Yesterday I went for a ride along part of the Columban Way, along the Coastal Path from Bangor West to Carnalea and Helen’s Bay. It was encouraging to see that after over six years the make-shift repairs of the railroad underpass at Helen’s Bay Station have finally been replaced by something a little more substantial than the previous bits of scaffolding. Even though I am not a civil engineer, it is obvious that the new arrangement is not a long-term solution either – still, it’s better than nothing.
Having taken a photo I continued on my ride and headed south on the Columban Way to Crawfordsburn. From the Ballyrobert Road underpass all the way to the A2 there are many sections of trail that have been completely washed away by the recent heavy rain and are best tackled on a mountain bike. At the trail access gate a black Nissan SUV had parked on the cycle path. In retrospect, perhaps I should have taken a photo but I didn’t want to interrupt my ride again. Business as usual then: drivers mistake clearly marked cycle paths for convenient parking bays.
The A2 cycle path is in the worst shape ever, but at least I had a tailwind. Continuing along the Old Belfast Road I signalled left as I prepared to turn into Killean Avenue (the Tesco turn-off). I had just been passed by a Land Rover Discovery going grocery shopping. A black Renault Megane was waiting to turn right off Old Belfast Road into Killean Avenue. When I was about 10m away from the intersection, the Renault commenced to pull into Killean Avenue. Whoa! Time to brake and scrub off enough speed to avoid dooring the Renault. The Megane went on its way, and as I couldn’t get a good look at the driver because of its reflective windscreen (photo for illustration of the windscreen), I assumed that it was a boy racer in a hurry.
When I saw the driver pull in and park next to Ulster Bank I decided to find out why that close miss had happened and pulled up next to the car. I waited until the driver (an elderly gentleman with glasses) had shut off his engine and had opened his door.
The following conversation ensued:
Cyclist: “Good morning! How are you today?”
Driver: “Good, thank you. Why do you ask?”
Cyclist: “I am just curious: Did you not see me at the intersection back there?”
Driver: “What intersection?”
Cyclist: “Where you turned from the Old Belfast Road into Killean Avenue.”
10 second pregnant pause…
Cyclist: “Just to confirm: you actually didn’t see me, indicating that I was turning left into Killean Avenue?”
Cyclist: “You pulled out in front of me as you were turning right. You didn’t respect my right of way and forced me to brake to avoid being taken out by you. I see you are wearing glasses. Please get your prescription checked . And please, look out for cyclists!"
Driver: “I apologise. I didn’t see you.”
Cyclist rolls his eyes and departs…
If you have been following this blog for a while you might remember a post from three months ago titled “SMIDSY” (Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You) - which is exactly what happened to me yesterday. If you haven't read it, please do.
Here are some tips to avoid these unwelcome occurences:
Never assume anything. A flashing indicator doesn’t necessarily mean a car is turning and it’s safe for you to pull out in front of it. The only thing that flashing indicator tells you is that it’s is working…
Make eye contact with the driver and try to make sure the driver has actually seen you. This was my problem yesterday: because of the reflective windscreen I could not do that check. Fortunately, as I realised that I had already commenced to slow down in preparation for the unexpected. (Shameless plug: I can highly recommend the IAM Roadsmart Courses. They make driving and riding a much safer experience.)
Ride at a speed that leaves you escape options in case the unexpected happens. This is true on-road as much as it is true off-road. Whether it’s a car that’s turning in front of you when it’s your right-of-way or you’re barrelling down a windy forest track that suddenly presents you with a bunch of wet and slippery tree roots, ride within your ability and your field of vision.
Lights and reflective clothing make you more visible. I had my rear light and camera on but as it was a sunny day I didn’t bother with a front light. Who knows – perhaps that flashing light would have alerted the driver to my presence? I think I’ll put one on now as a matter of course.
Be aware of where you ride. Bangor’s demographics are very mixed: we have young families and a lot of retirees. Young people often are in a hurry while elderly drivers’ visual acuity, depth perception and hearing in many cases could be negatively impacted by old age. Make allowances for that, not just on the road but also on any shared paths. Be very careful when you come up to children and dogs and refer back to point 1 – either cohort can be totally unpredictable.
Be self-critical. When you do run into a "situation", analyse what you could have done to prevent it and learn from the experience. During the incident above my advanced training kicked in and allowed me to defuse a potentially rather dangerous situation. What could I have done better? Refer to points 2, 3 and 4 above.
Finally, remember: Nobody is perfect! Expect the unexpected.