Take a stroll along the pavement bordering any dual carriageway or stand at one of the junctions leading into any major city, and you’ll begin to get an idea of the importance of good preparation and safety conscious cycling once you take the decision to travel regularly on the road.
Many cyclists are more prepared than others, having either been or continuing to be motorists. They hold a distinct advantage over those who have never passed a driving test because they will have a good idea as to the importance of lane discipline and the speed with which the positioning of individual vehicles can change in a split second.
This knowledge will allow them to make allowances for these conditions when making manoeuvring decisions when they are on two wheels. However, even then their instincts require sharpening further because given the position of strength that many motorists feel cocooned in a vehicle featuring airbags and side-impact protection, a tiny miscalculation may not result in the dire consequences that face a road user who is as vulnerable as a cyclist. In short, bike riders often don’t have the luxury of making a mistake because it can be both their first and their last.
Sharing the Road
These observations are not designed to scare the inexperienced witless; but nevertheless some fear together with some respect for the capabilities of the motor vehicles that will be sharing the road with you is an essential part of the cyclist’s survival kit.
In other sections, the importance of familiarising yourself with the Highway Code has been stressed. And it can’t be stressed too highly; and not just the sections relating to cyclists but the whole manual. Because understanding the road from the motorist’s point of view will perhaps give you the advantage of being able to anticipate how they are going to react in a certain situation, whether that be a set of traffic lights, a junction, or a roundabout.
Once you feel you are ready to face the road, do so at a time of day when the traffic flow is relatively light, allowing you to get used to fast moving vehicles in front, alongside and behind you without the split-second decisions that are required during rush-hour periods. Start building your observational powers as well as your ability to communicate with fellow road users. On no account anger motorists by your actions or attempt to be overly assertive – you will most definitely not be negotiating from a position of strength.
Experience and confidence will allow you to progress in terms of dealing with road traffic but never think you know it all, and always be cautious in your approach. Again, in any collision the cyclist is inevitably going to come off worse, regardless of who had right of way.
Finally, never go out on the road if you are feeling stressed or tired. You have to be mentally sharp at all times. If, for example, your mind is preoccupied by the busy day ahead at work, leave the bike at home and head into the office by public transport. Saving on the bus or train fare is just not worth it, particularly if it could be at the expense of yourself or other road users.