right of the cyclist in front, take note not to go too close or overlap wheels!

  • Check your blind spot before filtering left or right:
Similar to driving a car, please turn your head to check if there are any riders on your left or right before you change lanes or overtake. A mirror helps, but cannot substitute the final backward-glance. Which brings us to the next point...

  • Ride in a straight line even when you turn your head to glance behind:
Many riders, especially new riders, cannot keep a straight line when they turn their heads to look behind. Please practice this, so that you do not drift into other riders when you check your blind spot.

  • Keep to your lane, especially when cornering.
Do not drift wide when cornering and knock other riders off! Ride predictably.

  • Use hand signals whenever possible:
This will let the riders behind you know your intention. Essential signals include turning left, right, stopping or slowing down. If you see an obstacle, do point to it so that other riders can also spot it. Sometimes, it is difficult to take one hand off the handlebar because of the bumpy road, but do signal if it is safe to do so.

  • Echo warnings up or down the line
Warnings such as "Hole!" will allow other riders to be prepared to avoid obstacles, whereas it is good practice to shout "Car Back!" to the riders in front to remind them to keep left to avoid the cars coming up from the back. Do repeat the warnings either up or down the line to ensure that everyone gets the message.

  • Brake to a sufficiently low speed before entering a corner:
Braking while cornering can be dangerous, especially if you brake hard and lock up your front or rear wheel. This will cause your bike to skid and you will most likely crash. A safer way to tackle steep, curvy downslopes is to brake before the corner, to a speed which is slow enough for you to take the corner without braking. During cornering, just concentrate on maintaining a good cornering line, you can feather the brakes if you need to scrub off some more speed. Keep your inside pedal up to prevent the pedal from hitting the ground.

  • Cross drain-grilles-that-run-parallel-to-the-road by riding diagonally across them:
This applies to slim road tires. Go across these drain covers diagonally so that your tires do not get stuck in the gap and send you flying.

  • Concentrate on riding, especially when on the roads:
While on park connectors, it is generally OK to ride two abreast and chat, but while on the roads, it is good practice to ride in a single file (most of the time). Concentrate on what's ahead of you, especially if the road is bumpy with many "patches", or in heavy traffic. You never know when you need to swerve to avoid a pothole or a plank on the ground.

  • Practise defensive riding:
This means anticipating danger before it arises. If you see the rider in front fumbling or coming to a stop, either prepare to stop, or do a quick check at your blind spot before overtaking. Same for buses pulling out of bus bays. Put your fingers on the brake levers when passing through traffic junctions, so that you can brake in time in case a car decides to cut you off with a right turn from the opposite lane.

  • Take the entire lane if it is safer to do so:
Sometimes, the lane is too narrow for a car to overtake you safely. Examples are sliproads with zebra crossing, single lane roads with kerbs on both sides, single lane roads with curves and blind corners, right turn lanes, etc. If you try to keep left on these narrow lanes, some vehicles will try to squeeze past you, forcing you to the kerb. Ride in the middle of the lane, so that there is no way they can squeeze past you. If they horn at you, just offer an apologetic wave (not the finger!), and try to clear the section as soon as possible.

  • Stay on the left-most right turn lane when turning right:
Sometimes there is more than one right turning lane. In this case, keep to the left-most right turning lane, which is usually the second lane. This ensures that after the right turn, you will already be on the left most lane. While waiting for the turn and during the turn, take the entire lane as it prevents other vehicles from getting too cozy.

If the right turning lane is also a straight moving lane, and you are the first vehicle in line, move towards the centre of the junction as you wait for the right turn, so that you do not impede straight moving vehicles. If there are right turning vehicles in front of you, just wait patiently behind them.

  • Respect the traffic rules on the road:
Many cyclists think it is OK to run a red light, as long as there are no cars going in the perpendicular direction. This is especially true for 3-way junctions. There may be no danger to you, but there will be drivers and passengers in the cars, pedestrians standing around, all watching you as you flout the rules and dash through the red light. If we want to be taken as a legitimate road user, we have to follow the traffic rules first! Just a few black sheep will spoil the image of cyclists for everyone. People will pick on the 10% of cyclists that run the red light, not the other 90% that abides by the traffic rules.

  • Pay attention to pre-ride briefings:
The organiser will brief everyone on the route and the danger spots to look out for. Please take note and be responsible for your own safety. If unsure, please ask! Ultimately, your safety is in your own hands.

  • Have proper bicycle lighting for night rides:
It is difficult for other vehicles to spot you at night, you will need lights to increase your visibility. At the very minimum, you will need a white blinker in front and a rear blinker at the rear. The more lights the better! These lights are not there for you to see the road, it is for other people to see you. Also, ensure that the batteries in the lights are not dying.

