The beautiful South African scenery allows for much enjoyment on the road and the number of competitive cyclists is also on the increase. Competitions are well organised and there is careful attention to safety details - it is however during training that cyclists have to deal with the dangers caused by other road users, harsh conditions of nature and the perils of bad road conditions.
Cycling safety has become a major concern on the South Africa roads as there has been a significant increase in the number of fatal accidents involving cyclists.
What are the problems facing cyclists in traffic?
Vulnerability: Cyclists pose little threat to drivers and hence drivers have less reason to be aware of them. Speed is key in determining severity of outcome. If collision speed exceeds 45km/hour, there is a less than 50% chance that the cyclist will survive. Even at low impact speed, cyclists can be badly injured. Helmets offer protection but helmet use varies by age, gender and location. Speed management is therefore crucial in a safe traffic system aiming to provide for vulnerable road users.
- Flexibility: Motorists can never be sure when or where to expect cyclists – often cyclists flout road rules to make gains.
- Instability: Cycle mistakes or failures are dangerous when they occur near other motor traffic/road users.
- Invisibility: Cyclists are difficult to see and can be hidden, especially at night.
- Differing abilities: Cyclists of all abilities and experience are present on the roads.
- Consciousness of effort: Cyclists seek quick, easy, direct routes, so as to minimise effort.
- Estrangement: Cyclists are often treated as nuisances on the roads, with little regard paid to their status as road users with equal rights.
It is with these risks in mind that we would like to offer suggestions that might increase safety on the road and reduce the risks of accident and injury.
Planning your route and time of training
What is the best time to cycle and how should I plan my cycling training?
Internationally the numbers of cyclists killed/injured varies spatially and temporally. Most accidents occur on weekday afternoons and the risk of cycle accidents is 4-5 times greater in darkness than in daylight.
The crux of the cyclist safety problem centres on the fact that there is lack of planning providing for cyclists and that the traffic system is designed predominantly with car-users in mind. In South African driving conditions and especially with deteriorating road conditions is becomes even more important to plan ahead and find the best possible road for your training.
- Ask experienced cyclists in your area on which routes/ roads they train and why they prefer those roads.
- Be alert to the dangers and risk that drivers in vehicles might be blinded by the rising or setting of the sun and might not see slow moving cyclists travelling on the side of the road.
- Watch out for surface conditions like pot-holes and debris.
- Never ride your bike through puddles, there may be hazards hidden beneath the water that you can’t see.
- Try to avoid travelling in the dark.
Strength in Numbers
It is important to recognize that there is strength to be found in numbers. Do not go on the road alone and rather find a regular partner able to keep up with your training schedule. This will be very important especially in the event of an emergency.
Inform friends and family when you will be cycling, the road you will be cycling on and when you can be expected to return. Carry a fully charged cellular phone with you so you can request assistance in the event of an emergency.
Equipment and Clothing
- Ensure your bike is in good repair.
- Always wear cycle helmets to prevent head injuries. Head injuries cause a high percentage of all cycling deaths – much of which can be prevented by wearing a helmet.
- Replace any damaged helmets for maximum protection. Helmets must fit properly to be safe. When the straps and comfort pads are adjusted, the helmet should not move forward, backward, or come off. It should sit level on the head and extend down to about two fingers (3 cm) above the eyebrows. Chin straps should be snug without pinching, and the front and rear straps should meet just below each ear when tightly adjusted.
- Helmets only work once. If a helmet has been in a collision that required the inner lining to absorb shock, buy another one! Even though the damage may not be visible, the shock absorbing qualities may be deadened.
- Wear eyewear to protect eyes from dirt, wind and bugs.
- Wear reflective and fluorescent clothing suitable for the weather and time of day that will help other road users to see you.
- On hot summer days, wear sunscreen and bring water to prevent dehydration.