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Here's my CV: I've been cycling for about 35 years or so, cycle toured in the UK, commuted in London, Newcastle, Denver and Eindhoven, mountain-biked, club cycled and generally ridden a fair bit non-competitively. Generally I consider myself fairly road savvy and during this time I've been fortunate not to have any crashes that were serious and none that involved other vehicles. As a comparison I've been involved in 3 collisions while driving (not at fault..) one of which wrote off a car and hospitalised me.

The risks of road riding have always been apparent but never really 'felt' dangerous or intruded on my enjoyment of riding, on the whole.

Recently though - maybe its partially age or having kids - the threat of injury has started to intrude more on my mind to the extent where I've asked myself 'do I really want to go for a ride today?'. For example, I read about the latest tragic deaths in London this morning and sat looking at my cycling kit for 10 minutes, wondering if maybe I might just drive to work instead today but eventually convinced myself no, this is not going to stop me and took the bike.

Road.cc is to be applauded for highlighting cycling casualties and the issues round safety but I sometimes I wish I could return to a state of wilful ignorance about what can happen out there. This is a great site for existing cyclists and I'm not suggesting it should change it's remit but I really can't imagine the content would encourage anyone to take it up as a hobby or transport.

I wondered how other riders felt about this. Do you feel better for being well informed of the risk? Has your attitude changed with age and experience?

24 comments

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William Black [193 posts] 2 years ago
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The comments in reply to such tragic stories have been an eyeopener.

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arfa [747 posts] 2 years ago
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The simple answer to your question is no the stories do not affect my own attitude as I avoid HGV's, buses etc at all costs and ride very defensively. Just last night I avoided being t boned by some yoof in a hot hatch because I assumed with the speed he approached the junction he was going to hammer on & right hook across me as he just didn't give a shit. Instinct told me to hammer on the brakes and that is why I wasn't obliterated. So why repeat the anecdote ? Unfortunately this sort of attitude is far from isolated and I encounter wildly obnoxious and hazardous driving every day and I do my best to reduce risks on my journey.
That said I feel desperately sad & angry at the needless loss of life and the political bullshit about encouraging cycling. How can the architects of the existing infrastructure sleep at night knowing they are encouraging novices on to the road and into death trap infrastructure which some will never gain the experience to know just how dangerous it is ?
In the meantime, we waste money on "consultation" when we know from all the good work the dutch have done what works - the time, money and lives lost in the interim is just criminal.
In answer to your question about better information I fully applaud road.cc in highlighting these tragic deaths as there is always the faint hope that an element of repetition can be avoided (emphasis on faint) and the grief that is being inflicted on those close those lost is not ignored and repeated.
The real hypocrisy in my own position is that there is no way I would let my children ride on London's roads and I can not rationalise it beyond the fact that too many people die. Yes, statiscally the risks are small but tell that to the recently bereaved - all I can really add is to offer my condolences to them.

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r48 [4 posts] 2 years ago
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The risk is galling. I cycle about 17 miles a day, 80% of it on cycle lanes. I ride very defensively, being a car driver and an ex-motorcycle rider, I know how crap 10% of motorists are. I think motorists (inc. me) should have to re-take the driving test every 5 years or so.

Three safety procedures that may help you
===========================

At busy junctions, I go down the road and cross in the queue of traffic. Not in the zones where the car drivers are playing a game of dare to take a position to pull out.

On a Hill, where the car driver may be crap at hill starts/handrake throttle coordination, I go behind them. They can be so preoccupied with starting on a hill that they simply do not look.

On dodgy left turns where lorries go, fuck it, I go on the pavement.
They are killers, and they getaway with it.
============================================
Someone should make a video of this.
Non car driving cyclists dont generally take these precautions.
============================================

As an attitude, its your life, so don't be mindlessly good and 'law abiding'.

If the highways agency put signs (for the cars) up on cycle lanes I simply take them down and throw them away. I put the sandbags on the kerb.
Why not, if there is no proper barrier, use the crap they just tried to kill you with to make one.
Mostly though another cyclist on the route has done this before me.
Might be a Brighton thing...

