Lots of women tell me that the reason they don’t want to ride a bike is because they don’t feel safe on Sydney’s roads. Therefore they seek out opportunities to ride on bike paths so they can avoid interacting with cars. Interestingly the more experienced I become as a cyclist, the more I prefer riding on the road, rather than bike paths.
I find that most Sydney bike paths (and there aren’t that many of them) are cluttered with pedestrians listening to loud music via small bud earphones, dog walkers, slower bike riders and small children on bikes. All of which I like to avoid because they are unpredictable and often resentful of cyclists on ‘their path’.
Instead, I like to ride on roads and I’ve learned how to successfully do this in harmony (most of the time) with motorists. Yes I have met quite a few hostile drivers who think they are more entitled to use Sydney’s roads than I am, but overall most drivers are indifferent to cyclists on the road, and some are even super courteous and patient.
So I’d argue that Sydney roads are relatively safe for cyclists. That’s not to say that I haven’t met plenty of people who’ve been hit by cars, but without exception each of those people has returned to riding.
I have learned how riding on the road can work for me. Most of my road riding is just for fun. I do ride to work once or twice a week but I certainly haven’t given up driving my car when it’s a more convenient option. That’s not to say that riding cannot be a viable transport option for others. I just haven’t chosen to do it myself.
Here’s a few things that work for me to keep safe:
Most of my recreational road rides start early in the morning around 6 am. It’s not easy to get out of bed early, but it’s well worth it. The roads have less traffic, the early morning temperatures are mild and you can then spend the rest of your day doing other things.
Ride in a group
If you have the opportunity to ride in a group it is definitely safer. It’s fun and social but also pushes me to go faster than I would if I am riding alone. A group of cyclists are much easier for drivers to see than a lone rider.
Choose quieter roads
I choose to ride on quieter suburban streets wherever possible. I live near Parramatta Road in Sydney and I never ride on it. I quite often cross it at traffic lights but I choose not ride on it. I also avoid motorways because I don’t feel comfortable riding alongside fast moving traffic. I occasionally ride on busy roads, but only in a decent size group where it is safer to do so.
Be assertive, not aggressive
In all aspects of my life, and particularly when I’m riding my bike on the road, I consciously focus on being assertive rather than aggressive. Riding a bike amongst cars makes you very, very vulnerable and you can’t afford to be aggressive. However it’s important to assert your rights and indicate to other road users when you’re turning or merging, or similar.
It is particularly important to be visible when you’re riding on your own. Invest in good quality bike lights and wear light coloured clothing. I don’t personally wear fluorescent clothes but particularly when I’m alone I wear light coloured gear. Black has become quite trendy for cyclists of late, but be aware that you’ll blend into the road if you’re decked out in black from head to toe.
Learn the road rules for cyclists
Make sure you know the road rules and particularly those that apply to cyclists. I was a driver for many years before I took up road cycling, so I know the road rules (fairly well) and that’s pretty much what you need to know. Rules vary from state to state in Australia and internationally, so it’s best to research your own particularly set of rules, before taking to the road.