30 Jun, 2015

How Safe Is night riding? Its Hard to Say.

The winter months are the darker months, with less visibility on the roads. It is for this reason that cyclists need to take extra precautionary measures in order to be visible to all other road users at all times.

“As evening starts earlier and day breaks later than the summer months, thus extending your riding time in the dark. It is of high importance to take extra caution while riding your bicycle this winter,” said Cycling South Africa (CSA) in a recent press release.

It wasn’t until his bike slid out of control while he was going 42 kilometres an hour downhill around a sharp turn on a cold winter’s morning, that Neil Mills thought cycling accidents were something that happened to other people. Now, after recovering from a fractured pelvis, a broken collarbone and a punctured lung, Neil has changed his mind.

“Nobody is immune,” he said. Like many cyclists, he is convinced that it is not if you crash, its when you crash.

Edward James, 45, who was an elite level amateur racer for 10 years and then led cycling tours all over Europe. Edward who regularly rides around his home town, begs to differ. He’s never had an injury more serious than a little road rash.

“For the vast majority of us, it’s a pretty safe sport,” he said.

Who is right? Although many cyclists have strong opinions on the safety of their sport, the answer is that no one really knows how safe it is, or whether its safety has changed over the years.

Cycling in winter requires more than just extra thick cycling gear. It requires an extra amount of vigilance when you’re out on the road in order to stay safe.

Due to the extended time spent riding in the dark, it is of utmost importance that you “increase your visibility to all other road users – motorists, runners, pedestrians, and fellow cyclists.” CSA said in the press release.

Cycling with a good quality headlight and tail light is non-negotiable, and it is the law. According to the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA), having these items is critical and ensuring that they work before going on a ride is even more critical!

Two lights are required at all times, with a red light on the rear end of the bicycle facing the rear and similarly, a white light on the front end of the bike, facing forward.

According to the CSA press release, this helps ensure that you are seen by other motorists making use of the road and that the orientation of your vehicle can be determined. For example whether the bicycle is oncoming or moving in the same direction as the vehicle.

“With regards to visibility,” the CSA press release reads, it is crucial that you can be seen from 150 metres away”. This does not mean that the beam of your headlight must shine 150 metres in front of you, but rather that other road users are able to spot you from a distance of 150 metres away.

The NRTA prohibits cycling with a powerful strobe headlight in spite of the fact that CSA says it makes the cyclist more visible. A strobe light can be disorientating to other motorists and therefore should be a solid beam. Not limited to the winter season but a good habit for cyclists to exercise is making eye contact with motorists on the road.

Handy Hints:
• Your headlight MUST NOT strike the ground more than 45 metres ahead. Equally, the beam must not shine upwards as it will blind oncoming traffic.
• Do not keep your head down while riding. It is important that you make clear eye contact with the driver of the vehicle to assist in ensuring that you have been seen.
• It is good practice to keep a taillight fitted to your bicycle at all times, even for an off-road outride. Although the need for a light in these circumstances appears to be unnecessary, mechanical issues and unforeseen incidents can occur at all times.
• Riding regular routes so that you are aware of the route and its dangers and other road users are aware of cyclists making regular use of these familiar routes is particularly advised during the winter period.
• Visible clothing, light and bright colours would benefit largely by reflective strips and piping along the garment.