Reducing Risks BEFORE Setting Out:

Some of this might sound obvious, but I assure you it’s worth reading-

Time:

The dangers related to a specific route can vary by time of day

– Peak Traffic PeriodsRush Hour is really dangerous; folks are frequently late & in a foul mood and congestion during the School Run will increase the number of hazards and require frequent mounting & dismounting
– Early Morning: Half-asleep, late motorists speeding to their train station or workplace are deadly
 Early Evening: Many folks these days will pre-drink before going to the pub and have already had a few
– Late Evening:  More likely to encounter drivers returning from the pub unfit from drink
– Low-Light ConditionsALL elderly drivers will suffer from reduced vision to some degree: it’s just a function of ageing. I was struck by an elderly driver at night. According to insurers most accidents happen at around sunset.

Thus, the same route can have very different risk profiles depending on the time of day it’s cycled. Even cycling for a commute you have the option to leave earlier going to work or leaving a bit later to avoid busy traffic conditions.

Route:

Choose less dangerous routes amongst alternatives:

Try to plan routes that have cycle lanes wherever possible. Anything that partitions you from fast moving, deadly traffic is a good thing. Google Maps now even list routes for cyclists and this should route you via cycle lanes wherever possible. Indeed, take care using any mapping app that it’s not catering to motorists as the suggested route might be very unsuitable. My own experience reveals that Google Maps “Bicycle” option needs work. I used it to plan a route cycling my Penny-Farthing and it took me down a muddy farm track with foot-deep ruts and huge puddles.

Plan routes which AVOIDS or at least minimizes the following hazards:

– Right Turns: Staging your approach to cross if there’s a lengthy series of vehicles can be challenging for even experienced PF cyclists. Planning a route that only has left turns is ideal 

– Roads with many/severe pot holes

– Roads with many junctures and/or hidden driveways

– Blind Junctures: If unavoidable, warn unseen motorists/pedestrians of your approach with your bell/horn

– Unleashed Dogs: Usually found in parks & on trails

– Hills with Steep Gradients

     b) Uphill: Attempting to climb a hill that’s too steep to pedal up and having to dismount a PF on a hill; not good.

     a) Downhill: Speeding isn’t itself the problem, but damaged road surface, debris and/or the appearance of a large creature like a deer, fox or badger wooded hills can conceal while speeding (“Animals” section has video) can cause you to crash. Steep downhills should be cycled on your pegs to reduce the possibility of a headover.

REMEMBER: it’s always an option to dismount and walk your PF past the hazard and remount; don’t be bloody-minded and chance your arm taking unreasonable risks easily negated just by dismounting. However, what are “reasonable” risks is a function of judgement that comes with experience. So as a beginner, expect to dismount a lot and walk your PF across busy junctures…

Also, the same route which is safe on a dry, sunny day might be very dangerous in wet, icy or foggy conditions; let’s consider weather next…

Weather:

Check the weather before setting out; there’s no excuse for cycling in otherwise avoidable dangerous weather conditions. If cycling for commuting, you can either drive or take public transport for both journeys, or the leg of the journey subject to dangerous weather conditions. You don’t have to cycle in fierce weather, especially weather which reduces a motorists visibility to see you!

– Wind:  A path which was clear going out can have dangerous debris blown onto it which on the return journey which could cause a headover. If it’s been a particularly windy & stormy evening, embark on your usual route with caution, scanning for debris that might have been blown into the road.  Also, cycling in very strong winds can push you over or into the path of on-coming traffic. 

– Rain: Can create visibility hazards- both in respect to seeing other road users and they seeing YOU. Ensure that you carry a cloth which is easily accessible so that you can wipe your glasses in heavy rains. Mist is particularly bad for reducing visibility of cyclists wearing glasses- and all cyclists should wear glasses to protect their eyes from being struck by bugs or airborne debris. Also, where flooding results there can be debris in deep puddles that you can’t see.  This actually happened to a cycling partner, causing a headover, but was not seriously injured.

– Snow: On a mountain bike, cycling in snow is not a problem. On a road bike- especially a Penny-Farthing- it can be deadly. Even if you don’t dangerously slide, a speeding motorist can lose control and take you out. I do cycle my 50″ PF when it’s snowing, but only when it’s not accumulating or otherwise packed on the road surface. Also be weary of “black ice”- melted water that has frozen and not apparent; that will do you in.

Physical Condition:

When ill, tired or unfit from drinking the previous evening, don’t cycle a Penny-Farthing- or any bicycle for that matter. If your judgement or concentration is even slightly impaired, the chance of having a serious accident skyrockets.  Wait until you’re a 100% before cycling. “Tired” in the above context relates to lack of sleep, not muscle fatigue. Of course at the end of a training week our legs are fatigued; it’s our ability to concentrate that’s important.

Obviously if you know you’re going for a cycle the next morning, you can plan your night accordingly…

Stopping a Penny-Farthing is a complex operation, and so PF cyclists more than others must anticipate traffic flows and not be “surprised” by other road users/hazards. An abrupt, unplanned stop could cause the rider to be launched over the handlebars, resulting in seriously injury or death. 

What is Defensive Cycling?

You’ve probably heard the term “Defensive Driving/Cycling” described in a very general way about avoiding risks. I’m going to be very specific and define it as:

The avoidance of collision by:

– Continuously scanning sidewalks and woodlands bordering the road ahead to enable you to anticipate motorists, pedestrians, joggers & creatures who might enter the road in front of you with little/no prior warning
– Not cycling too close to parked cars: they could pull out without warning, open a car door or conceal a small child or animal joining the road
– Checking for trailing motorists & cyclist when turning or changing lane position EVEN IF YOU CAN’T HEAR THEM
– Providing sufficient trailing distance from motorists who might brake suddenly
– Continuously assessing the road surface ahead for potholes, drainage grates, speed humps & debris
– Cycling at speeds appropriate for the traffic, road & weather conditions
– Increasing your visibility to other road users by light, audible alerts & wearing high-visibility clothing
– Not cycling through deep puddles which can conceal hazards- or at least reducing speed through them
– Always having an “out”- options…

Most risks can be entirely negated or their likelihood significantly reduced through effective Defensive Cycling tactics. But not all. That is where Damage Limitation principles apply.