The growth of cycling in the UK has taken many people by surprise, especially considering the British long-standing love of the motorcar. People are embracing cycling in many ways – from the daily commute to competitive pursuits, as riding has been widely acknowledged as a great way to stay fit. However as we move into the winter months, British cyclists do need to be aware of the potential dangers and how to minimise their risk on the roads.
On average, 5.7 million UK adults cycle regulary every month and many British organisations aim to increase this number by accelerating their promotions of cycling, working hard to highlight the benefits that the sport provides. The ‘Cycle to Work Scheme’ is just one example of plans that encourage cycling commuters, promote a healthy workforce, and provide environmentally friendly travel options.
British Cycling, which has been in charge of cycling as a sport for many years, is now initiating new campaigns to encourage everyday cycling. Chris Boardman, the former Olympic and Tour de France cyclist, is currently British Cycling’s policy adviser, and has been a strong campaigner for every day cycling, noting measures to get more people on bikes would more than pay for themselves. Chris recently stated “If more people cycled to work regularly, the government would save millions on squeezed NHS budgets and our roads would be much less congested”.
Transport for London is also contributing to the cycling cause with its proposal for Cycling Superhighways throughout the UK. The immediate plan is for bike routes running from outer London into and across central London. These will provide safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city, encouraging commuters to cycle to work.
Although the popularity of cycling and more importantly, the number of cycling commuters in UK cities is increasing, safety continues to be a major concern and a barrier for many would be cyclists. There is no getting around the harrowing statistics: cycling fatalities currently account for more than 6% of all road deaths. Raising awareness of the safety issues and the hazards for everyday cyclists, especially in large cities is vital to cycling’s sustainability and growth. Earlier this year, Hövding teamed up with London Cycling Campaign for the ‘Give a beep’ campaign. Hoping to channel the frustration that many cyclists feel when commuting in busy cities, ‘Give a beep’ was designed to notify the Mayor of London whenever a cyclist was at risk; whether from high traffic speeds or volume, or a poorly designed road layout.
Good progression has been made to make cycling safe, but there is still a long way to go to improve safety for cyclists in UK cities. Below are a few changes that you can make to your own cycling regime to assist the daily commute and help to keep you safe on your bike.
Urban cycling safety tips.
Safety is something that should always be a cyclist’s number one priority – and is particularly important in the winter months. Winter means darker commutes and wetter roads, both of which can have negative impacts on cycling safety. However, there are a few basic ways to ensure you stay as safe as possible in the winter months.
Lights: If you are riding on city and town roads in the dark, you are legally obliged to have lights and reflectors. If you are using a powerful light, make sure it is angled sufficiently down towards the road and that, if you are able to do so safely, dip it to a lower power if there is oncoming traffic.
Tyres: Winter roads aren’t the place for super skinny lightweight tyres. Choose some robust rubber and opt for tougher inner tubes to stay safe. In wet conditions there is likely to be more debris on the road and, with water coating the road surface, punctures are far more common. If rain is expected, opt for a tyre with higher puncture protection. In the UK, much like in Sweden, conditions can change frequently and drastically so a sensible all-conditions tyre is often your best bet to cover all bases.
2. Head protection
One of the leading causes of cycling deaths in the UK is head injury. This is largely due to the misinformation and lack of knowledge in the cycling industry. While wearing a helmet can reduce your risk of a head injury, the lack of development and education surrounding head protection is astounding considering its importance. For example, most people don’t know that safety helmets have a limited life span, and that they should be replaced at least every five years. The expiry date is due to the manufacturing material, polymer, becoming brittle with age, therefore losing the ability to absorb the shock of a collision. For head protection, shock absorption is the main purpose of a helmet, an expired helmet could crack instead of absorbing shocks leaving your head unprotected and vulnerable.
If you are looking for advanced head protection, the recent development of airbags for cyclists can provide up to eight times more protection than traditional foam helmets. A study conducted by Stanford University highlighted the protection benefits of airbags for cyclists in comparison to conventional helmets. In contrast to a traditional helmet, when activated, an airbag helmet will detect unusual movement and in the event of an accident the airbag will fixate around the neck and head to minimise impact providing incomparable shock absorption. Although relatively new to the cycling world, airbags for cyclists are growing in popularity and are fast becoming the preferred choice of head protection in Europe for those serious about safety.
3. Commuting hours
Choosing the right time to ride can determine the amount of traffic that you meet out on the roads. As we know, busier roads mean less space for cyclists. Obviously it’s not always possible, but choosing to avoid the hours of 9am and 5pm will guarantee that you encounter a quieter and more pleasant journey.
We want as many people out on their bike as possible. Whether it is for fitness, leisure or commuting, cycling is a versatile activity that gets more than one million Brits from A to B every single day. Keeping safe, especially in the cooler, wetter, winter months doesn’t need to be such a worry. Being educated in correct safety precautions and the right protective gear, British urban cyclists can ride safe and feel free.