Reflectors are not bright enough to be seen, and rarely work effectively. Wearing bright or even reflective clothing will help a lot by increasing your visibility at night.


Don'ts

  • Ride too close to the rider in front, especially on leisure rides:
For leisure rides, there is no need to draft. Drafting requires skill, practice, coordination and proper riding etiquette, it is not just about following close and staying on the wheel. Leave drafting to the road racers and professionals. Keep a safe following distance, at least 1 bike length, so that you have sufficient time to react should anything happen in front. On downhills, please keep further away, I suggest at least 20 metres behind!

  • Overtake on a blind corner:
Especially on downslopes with bends, do not overtake during a corner! You never know what cornering line the rider in front is going to take. Will he be going wide or cutting in? If you touch wheels, both of the riders will crash. Wait for a suitable straight stretch of road before overtaking safely, with a good side clearance.

  • Make sudden movements or stops:
While riding, if you find a need to stop, such as if you dropped something or need to tie your shoelaces, do not just brake and stop without warning! The rider behind you may not be able to react in time. What you should do is to signal that you are stopping and slow down gradually, and pull off to the side.

  • Use your phone or fiddle with your gadgets while riding:
It is dangerous enough to drive while on the phone, it is even more so while cycling! Similarly, don't attempt to play with your iPod or GoPro while riding, not only is it unstable to ride with one hand, it will distract you from the riding. If there is an urgent need to answer a call, please stop at the side of the road.

  • Insist on your right of way:
If the car on the side road insists on pulling out in front of you, let it go. If the car in the opposite lane wants to make a right turn and cut you off, slow down and let it pass. If the bus is already inching out of the bus bay, let it come out first. In an accident involving cyclists and cars, cyclists will always be on the losing end. Protect yourself with your defensive actions, not the rulebook. Moreover, it can be fun to wave a car to move on!

  • Run red lights:
As stated in the Do's section, please follow the traffic rules. It is not just about your safety or other riders' safety, it is also about the image of cyclists. Show other road users that cyclists can also be law-abiding and legitimate road users, not a second-class breed that ignores all rules and belongs neither on the road nor the pavement.

  • Get agitated by unreasonable road users:
There are some narrow-minded people out there who believe that cyclists do not belong on the roads. Even if you are cycling on the left of the left lane, and the vehicle is passing on the right lane, these drivers will still use the horn as they pass you. No need to get agitated. What is important is that you are safe. Those drivers are horning at you because they are angry that they need to pay road tax, while you are enjoying your ride for free. 

  • Ride too close to a parked vehicle:
You never know when someone is going to open the door right in your path and send you flying. Check your blind spot, then filter to the right, far enough so that even if the door opens, you will not be hit.

  • Ride too close to the left of the lane:
Many new riders like to stick too close to the left of the lane, riding on the yellow lines or even inside the yellow lines. This is very dangerous, as there are lots of road debris or drain covers that can make you lose control of the bike. A much safer place to ride would be just outside the double yellow lines. If a vehicle comes too close, you still have space to move in slightly.

  • Squeeze to the front of the waiting vehicles when stopped at the traffic light:
If you squeeze to the front, it makes it difficult for the cars to overtake you when the lights turn green. No point slowing them down. A safer and friendlier way is to take the middle of the lane and wait behind the cars. Behave like a car. Let them move off first, you will catch up with them at the next traffic light anyway.

  • Ride on metal drain covers or lane markings when it is wet:
When wet, metal surfaces or painted lines on the roads can be treacherous. There is practically no friction when you ride on them. If it is unavoidable, ride in a straight line over these surfaces, do not brake or turn when you are travelling on these slippery surfaces. Attempting to corner while on these surfaces will cause your tires to slip (no matter knobbly or slick tires) and cause a wipeout.



Summary
This list of Do's and Don't is by no means exhaustive or definitive. There may be cases where these rules don't apply. However, these guidelines have served me well, and I have managed to avoid some accidents because I applied defensive riding. After all, safety begins with yourself, no one else is responsible for your own safety!

Please spread the safety message, share the guidelines, ride safe and have fun!

3 comments:

  1. Good stuff. I guess if you go with the Law of Averages, accidents will happen at some point in time. Try to ride in smaller groups - break up into flights of 7.

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  2. Smaller groups are more manageable, easier to keep the group together. especially important for urban settings with many traffic lights.

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  3. Mr Brown's cycling guide in 2008 is still very applicable today http://www.mrbrown.com/blog/2008/07/mrbrowns-quick.html

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