Travelling by bike has been my main mode of transport for number of years now, whether it’s cycling to and from work or just getting about town, its soon very noticeable how much quicker and cheaper using the bike is as your primary tool for getting about. Not to mention the health benefit and how a regular bit of cardio exercise benefits your waistline.
It’s this time of year however, when the warmth of summer is dissipating, the Scottish weather begins to really roll in and all of a sudden there’s no evening light – it just gets dark – that our commitment to pedalling for transport starts getting put to the test. For those hardy folk that choose to endure the testing conditions over the upcoming months, the extra layers and the waterproofs make the ride far more enjoyable, but it is riding safely in the adverse conditions and low visibility that is paramount. Over the years I have developed a few key safety boosting principles that can apply to cycling all year round cycling but are all the more important during the winter months for ensuring that I get to my destination safely, albeit rather more cold and wet than usual.
1 - Know The Rules and Abide By Them
Now earlier in the year there were some big changes to the Highway Code and it’s worth touching up on the new rules of the road. The big change to take note of is the Heirachy of Road Users which essentially places users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top, meaning that there is a big shift towards supporting cyclists and providing us with far more priority on on the road. Now by no means assume that bikes are now the king of the road. In relation to pedestrians, cyclists are the car that the car is to the cyclist. So if someone is walking or steps out in front of a cyclist, whether it be a cycle path, shared cycle path, park trail and even a road, that cyclists has to give way give way, give space and slow down. Don't just swerve and fly by at speed – we as cyclists don’t like being passed close and fast, and neither do pedestrians.
I generally interpret the changes as a whole to be a call to make road users more mindful, respect each other, and just don’t be a D?*K! To have more of an in-depth read of the changes Gov.uk have summed them up pretty well with links to even further info: https://www.gov.uk/government/...
Showing respect for other road users and sticking to the rules I have found in turn gives you way more respect from others. A big gripe of mine and something that all cyclist should abide by is that no matter the weather or how quiet the junction is. Don’t go through red lights, and don’t use the green man to go around the junction. It’s this kind of bending of the rules behaviour that makes a lot of Drivers’ blood boil, feeding the friction between cyclists and motorists, and decimating the respect we want as road users.
2 - Be Aware Of Other Road Users And Respect Them
The whole time that I have been a road user Cyclists have been placed awkwardly in between the pedestrian and the motor vehicle – not technically allowed to cycle on the pavement but never really given the full respect that we are entitled to while on the road. With this in mind, and the fact that road rage and frustration are everywhere on the road, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not a case of Motorist vs. Cyclist vs. Pedestrian – we’re all trying to get to a destination and through all of us respecting each others space on the road the roads are a much safer place. Unfortunately there will always be poor road users, but there’s no point in getting annoyed at any of them, you just need to work around them. I’m not going to lie – I have got heated at motorists but have found that getting angry only invites poor road decisions and dramatically compromises safety.
Something that I have also found, is that I benefit hugely from is communicating with other road users and pedestrians on shared cycle paths. In a car you are constantly checking your mirrors and looking around to see who is around you, and the same should be done whilst on your bike. Looking over you shoulder and making eye contact I have found to be hugely beneficial – it’s incredible how often in makes motorist back off when they try to squeeze past you. Let them know, that you know, that they’re there – it turns you into a person rather than just a cyclist.
Another, is say "thanks" – show that you appreciated the space given to you by motorists with a wave of the hand, and you’ll likely be surprised by the number of hazard blinks you get once you’ve let them passed. Acknowledge other road users, work with them, be wholesome, and the road becomes a much safer place. If you still aren’t confident mingling with traffic on the road then try plan your route using the huge number of cycle paths and shared cycle networks that are becoming more and more readily available. But remember to slow down for walkers, use your bell and say thanks as you pass, and remember you the car on these paths – the path that you’re using because you don’t like mixing with cars. I generally find that if I want to get somewhere quick, I can gun it along the roads. And if I’m wanting to get away from the traffic, I’ll slow down and cruise on the cycle paths.
Making sure that your bike is working properly helps ensure that it is working safely. With all the additional salt, grease, and water on the road the components on your bike corrode and wear a lot faster. Cleaning and re-lubricating your bike helps slow down this wear and also helps prevent all the contaminants negatively affecting the performance of your brakes and gears, so make sure to pick up some degreaser and lubricant ahead of the winter months. Between Fenwick’s and Finish Line we have a great range of bike care items to help keep your bike working better for longer. Take a look through the range here: https://billybilslandcycles.co.uk/shop/accessories/sub/bike-maintenance/
Making sure you’re seen whilst on the road is THE way to ensure you’re taking ownership of your own safety. If drivers cannot see you they can’t act upon you, and it’s your own responsibly to make sure that you stand out. Reflective items, high visibility clothing and road positioning are great ways to help ensure you’re noticed but the key piece of kit is good quality bicycle lights, and lots of them.
If you’ve ever been on the hunt for a set of bike lights before you’ve likely heard the terms “seeing” and “be seen” lights. If not, it's fairly self explanatory!
All rear lights come under the category of a “be seen” light and with some very powerful options available, they do a great job of boosting your presence. Just make sure you go for a good bright option. My personal favourite is Niterider's Sabre. It's one of Niterider's more basic rear lights but punching out a whopping 110 lumens for just £25 it has an exceptional £/lumen ratio.
However front lights classed under the "be seen" category, I find to be slightly deceptive as they are generally lower powered and let’s face it, not as good for being seen when stacked up next to a brighter “seeing” bar mounted lamp. Therefor these “be seen” lightsets should never be relied on alone to be seen – they just aren’t powerful enough. I’ve always felt that a set of lights can be fitted but if a driver can’t see them through a steamed up, rain splattered windscreen, the lights might as well not be fitted. When it comes to being seen effectively at night, put a price on your safety and go as big and flashy as you possibly can.
A good set of “be seen” blinkers for sure have their place though and are great for supporting some existing bar mounted lamps. By attaching them to extremities such as your helmet they do a great job at humanising the cyclists – having multiple lights moving independently of one another set you out as a cyclist and massively helps with showing other road users determine your distance from them.
It’s a bit of a no brainer that being able to see where you are going is essential in order to be able to ride your bike, let alone safely! In all seriousness though, the better you can see the sooner you can spot upcoming hazards. Whether using eye-wear such as clear lens specs to shelter your eyes from wind or rain, or making use of a bright front light to illuminate unlit paths and trails, the quicker you can identify a hazard the more time you have to act upon it and avoid it. Whether it be broken glass, pot holes, roots, dogs or pedestrians, the better you can see the less likely you will have to get off your bike, or even worse, knocked off of your bike.
Generally I have found that if you making a good effort to be seen, you’ll have a pretty descent light up front that can light up the path ahead. I’ve used quite a few lights over the years ranging in design and brightness, and my personal favourite go-to are the Niterider Swift and Lumina Combo sets that both come with the bright Sabre light I mentioned earlier. I find they offer maximum reliability and brightness for the the money, and I generally run two sets on my bike – just in case. On the front I usually have two 500 lumen Swifts with one on flash and the other on a low constant, while at the rear I use the blindingly bright Bullet, however, rated at 110 lumens the Sabre does an exceptional job of making you stand out.
We’re running a wee promotion on lights with 20% off all of Niterider and 40% off of Infini, so make sure to take advantage and boost your presence on the road this winter.
Safe riding folks!
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