I used to cycle in a scandinavian country where there were proper segregated cycle lanes. This country is absolute shit for cycling and very dangerous. But I still cycle to work (unless its really badly raining).

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joemmo [1164 posts] 2 years ago
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yes, anyone who has spent enough time on the road develops a set of strategies either consciously or not that reduce the risk. The 'cyclecraft' rules are pretty good for this as well if people need a jump start.

re: Scandinavia - I spent some time in Malmo recently (and a few months in Eindhoven - Holland) and it broke my heart how normalised and easy utility cycling is there. We are so, so far behind and it makes me question whether I'm prepared to put myself on the 'front line' in this country.

Like you Arfa, I want my kids to learn and enjoy cycling but I would not release them on the roads, at least our local estate is relatively quiet and has a 20mph limit which is obeyed for the most part.

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allez neg [497 posts] 2 years ago
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Over a decade of motorbikes (and sometimes being a bit naughty on them) a bit more in cars and almost a whole lifetime spent cycling has (hopefully) given me a decent amount of situational awareness, so no, reading of death and danger hasn't diminished my desire to cycle.

A mate of mine, who did a potentially hazardous job and rode reasonably fast motorbikes both for fun and transport recently died in what can only be described as a stupid and pointless accident as a result of a construction hoarding giving way, so while we do what we can to reduce the risks to a level we are willing to accept when we do dangerous things for fun, there but by the grace of God and all that.....

This summer, it must be said, saw my first accident, where I was so intent on making eye contact with white van man at a dodgy junction to ascertain whether or not he intended to squash me, I failed to spot the old boy in his ford pensionermobile turning into his driveway about 6 feet in front of me. Oops.

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Metjas [362 posts] 2 years ago
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Even though I have commuted through central London for nearly a decade until two years ago I now certainly feel more vulnerable on the days I need to cycle in London, probably because somehow I am more familiar now with the catalogue of deaths on London roads, but on the whole I'm happy to go out and cycle in the countryside.

I can only imagine how many people are discouraged from (taking up) cycling in London by reading today's front page of the Evening Standard.

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Nixster [305 posts] 2 years ago
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I think the core question was do you feel better for being well informed of the risk.

The whole issue of perception of risk is very interesting and more to do with psychology than statistics. Having incidents brought to my attention does make me feel that the risk is higher than if they weren't. This doesn't mean I am better informed though, it just means that I perceive the risk as being higher. And no, I feel worse as a consequence even if I don't change my behaviour e.g. ride less.

A good example is after Potters Bar there was an observable move to driving rather than train travel for a short period. As a consequence more additional road deaths occurred than were killed in the train crash as driving is much less safe than rail travel. But the risk was perceived as greater due to that one incident. Those people certainly weren't better informed.

The defensive riding advice while no doubt sound is helping the people giving it to lower their perception of risk and giving them a sense of control. Does it significantly change the already relatively low level of risk associated with cycling?

Perhaps it does. But the good news is that, on average, cycling is a relatively safe form of transport.

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arfa [747 posts] 2 years ago
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Nixter, I can quite honestly say that if I didn't ride defensively over the last 15 years of commuting daily in London, the only way you'd be hearing from me would be via Ouija board.
Yes I might have an element of luck but by presuming the worst from HGV/bus drivers, royal mail, certain crappy minicab companies, white van man, FU yoof drivers, drugged up nutters who have threatened to pull guns on me etc etc it has nothing to do with perception. I can categorically say that if I had not always presumed the worst from the drivers mentioned above I would be just another KSI statistic.
Oh and by the way, over that 15 years I have been taken out 3 times on my bike (not my fault). Strangely enough, behind the wheel of a car I have never had an accident and trust me, I take no more risk on a bike than behind the wheel of a car.
So yes, cycling in aggregate across the country is relatively low risk. However you can markedly improve your chances by how you ride. That said you can never improve your chances against a wholly negligent driver

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kie7077 [877 posts] 2 years ago
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It's unfortunate for the victims and understandably off-putting the news over the last week, but what we don't get is balance, there are 8ish million people in London, 4000 a year of them are dying from the pollution, 10-20 die cycling. I don't know how many of them are dying from being unfit but it must be Tens of Thousands. These news stories lack that perspective, we don't hear how many car drivers died during the same period. I'm going to make up a statistic now, there must be a million near misses for every cyclist death - I know I've had my fair share.

