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Time to get the bike out

Today the sun was out and it seemed a good day to be out and about. Obviously others though so to and the road seemed to have more than its fair share of bikes. It’s clearly the time of year to get the bike out again.

Biking is a good way to get around locally and good for exercise as well, although I was reading today that bike riding is rapidly rising up the list of causes of deaths. As well as road accidents they are also finding that people are having heart attacks whilst out keeping fit. Talk about unexpected consequences.

Bike riding is not the same thing as swimming and walking to keep fit. Both of those are usually performed in protected environments and you stop when you feel like it. That slowly gets you fit. Bike riding on the other hand takes you into dangerous environments and with many of the bikers having no road sense and no protection they are being run over by cars, buses and HGVs. On top of that they are also over exerting themselves and collapsing in the roads, probably then ready to be run over.

Don’t be one of those people. You have to treat biking seriously.

First of all when you get your bike, either from storage or from a shop, you need to check that it is fit for purpose. The brakes need to work, lights (if you have any), seat and handlebars at the correct height for you and also that nothing is loose or falling off. If not, fix them before you go out. I find that I like my seat so that I can stand with one leg on the ground, foot flat and with no strain on my leg. To achieve this I set up the seat so my foot is flat on the floor but my leg is stretched, I then lower the seat an inch or so and lock it into place. I adjust the handlebars so I am leaning slightly forward but not enough to be overbalanced and that I can put my fingers over the brake levers and operate them without strain. The levers need to be angled slightly down for that. The brake levers lock the wheel without hitting the handlebars and still spin free when released. You need to check your bike regularly to ensure it has not become dangerous to you or others.

Personally, I don’t bother with a helmet but many swear by it. It is up to you.

Now you are ready to go you need to engage your brain. Your most important tool. Road sense, like common sense, is not that common. You need to watch where you are going and consider where ever other road user is going as well. Remember, they are encased in a solid metal casing and you having the legal right of way makes no difference to the number of injuries you will receive pushing your legal rights.

Before you even go near a main road you should ensure that you can take off without wobbling all over the place, you can stop in a straight line, you can accelerate without weaving from side to side, you can indicate left or right with your arms without losing control and that you can look behind you whilst travelling in a straight line. You can practise this until you can do it well.

If you are starting biking to keep fit then remember that you can generate a lot of strain on your system and you are using muscles you have not used for a long time. Start off small distances, avoid hills and don’t accelerate too hard. Don’t overexert yourself. You will find you will soon build up your stamina and your distance will improve. Just increase the distance over time and add hills carefully. Take plenty to drink and a phone so you can get someone to pick you up if you end up too far away.

Now you are ready to go on the road. Go on the road, not the pavement that is for kids on bikes and pedestrians not grown ups on bikes.

So now you are pedalling along a road, cars will want to overtake you because you are slow. Don’t make it easy for them to squeeze past. You need to be in a road position that means they have to treat you as a road user that has to be overtaken. Being in the gutter means that you are being bounced all over the road by the pitiful state of the roadside and those car drivers think they can squeeze past you. Think about it, when they find they cannot which way will they move, towards a head on collision with a moving vehicle coming the other way or just squeeze in a bit and force you off the road? So keep yourself about a quarter to a third across the road and force cars to treat you as traffic. Watch the road ahead for potholes, objects lying in the road and other vehicles. Stop if necessary and pull in or manoeuvre safely past. You should always ensure you can stop in your visible distance. That is not normally a problem for a bike unless you are going down a hill.

In the same way when you come to overtake parked cars, or even slower moving bikes, you will see this situation coming up. Check behind you before you manoeuvre out into the road whilst about 20 to 25 yards away to ensure no cars are trying to beat you into that bottleneck. Let them past and make sure you indicate your intensions. When about 10 yards away, check behind you again, pull out and stay in position. Pull back in when you are past unless there is another parked vehicle within 20 yards. Don’t pop in and out of stopped traffic. Be careful here as car doors open, people walk out between cars and cars will drive off while you are out in the middle of the road. Don’t panic. Wave nicely while screaming abuse and stop or pull in safely.

