Tips for safe cycling #3: Hazardous surfaces
For the second time in two weeks, I’ve fallen off my bike. This isn’t a great score for someone who teaches people to ride bikes for a living, but perhaps it’s for a reason; just call me Anna ‘I Have Accidents So You Don’t Have To’ Hughes.
The first fall was a tough one. Rounding a corner, I saw a patch of what I thought was water, but was actually engine oil, and hitting a patch of oil at an angle, regardless of how fast or slow you are travelling, means game over. I stood no chance: the front wheel instantly gave way and the whole bicycle slid along the tarmac, taking me with it. I landed hard on my hip and elbow, the skin scraping onto my clothing which thankfully kept the wounds diesel-free. Bumped, bruised and grazed, I cycled home to lick my wounds and add my oil-covered clothes to the laundry basket. There’s not much you can do about oil or ice: these are two surfaces that, once hit, mean you end up on the floor. Hitting the ground at any speed is horrible – after the skin wounds scabbed over I was left with two sizeable bumps and the bruises to go with it. I’ll certainly avoid similar patches in future. If in doubt about something on the road, avoid it, and if that’s not possible, try not to ride it at an angle, otherwise you’ll likely end up on the floor.
The second fall was less serious but, being a mere week after the first, and falling on roughly the same parts of my body, it hurt all the more. On this occasion it was a gravel path that caused my front wheel to slip – something that I really should have predicted. It’s a path along which I’ve ridden many times, but today it had rained so the path was wet. Gravel can be an unpleasant surface – in the heat it kicks up dust, in the rain it slides under the wheels – but it’s even more unpleasant when you have to pick it out from under your skin. “Exercise caution in wet conditions,” I tell my trainees. It’s good advice.
When it rains, you need to be twice as vigilant on the road. Everything is slippery, especially manhole covers and drains, and even painted lines. Avoid riding over these in wet weather, and if riding over them is unavoidable, be careful not to take them at an angle or in the middle of a turn. Avoid riding through puddles, as these can conceal potholes. Any bumps or changes in the surface become far more hazardous in the rain, so always take kerbs or bumps at a 90º angle to reduce the chance of slips.
Even in dry conditions, be aware of changes in the road surface: gravel, potholes, kerbs, textured paving, manhole covers and tramlines. The best way to ride across any of these is in a straight line and at a 90º angle. Keep your eyes on the road ahead to avoid suddenly swerving into the path of another vehicle if you need to manoeuvre around hazardous road surfaces. Always keep the brakes covered just in case and, if in doubt, reduce your speed or stop.