Take primary, stay out of the car door zone, wear white at night, use 250+ lumen lights. don't cut up motors, I expect you know all this, but the numbers say experience cyclists are far safer than the average cyclist.

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Nixster [305 posts] 2 years ago
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Arfa, don't get me wrong, I wasn't suggesting the advice you and others were giving was wrong or even that it wasn't helping you as an individual reduce your risk or that the risks weren't real.

Stating the bleedin' obvious the average hides a great deal of variation and commuting in London at peak times will be right out there in terms of higher than average risk I'm sure. And again stating the obvious no amount of defensive riding will counter the effects of the drunk/incompetent/negligent/malicious as you note, so the risk remains in some degree.

My point was only that the original question was 'how does it make you feel' not 'what defensive riding tips do you have' and that defensive riding, what ever else it does, makes people perceive their level of risk to be lower as a result.

I would hope that people don't let their perception of risk be driven by isolated events to the point that they give up riding altogether. e.g. if someone like me who doesn't commute in London (but has been cycling on and off road for decades) thinks its now all got so dangerous I should stop.
And perhaps the way to address that is to put incidents in a wider context?

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pete5 [5 posts] 2 years ago
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I think generally the road IS a more dangerous place to ride these days. Although, I don’t see the attitude of motorists getting worse over the years, there is an increase in situations where the cyclist and motorist are brought in to conflict. How many schemes have been introduced that narrow the road? There’s a fundamental lack of understanding by local councils – you might see us as just another vehicle, another road user, but the motorists see us as mobile obstacles – something that’s gets in their way. And I think that’s where the modern problem lies; we’re literally being squeezed between two forces – the impatient motorist and the uneducated state.

There are 2 ways of thinking about the risks involved: You could look at the number of near misses you’ve been involved in – how many of those “blimey, that was close” moments could have been a little closer? Or, you could look at the bare statistics for the number of cyclist injured on the road – and that will give a good figure for your personal risk.

I suppose we all ride within our comfort zone, risk wise. We change behaviour in situation where we regularly feel uncomfortable. Whether that’s riding defensively, aggressively, or just simply finding an alternate route

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arfa [747 posts] 2 years ago
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Hi Nixter, my point was really that the way you ride is highly likely to influence outcomes - if you have a a margin for error, it might be that margin that keeps you from a coming together with a no margin for error/bad driver. Sadly for me riding in London has pretty much always felt dangerous but maybe that's a good perception to ride with ? Sure, the stats should encourage people to get out there on bikes but my big beef with superhighways is that that they could lull those with limited experience into a hugely dangerous sense of security.
There are certain categories of road user that must be avoided at all costs and those blue painted lines feed you right into harm's way.
Anyway I didn't mean to come over indignant but I must admit I am less than happy with what is going on on London's roads.

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glynr36 [637 posts] 2 years ago
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Doesn't affect my behaviour, and things here (Birmingham) seem to be getting worse as well.
I'll continue to ride defensively, take the primary position in the lane, not filter around HGV's/Buses, outside of that I'm in the hands of motorists, thats the way I've always viewed it, I imagine if I thought of it too much I'd never cycle on the roads again.