Same with turning right on a road. Check before you move over as if you are overtaking. Indicate in plenty of time and pull over to three quarters of the way to the crown of the road whilst still about 10 to 15 yards away. If you have to stop due to oncoming traffic put your foot on the ground with your arm indicating your intention and watch both ways until the way is clear for you to cross.

When you come to junctions you should stay behind cars at the same distance but who does? We slip up the side while they are stopped to the front of the queue. This is dangerous because drivers are not aware of you and when they start moving they don’t know you are there. Your clothes can get caught in their mirrors or other decor and you get dragged under the wheels. Not a good move. Keep well clear when you are moving up inside and when you get to the front move out past the line into the front drivers view. Look at the driver and make sure he sees you. He may not be happy but he won’t deliberately run you over and now he sees you he won’t accidentally do it either. Don’t stop by the line alongside a vehicle. Make sure that the instant the light changes you start moving. Not too early though.

Because you are in a silent vehicle you also need to take care of pedestrians. They walk out in front of you without looking. Even worse are the women with prams that get pushed out into the roads first. Do not get into the habit of swerving into the road. As one day there will be another vehicle there and you will be the one who comes out worst off. Always swerve left. Avoid the pram. If you can’t stop or avoid a collision with the pedestrian remember it is their fault anyway so you don’t need to feel guilty.

If you are going down a hill be careful that your speed does not build up too much. Bike brakes are not too good at the best of times. They will not stop you quickly when you reach the bottom of the hill or find a pothole or object in your path.

At night and during dusk and dawn you should always have lights on. There are some really good lights out there that strobe and make you extremely visible. If you have a dynamo type get rid of it, they are dangerous because when you stop you are dark, and for £10 you can get a good light set. Same with the weather. If it is raining drivers visibility is reduced. Put your lights on but consider that they may not see you even with the lights on. So take care if the weather is bad. Many of us won’t have this problem because we won’t be out on a bike in bad weather anyway but if you are take care.

Finally, emergency manoeuvres, one day you will meet an idiot who will cause you to crash, either by cutting you off or driving in front then stopping. Don’t swerve into the road but instead into the side, hedges may cut you, walls may hurt you and damage the bike while falling may injure your pride and break a bone but you won’t be run over by a vehicle which tends to leave you badly injured or dead. Being right does not give you a shield.

Just some basic tips. Take care out there, keep yourself fit and/or save the planet and/or save some money.

2 comments to Time to get the bike out

  • Lightspeed

    Another thought provoking article SD, the humble bicycle as serious means of transport not just a means of keeping fit. Its capable of carrying a person and a considerable load over very long distances an over rough terrain. It does so almost silently, and is more energy efficient than walking. Distances of 80 to 100Km per day are completely viable.

    I’ve chosen to use an old-school, good quality, non-suspension steel framed MTB. It was cheap to acquire (local refuse tip)and has proven to be simple to repair. Pannier racks are also steel for strength and repairability. Refurbishing this old bike myself has had the advantage of ensuring that I now have a toolkit with which to keep it working for a long time.

    Disagree with you about dynamo lighting though, especially if super bright LED lighting is used. What better lighting solution for after a major event?…. not that I would necessarily want to cycle around fully illuminated in that scenario! Also, for the time being, there are dynamo light units (not the dynamo itself)that have small rechargeable cells within them that switch in to power LED pilot lights as soon as current stops being supplied. This means that even when you stop at traffic lights etc you are showing illumination…….

  • Skean Dhude

    Lightspeed,

    If you can get a dynamo that keeps the light on when you stop then fine. It is a good idea. This article was talking about now when batteries are readily available and my experienceof dynamos is the older type.

    I also think a dynamo is beter for when TSHTF as it doesn’t need batteries.

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