I have been a commuter cyclist in London for over 10 years. There is a myth that cycling is really dangerous. In 2014, 64 per cent of people surveyed by the UK’s Department of Transport said they believed it was too dangerous for them to cycle on the road. I don't agree, whilst it can be dangerous, mile by mile, people in the UK are actually more likely to die walking than cycling, according to figures from the Department for Transport. For every billion miles cycled last year, 30.9 cyclists were killed, while 35.8 pedestrians were killed for every billion miles walked.
These are some of the areas to watch out for, the top causes of danger and incidents when urban cycling. If you are at least aware of these specific problem points, you are much more likely to be safe on your bike.
Here is a summary of the top 7 dangers to consider to radically increase your safety when cycling on the road.
- White vans and parked vehicles
- Round abouts
- Mamils (other cyclists)
- Your own bike maintenance
- Cycling with headphones
White vans & Parked vehicles
In the UK it is an offence to open a car door so as to endanger others, and section 239 of the Highway Code states: "You must ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door – check for cyclists or other traffic." Despite this, most cyclists ride too close to car doors, the advice is to leave one and a half car widths between you and a parked car.
Many cyclists don't know how to negotiate round abouts, resulting in accidents. Here is a video showing safe round-about negotiation and how to enter and exit a round about safely. It can be a matter of experience and practice and definitely eye contact and communicating with drivers helps.
But a study by academics at King’s College London showed that you’d have to cycle for nearly 10 hours a day through rush-hour traffic in the centre of the capital before the damage done by the pollution you’re exposed to outstrips the benefit you’re getting from the exercise.
Researchers from the London School of Medicine looked into this issue in 2011. According to their findings, bicycle commuters inhale more than twice the amount of black carbon particles as pedestrians making a comparable trip. The only way to reduce this is to avoid traffic hot spots by taking alternative routes wherever possible.
As a cyclist, the stink of petrol fumes as you sit in traffic behind a lorry can be deeply off-putting, but it’s worth putting the issue in perspective. A recent study by Cambridge University found that the health benefits of cycling – as well as walking – outweigh the risks caused by air pollution in 99 per cent of cities.
Masks are one solution that has risen in popularity amongst cyclists, however, many people find masks uncomfortable. One cyclist commenting on an FT article thinks in London "the simple act of staying off the main roads is far more effective than wearing a mask."
Middle aged men in lycra or Mamils are sometimes characterised by cyclists who are overly serious and competitive when cycling on the road (as well as for wearing lycra). They can sometimes be travelling too fast on the road as they try to beat their latest record. The truth is that all kinds of fellow cyclists can cause a hazard on the road including people wearing headphones, beginner cyclists, cyclists talking on the phone whilst they ride and generally unsafe cyclists.
An article in the Independent says that "police, throughout the country, show little interest in dealing with maverick cyclists who put their own lives and those of fellow road (and pavement) users in danger." Cyclist behaviour may be getting worse due to the increased number of cyclists on the road.
It goes onto say that "there’s now a tendency for those MAMILS (middle aged men in lycra) to start replicating the Tour de France on every busy suburban road or narrow rural lane."
Your own bike maintenance
Losing a chain, a bag strap getting caught in your, flared trousers getting caught in the pedals. All these kinds of mechanical and human error failures can be really dangerous for cyclists, especially if an incident happens when you are in the middle of traffic. Recently i got the strap of my son's book bag stuck around the pedal and had to stop suddenly in traffic.
Sustrans have published a simple guide of things to check regularly on your bike including how to check that your brakes are working properly and keeping your chain oiled but not too oiled! Its worth having this basic information in mind when getting on your bike. Many cyclists also ensure their bicycle is serviced once per year.
If you are using a Goodordering bicycle pannier (or other brands of bicycle bags or panniers) you also need to make sure that the straps are tucked in properly so they don't get stuck in any moving parts.
Companies such as London Bike Kitchen run introductory bicycle maintenance classes for £95 in London, where you can really build your confidence on maintaining your bike.
Cycling with headphones
Cycling with headphones on is a debate (like the helmet debate) that divides the cycling community. Many people believe that when a cyclist has headphones in, they are less responsive to the environment and traffic. Its a fact that is difficult to argue with.
However, in a cycling weekly article, A study by Dr Katrina Jungnickel and Dr Rachel Aldred found the use of music and headphones actually helped create a ‘sensory strategy’ that enabled the cyclist to cope with riding in a dangerous environment by effectively calming the overload of sensory data.
I don't think cyclists should be judged negatively for having headphones in, it really depends on what they are listening to, the volume and how that effects that specific cyclist. Drowning out the outside world with really loud music is probably not the safest thing to do, especially for novice cyclists.
Many bike accidents happen very close to home, this is because cyclists can be less alert the more familiar with the route. Some cyclists suggest different practical tactics for staying focussed and stopping the mind from drifting off when cycling a familiar route. Here are some ideas suggested by a cyclist on a chat group on this topic.
- counting cyclists (and their female/male ratio - to determine if it is Spring enough :))
- practicing bunny hops on small cracks
- exploring new routes or trying to choose the one with green wave
- practicing wheelies on climbs if there are no cars around