The Pedal Power Association, a Public Benefit Organisation with more than 18 000 members, launched the very successful ‘Cyclists Stay Alive at 1.5’ campaign back in 2011 which resulted in a 1-metre passing law which was promulgated in 2013 in the Western Cape. The current STAY WIDER OF THE RIDER campaign urges motorists to pass cyclists at a safe distance of at least 1 metre or more. Statistics show that almost all cycling fatalities on our roads are caused by cyclists being hit by a motor vehicle from behind or when a vehicle underestimates the speed of a cyclist and turns in front of the cyclist. Cyclists have almost no protection when they are involved in an accident, so by giving them adequate space on the roads, motorists can avoid accidents that can cost precious lives.
Winter is a time of year that’s however notorious for accidents. Cyclists need to ensure they take precautions to ensure that they feel safer and therefore more confident to cycle in dark, inclement conditions.
1. Light up
It’s illegal to ride a bike in the dark without lights and reflectors so make sure your bike has good lights, fitted where they can be seen.
Advances in lighting technology means you don’t have to rely on heavy but feeble lamps that need new batteries every few days. Instead, invest in powerful, lightweight LED lights that have beams to rival car headlights, and are rechargeable via USB and last for hours between charges.
2. Be seen
Reflective clothing should be top of your list. Reflective strips work by reflecting back any light that plays on them and has nothing to do with colour. Use knee and ankle strips too as the constant movement can alert drivers to your presence.
3. Position yourself so that you are visible
You should always be at least 50cm from the pavement, and sometimes further. Positioning yourself further into the road makes you more visible and forces cars to overtake properly or wait until it is safe to do so. And if you’re worried about inconveniencing other traffic, don’t: you are traffic too.
4. Check your bike regularly
Look after your bike and be sure to check your brakes, gears and lights. There’s more detritus on the roads at this time of year and that can affect the performance of your bike, especially when it comes to braking.
You’ll also have to clean your bike more often as rain in winter can cause corrosion. And it’s an idea to look at changing your tyres for something more suited to wet weather or to ones that are puncture resistant. Run them at a slightly lower pressure than usual for better grip on the road.
5. Be vigilant
It is obviously much harder to see things in the dark and that includes potholes and pedestrians as well as other traffic. Watch out for slippery roads as temperatures drop.
Remember as well you can’t make eye contact with a driver on a dark evening so don’t assume they’ve seen you. And don’t wear headphones at any time, it’s against the law and doing so knocks out a very important sense if your ability to see is impaired.
6. Dress properly
Making sure you’re warm and dry go a long way to making sure you’re comfortable on the bike in winter. Layering is key with a base layer to wick sweat from the body, a light mid-layer to keep you warm (but can also be removed if you heat up) and a wind-proof outer layer with reflective strips. If it rains use a thin rain cape or jacket. And don’t forget your extremities: numb fingers aren’t just uncomfortable; they could also cause you to lose control of your bike.
7. Get a grip
A good set of tyres go a long way to prevent unnecessary skidding. Inflating the tyres a little less than summer will improve traction in slippery conditions.
8. Pedal on safely
Pedals get slippery in the wet too. If you are not comfortable with clip-in pedals, invest in some with extra grip, they are really easy to fit
9. Riding tips
- Start slowly so that your body can warm up properly
- Leave extra time to cycle slower in wet conditions
- Remember braking is up to six times longer when rims are wet
- Avoid puddles that might hide potholes or other road hazards