When I speak to would-be female road cyclists, they often say that the main thing holding them back is riding safely on the road. I, too, fear the roads, or more specifically a small number of aggressive drivers on the roads, but there are plenty of things you can do as a cyclist to keep yourself safe. It’s no guarantee, but practicing the following things may help conquer your fear, and keep you as safe as you can be.
Be clear and assertive
Make sure you show your intentions to other road users by signalling with your arms when you are turning left or right. That doesn’t mean you have to negotiate every corner with your arm stuck out, but when you know there’s a car on your tail or coming towards you, clearly stick out your arm to indicate where you are turning before you reach the corner. If you are riding with other riders make sure you don’t poke their eye out with your overly keen signals!!
Be assertive as a road user. If you hesitate or slow down too much a driver will take that as an invitation to take your right-of-way. That doesn’t mean you should go charging into roundabouts but if you appear unsure, you’ll find yourself being ‘walked’ all over.
Know when to back down
I’ve encountered plenty of aggressive drivers who’ll make it their mission to get in front of me no matter what, and they’ll come too close when passing. I’ve learnt that it’s better to get out of their way rather than try and take them on. A person driving a one-tonne plus car will always win against a person riding a 10 kg bicycle so put your safety first and let them get on their way. You’ll arrive at your destination a lot less stressed.
Obey the road rules
This one is a no-brainer. If you want other road users to treat you with respect, then you need to obey the rules of the road. Most cyclists are also drivers so we all should know the rules, at the least the main ones. This includes stopping at red lights.
Read my previous blog post about road rules for a refresher.
There seems to be a trend (yes cyclists do succumb to fashion trends) towards dark coloured cycle kit. I wear mostly light coloured kit so I can be seen more easily. That doesn’t mean that most of my knicks aren’t black because they are, but most of my jerseys are light colours and I always go with light colours when I’m riding alone.
Having bright front and rear lights on your bike is another no-brainer. I see heaps of cyclists riding around in the dark or low light with no lights. That’s insane in my view. Invest in good quality lights and keep them charged up if they are rechargeable.
Ride to the conditions
You’ll sometimes find yourself riding in conditions that aren’t ideal. If it’s raining then slow down, turn your lights on and keep an extra special eye on the traffic because drivers will have more difficulty than usual in seeing you.
In foggy conditions also slow down and keep an eye out. If necessary call off your ride or head for the cafe early.
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 is much easier for drivers to see than a lone rider.
Choose quieter routes
Avoid main roads when you’re planning a ride and if you do use them, then go early in the morning when there’s not much traffic. There are usually plenty of back streets that follow a similar route to arterial roads so plan your ride well in advance.
Above all, stay safe and have fun. Road riding is a fantastic past time if approached the right way.