Staying Safe on the Roads and Trails

With the recent spate of cyclists being hit by cars or robbed of their bikes we thought we’d take a sensible approach and rather than play the blame game look at how you can take precautions to keep yourself safe on the roads and trails around Mzansi.

First and foremost it’s essential that as cyclists, road and mountain, we take responsibility for ourselves whenever we get on the bike. Yes, the roads of South Africa are dangerous and bike-jacking seems to be on the rise too, and we have to put pressure on government, locally and nationally, to make it safer to spend time on our bikes but ultimately it’s your life and you should be responsible for it, not some politician.

So how do you keep yourself safe? Well, the first thing you can do is give it some thought. Don’t be a nit-wit, don’t follow blindly the advice you read on Twitter or in your favourite publication – you need to start critically examining the information you take in. Take cycling abreast for example… it’s just not safe on South African roads. It might work in bicycle friendly European countries, but in SA where the roads are filled with notoriously impatient drivers do you really think it’s sensible to protrude into traffic that generally flows at, or over, 60km/h when you’re moving at less than 40km/h? It doesn’t matter how visible you are, it’s a recipe for disaster and will remain so until our driving culture changes. So possibly never.

General Rules of the Road and Trail

No helmet no ride – ever! Also don’t be afraid to tell off a fellow cyclist who’s riding without a helmet. Even hipsters need to protect their heads – how else are they going to follow the next trend? Seriously though, don’t get on a bike without a helmet on, even if you’re just nipping around the corner to the shops. Industry folks should be setting an example and bike shops should be asking if you own a helmet when you buy a bike.

Light up. If you’re going to be including any roads in your ride, day or night get yourself lights. A flashing red tail light and a flashing white front light will dramatically increase your visibility to other road users. If you spend a significant amount of time on the road especially at dusk, dawn or at night invest in lights with external rechargeable battery packs.

Exercise caution. It’s always good to assume that everyone else using the road are complete idiots and anticipate accordingly. Just like how you drive more cautiously around taxis, because you never know when they’re likely to stop in the middle of the road or make an abrupt, unsignalled U-turn, you should be acutely aware of the vehicles, pedestrians and other cyclists around you when you’re on your bike. Remember you’re exceptionally vulnerable on your bike and while it’d be great if other road users would look after you, you have to look after yourself first and the first step in doing so is exercising caution.

Think Bike – Think Car. Most of us (unless you’re very young or the most hard-core cyclist) are drivers as well as cyclists. But we think exclusively like cyclists when we’re on the bike. Try to keep in mind what the drivers of cars are likely to be thinking when you’re cycling and don’t act like you own the road – cars, truck, busses and taxis are the primary road users and you need to adjust your behaviour accordingly.

 Rules for the Roadies

Whether you’re a full-on roadie or a mountain biker who just rides on the road to get to the mountain, here are a few guidelines to help keep you out of harm’s way.

  1. Always use cycle lights and riding kit with high-visibility tabs and trim.
  2. Plan your ride to use roads with wide hard shoulders (ride in the yellow lines).
  3. Ride in a group but not in a bunch.
  4. Anticipate vehicles breaking the rules of the road – especially at intersections.
  5. Take responsibility for yourself – don’t expect other road users to look after you.
  6. Learn to handle your bike – learn to bunny-hop onto pavements, control a skid and corner sharply, you never know when you’ll need those skills in an emergency situation.
  7. If there is a cycle lane – use it (We’re confused, angered and flabbergast at the number of people riding in the road next to the separate, dedicated bike lanes between Cape Town CBD and Tableview.)

 Crime Watch

Crime is an issue in South Africa in general and cyclists make for soft targets. Whether you’re on the road or the trail you need to be crime conscious. Here are a few tips for avoiding the criminal elements.

  1. Avoid known hotspots – don’t put yourself at an unnecessary risk.
  2. Ride as a group or at least in pairs whenever possible.
  3. Keep your eyes peeled – be on the lookout for suspicious people and avoid them.
  4. Don’t act like a victim – moving decisively to avoid criminals especially if they’re on foot (if they don’t have guns) can get you out of danger before it has the chance to develop properly.
  5. Carry mace –but don’t be a hero, don’t risk your life for your bike. If it’s one assailant and you can mace him and escape fine, but sometimes it’s just best to give up your possessions without a fight and take a walk home.
  6. Insure your bike – knowing your bike is insured will take the sting out of the theft and stop you from doing something silly.

Trail Safety

Without vehicles to worry about and with our criminal avoidance tips in mind your greatest concern on the trails is your own ability to get yourself into trouble. Here’s how to keep yourself safe if and when you crash.

  1. Tell someone where you’re going and when you should be back.
  2. Always carry ID and emergency info – there are plenty of companies doing apps, ID bands and crash sensors. Or just get your emergency details printed and laminated, then remember to keep them in your pocket on every ride.
  3. If you can’t ride with someone ride trails with lots of rider traffic.
  4. Always carry a phone – being able to call for help could save your or someone else’s life.
  5. Do a first-aid course.
  6. Push your limits on trails you know with riding buddies nearby – not on trails you don’t know when you’re on your own.
  7. Remember it’s not just crashes you need to be weary of – watch out for snakes in summer (especially for Mambas in KZN and the Lowveld) and your body’s warning signs. Don’t ignore a persistently high heart rate (if you’re not pushing the intensity) particularly if you’ve just recovered from the change of season flu.

Stay safe out there!

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