How to cycle

7 Oct


My very own Purple Beauty

Ever since rescuing my Mum’s old Raleigh from garage obscurity two summers ago, I have been an avid cyclist. Not one of those annoying types sporting unnecessary lycra and wierd back pouches, but just your average person getting around on a bike.

It’s so much cheaper than Bristol’s  ridiculous transport system, that now, each time a bike malady forces me onto public transport, I recoil at the (invariably late) driver’s request for £3.80 to travel a mere 12 minutes on a vehicle whose Metro-supply is never assured.

I have always been aware that I am probably a cause of consternation for drivers and cyclists alike – helmet-less, occasionally light-less and nearly always quite slow – but it is only recently, after cycling long distances on a regular basis, that this began to bother me. After one wasted afternoon in the office listening to Radio 4 (and just praying that it wasn’t the day for Gardener’s Question Time), I came across the sad story of a woman whose daughter had died in a bike accident involving a rubbish truck. This spurred me on to do something constructive at work, and so I researched cycle safety practice. But, oh the contradictions!

Do you keep to the left, or will that cause you to get squished by a blind-sighted tall vehicle? Is it more sensible to be careful or aggressive? It seemed that much of the perceived wisdom on this topic went against my unfounded presumptions, so I decided to change my ways.

First, a few simple rules:

Never, but never cycle up the left of a rubbish truck – it will kill you.

Don’t keep to the left if there are railings of death waiting to crush you

No more radio on the bike. Concentrate.

Now I hear from John Franklin, author of Cycle Craft, and guest on today’s You and Yours Radio 4 programme, that cycle lanes are causing 10% of accidents, but I thought they were like a magical safehaven, guarded by impenetrable lines. Oh, the confusion.

I need some advice. Comments required!


6 Responses to “How to cycle”

  1. Joanna October 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    Hi, I don’t have any cycle advice apart from wear a helmet, so I posted on twitter instead!/stillawake . Good luck! I like the bike and the blog 🙂

    • lbellinbristol October 9, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

      I think you’re right. I’ve been avoiding helmets because im lazy and i have a lot of dreads, which would necessitate a large hunk of a helmet to carry around with me, but I think I should have a rethink and sort my priorities out

  2. James Chorlton October 9, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    I used to cycle to work from westbury to victoria street, untill i moved closer to work.

    I often had near misses, and once went flying. My advice would be to keep your head up looking for trouble, and presume that every road user is out to kill you. And as you said, never overtake a long vehicle unless your on a straight and going fast enough to zip past.

    Plus I cant put enough emphasis in to saying “Where A Helmet!!!”.


  3. Matthew October 9, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    I can recount a true story which may help out in one aspect of your cycling.

    I’m from Australia, our roads are much wider and easier to travel on (for motorist and cyclist alike) than those I’ve seen over here in the UK. We also have laws in all States which *require* cyclists to wear a helmet.

    I’ve had friends complain about these laws and never really had a view one way or the other. Mainly because I rode a motorcycle and, despite the fact I wouldn’t ride it without a helmet, I figured cyclists only go slowly does it really matter?

    I was riding my motorcycle home from work in a light rain one afternoon and as I turned a corner I struck a patch of diesel on the road. Diesel on a wet road is exceptionally slippery and my motorcycle went down underneath me. My head and right shoulder hit the ground with thud and a sickeningly loud crunching sound. I was going about 60kph the impact and I later learned that I had broken my shoulder blade – horizontally (figure that one out) – but because of my helmet, aside from mild dizziness & a bit of a headache, my head was A-OK. An ambulance came to collect me and I was trundled into my local A&E.

    My job meant that I had spent a fair bit of time in the A&E (not for me) and I was known by many of the regular staff, we had a chat and they wheeled me into the diagnostic imaging wing for scans and x-rays etc. While I waited there I watched as another trolley was rushed along the hall toward me, there were A&E Doctors and Nurses swarming all over it. They were yelling and rifling through draws on a separate trolley of medications that was matching their pace.

    The trolley went through the door into a nearby room. I could still hear them talking to each other, the sounds of their urgency easily carrying through the door. I heard their voices became more urgent and the tone changed to something akin to fiercely controlled panic until finally they went silent. There was some soft whispering and after another 15 minutes or so the team walked out, the trolley followed them and it was obvious it’s passenger had died despite all the attempts made to save his life.

    After my scans were completed I was waiting in A&E to be discharged and chatting to one of the Doctors I know while he had a coffee break. I mentioned what I had seen earlier and I could see he was disappointed that they’d failed to save the man’s life. I asked what had happened and he told me; the man was a cyclist, he had been riding his racing style bicycle on a wide open & quiet road and there was no traffic. He had ridden over a grate in the road and the skinny front tyre of his racing bike had slipped into one of the holes and his bike came to a dead stop throwing him forward over the handle bars. His head had struck the ground hard enough to fracture his skull.

    A pedestrian who saw him come off and called for the ambulance reported that he had been riding at about a walking pace.

    He had not been wearing a helmet and hit the ground at a walking pace. I was wearing a helmet and hit the ground at 60kph.

    • lbellinbristol October 9, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

      That’s scary. I’ve nearly come off the bike getting stuck in the grates on the path by the old industrial museum several times, but never really worried about that kind of thing. It’s wierd that there’s a school of thought that says wearing a helmet is more dangerous because it makes you feel ‘safer’, but I find that very hard to believe. Think I’ll be off to the bike shop this week!

  4. Matt Gibson October 9, 2010 at 8:04 pm #

    Well, the best advice I could give is to read Cycle Craft. It’s hands down the best book on not dying on a bike there is.

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