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Staying Safe while Out and About

Updated: 7 days ago

Last week I covered how to prepare for summer cycling in terms of personal and mechanical preparation. More detailed information is available in the Cycling Tips section of our website. This week it's time to look at how to enjoy the ride in different environments.

In our borough we are spoiled for choice on where to ride. We can ride in urban areas (keep in mind that cyclists should not ride on pavements), on the lanes of the peninsula, or off-road (the Coastal Path, around the Leadmines, Cairn Wood etc).

Chances are that when you leave your house, you'll cycle along an urban route first. Keep well away from parked cars. Many drivers do not cycle. They also do not check their mirrors before opening their doors having parked their cars. Out of principle I would keep at least 1.5m clear of a row of parked cars, especially if the mirrors are not folded in (most new cars built in the last five years have automatically folding mirrors). Folded mirrors indicate that the car is locked, making it unlikely you'll encounter opening doors.

Take the primary position when passing pedestrian islands. Many drivers still consider it appropriate to pass a cyclist there and risking pushing the cyclist into the curb or clipping your handlebars. If that happens to you, do not hesitate to report the driver to the PSNI for careless driving.

Give some thoughts to when you ride. Between 8am and 9am people are in a rush to get to work. They might not have had their first coffee yet and aren't fully awake. They may be on the school run and are chauffeuring a car full of kids arguing either among themselves or with their parents. There will be tradesmen in a rush to get to their first job. Whatever - it is not a good time to be out cycling as traffic volume will be high. The same goes for the afternoon from about 2pm onwards until about 6:30pm.

Sunday mornings can also have their moments. This is when many elderly worshippers drive to church and perhaps use their car for the first time that week. Lack of practice and poor vision can make for some unwelcome experiences from a cyclist's perspective. You may also encounter drivers who are on a mission to pick up a pint of milk and the Sunday newspaper in record time because they haven't had their first coffee yet. That's also not a good combination.

If you do want to cycle during any of those times it's probably best to either keep to the lanes on the peninsula or around Scrabo (and get there before rush hour starts) or to ride along the Coastal Path.

The North Down Coastal Path is officially designated as a Shared Use path. That means cyclists are allowed to use it. Unfortunately many walkers either do not know this or do not understand the concept of sharing, refusing to accommodate cyclists trying to pass them. Before you venture out onto the CP on your bike, install a bell on a spot on your handlebar that you can reach without having to lift your hand off the bar. You will use your bell a lot...

There is a wide range of users on the Coastal Path, some of whom are easier to deal with than others. The CP is used by various cohorts: you have experienced walkers who understand that the CP is shared and who appreciate a cyclist who rings the bell early and shows consideration by avoiding "fly-bys" (passing at a reduced speed). Make sure you give people a cheery "Thank You!" as you pass them.

Then you have the Difficult Ones: walkers who see you coming, are convinced you shouldn't be there - ignorance is bliss! - and deliberately take up as much room as possible. A cheery "Hello!" will annoy them. There is no point in getting into an argument with them. They might display a complete lack of consideration for cyclists and walk three or four abreast. Ring your bell. If you're coming towards them and they don't move, slow down, hold your line and if necessary, do a track stand. At some point they will get the message and move over to get past the stationary cyclist.

You will come up to walkers who do not move, no matter how many times you ring your bell or shout, "Good morning - bike coming up!". They don't hear you for a variety of reasons.

  • You might be riding into the prevailing wind so the sound of your bell or you voice isn't heard by the walker.

  • They may not have bothered to wear their hearing aids.

  • They may be listening to the latest podcast through earphones.

When you encounter them, you can try ringing your bell or calling out a few times. If that fails, the only thing left to do is to pull up slowly and then inch forward. At some point you'll enter their peripheral vision. At that point they will either jump out of their skin or move to the side. Should they start arguing, you can point out that you have done everything that could reasonably be expected. Fortunately the situation rarely escalates to this point. Be polite and courteous as your behaviour will reflect on all cyclists.

This is something that a certain group of e-MTBers that frequents the Coastal Path forgets, payhing scant regard to the safety of other CP users and taking pride in doing fly-pasts that not only scare walkers but in the process give all cyclists on the path a bad name. Not cool, not clever!

Then there are walkers with dogs and children. I mention the latter two in the same sentence because they share a common characteristic: they can be very unpredictable so you need to be extra cautious around them. Also, look out for dogs on extendible leads. You don't want to get entangled in one of those. Some dogs are very well trained and follow their owner's voice command. Make sure you commend the owner on a job well done. They will appreciate the compliment.

Once you are past Grey Point Fort on your way to Holywood there will be fewer walkers. That section of the CP can be rather wet and muddy after periods of rain. Leave your inner five-year old at home and don't ride through puddles at speed. Not only will you spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning your bike afterwards but, if you don't clean it, you will spend loadsamoney later replacing a worn-out drive train that's suffered from the grinding paste of chain lube, mud and sand.

When on tarmac, also avoid puddles at all costs, not so much because of the extra cleaning required but because they may hide large potholes that may cause you to crash.

If you cycle around Helen's Tower or Cairn Wood, it helps to know an Alpine Rule of the Road and Trails. Its exact definition varies from country to country but in essence it states that traffic going up has priority over traffic coming down and that a heavy vehicle has priority over the lighter/smaller one, although this can vary if the vehicle going up is closer to a passing place than the one going down. By extension, the same holds true on (Shared Use) paths. Cooperation and consideration are the keys to safe passing.

Also, respect the environment:

  • When you brake, don't rip up soft ground as that damages the soil.

  • Carry in, carry out: don't discard your litter, take it home with you or at least to the nearest bin.

  • Ideally you will leave no sign that you were ever there.

Last, when you're out in the lanes, please give some consideration to heavy vehicles. Cyclists may rank higher in the Hierarchy of Road Users but on narrow lanes you need to look out for yourself when you encounter a big combine harvester, a huge milk tanker or something similar: move completely off the road if you can. The drivers will appreciate it, especially during harvest time when they are under pressure to get the harvest in before the next downpour.

If you would like to practice with someone before going out on your own, one of our Bike Buddies would be happy assist.

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Good well thought out advice. 😀

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Thank you!!

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