Allow me to preface this by saying I’m in no way an expert on cycling but I have learned a few things in my 5 years on the bike. Methods for enhancing safety are an interest of mine, aside from developing my own I’ve read those of others and had many a discussion. I’d like to share in an ongoing series, some principles I’ve built up that I believe enhance my safety. This first part looks at the not so obvious information you can gather. Roadcraft is the result of combining information and best practice in a way that makes you predictable and better still, affords you powers to predict others.
It’s all too easy to slip into auto pilot, the most passive of travel takes barely any attention at all. Most road users rely on direct visual information to let them know what dangers they need to respond to but we have five senses and brain power. I’ve almost made a game of discovering ways I can better predict traffic actions.
It’s important to retain a reasonable level of hearing. Never wear a pair of headphones that block all sound; no noise cancelling and no obscene volume levels. It may be appropriate to pull out the headphone that faces traffic (rather than the curb side one) if you have chosen headphones. With your hearing engaged you can infer a number of things:
- Size of vehicle by engine type and tyre noise. If you hear diesel be wary of the amount of draft that will be coming past…and anecdotally, mid size diesels in this locale are more often hostile (i.e. 4WD rather than truck/VW)
- The presence of a vehicle, you may need to reposition for visibility or to enable a pass on rural roads. Be aware that it may be appropriate to move single file periodically on narrow, low traffic roads
- You can hear vehicles approach side streets ahead of you
- Hearing car doors may mean someone is about to leave a drive way/parallel park or that a roadside door might open
- You can hear frustration in the form of yelling or horns, this will allow you to prepare for situations where judgement may be rash
- Tyre skid, collisions and fallen objects can be heard before you may see them, thus enabling you to adjust more smoothly
- The sound of a car’s suspension/tyres rolling through or over obstacles can assist you to pick a safe line to dodge potholes or other impediments
- You may hear loose surface debris before you feel or see it, be aware that turning too hard if you’ve come across a gravel or sand patch may loose traction
Our vision is pretty well trained as cyclists to spot danger but are you taking as much awareness as you can?
- Headlights! You’ll see the beam of headlights approaching a side street long before you see the vehicle. Additionally, you can look for reflectives to get a long distance heads up – street signs and pedestrian arches have reflective strips that will light up at quite a distance, look for these opposite side streets. Signs facing you will give you a heads up that a vehicle is approaching behind.
- Tail lights! The same principles above can work here, particularly to let you know that a car may reverse or leave parking
- Attention level/intoxication can be gauged by the ability of a driver to stay within their lane boundaries or generally drive a smooth line. Drunk and distracted drivers will of course tend to wander. You’ll see they react slowly to changes in conditions such as stop-start traffic and light changes. Don’t position yourself somewhere where these traits can bite you
- Pedestrian activity at the roadside, particularly when holding a distraction (phones!). It’s not at all uncommon that they’ll only at best be listening/looking for a car that’s much larger and louder than you and may step into your path. Pedestrians near parked cars may be intending to enter the roadway to get in the vehicle or may be an indicator someone remains in the car that may open a door
- Puddles. We may already wish to avoid them but be aware that the nature of a puddle basically means there’s some sort of defect in the surface, this may be a substantial pothole or a blocked drain
Use your senses in any constructive way you can in order to build a better picture of what’s going on around you. Situational awareness allows superior decision making, superior decision making means lower chance of incident. I’d be a liar if I said this could be reduced to zero but living leads to death. Enjoy your life while making decisions to extend it, statistically you’ll be doing so be being fit and happy. Happy riding.