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numbercruncher [28 posts] 2 years ago
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I returned to road cycling this summer after a gap of about 20 years. I usually do a 40 to 50 mile ride at the weekend and a couple of commutes of around 10 miles round trip during the week. I would add that this is in and around Bradford, not in London.
Since the days that I was regularly riding to work before, the roads are significantly more congested for all road users, and you do get more of a feeling of the close proximity of vehicles.
The recent incidents of fatalities certainly do add to the determination to do all that I can to be safe, but not to the extent that it affects my approach to riding, which I consider to be 'assertively defensive'. I think that you have to take the view that anyone on the road could do something unpredictable and prepare as best you can, but at the same time avoid allowing yourself to be forced in to the gutter. Make clear signals and look for acknowledgement of them, then take your position in the road.
We have quite a lot of 'cycle lanes' around Bradford, but they are primarily just the usual one metre (if you're lucky) of gutter with a white line painted next to it. Some of the road surface contained in these lanes is atrocious and does nothing to encourage a safe, segregated ride.
As with all things in life, you have to try to control what you can, but accept that you cannot control everything

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FluffyKittenofT... [1198 posts] 2 years ago
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A little bit - largely because so many of them seem to occur at spots I cycle through regularly.

Mainly though its my own direct experience as both cyclist and pedestrian that makes me see roads as dangerous, the news reports really don't add much to that existing level of anxiety.

I mean, there's one road where I see fresh evidence of recent crashes every time I travel along it, up to and including seeing a totally wrecked car being lifted out of it by a crane. Smashed street furniture and carpets of broken car-glass are just par-for-the-course there.

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Colin Peyresourde [1724 posts] 2 years ago
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I dislike the way they are reported and I dislike the fact that they do skew the opinion of people. We have people screaming blue murder on its website all the time. It is much better and responsible for them to report the full reasons and causes than the 'news' of the deaths.

I don't need it, you don't need it, no one needs it. But if we know cyclists are dying because of poor education/poor infrastructure/poor driving then we can all make educated decisions about these events. It actually annoys me that road.cc use these events as headlines - coroners reports I appreciate.

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Cyclist [295 posts] 2 years ago
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No. I was in the military for 23yrs, so riding my bike on a British road for me is extremely safe. I suppose we are judging it against our life experiences, and for me it is at the bottom of the worry scale. Be aware, do not ride with headphones, hands free phones, gps, carry large loads, get fitter hence faster better for being in the flow of traffic, sub 10mph is going to get you hurt, use lights the best you can afford, wear hi viz there is nothing clever about wearing all Rapha black in the winter. Adopt the above increases your chances oh, use lights in the daytime. I am like a Xmas tree. It doesn't worry me but at the same time I am not an idiot.

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bambergbike [89 posts] 2 years ago
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When I was hospitalized after a car accident (nothing to do with cycling, and not of my own making, I was a rear seat passenger), I had fairly severe injuries but very little pain and no recollection of the actual incident, so that led to a fairly acute awareness of the risks of using roads, but in a very abstract sense, cognitive rather than emotional. No post-traumatic stress disorder or night terrors.

I've never been hit by a motor vehicle while cycling, probably partly because I've simply been lucky, partly because I'm not the fastest cyclist (I use a hybrid rather than a road bike for town cycling), partly because I tend to cycle quite defensively, and partly because I've been living in Germany for years now and hostility towards cyclists seems to be less common here. I've cycled regularly in my current location for the last four years and in that time I've only once had occasion to catch up with a driver after a dangerous overtake and have a chat with him about it, and that driver wasn't German. (Although in fairness, there were also 2 or 3 more drivers, probably German, that I just didn't catch.) Scary overtakes are still quite rare here, though, even when I'm provoking drivers (not deliberately!) by taking the lane to stay out of the door zone and cycling at 25 km/h in a 50 zone.

When I am angry (or simply terrified) it is often because of inadequate cycling infrastructure adding unnecessary hazards to my journeys and/or somehow preventing me from cycling defensively in the manner that has successfully been keeping me very safe for the last 20 years. Cycle tracks on side-paths that allow right-turning trucks to come up alongside me to my left, for example, when I'm going straight. (Without a cycle path, I would be able to "take the lane" and make the trucks wait behind me if I got to the lights first; if they got there first, I would wait behind them.) Or "protected" cycle infrastructure that prevents me from veering towards the centre of the road when passing side roads where vehicles coming out might not check for traffic until they're already sitting in the cycle lane crossing the junction. I'm sceptical about dedicated cycle infrastructure in general - when badly implemented, it definitely makes things worse. However, I think London is a bit different. The current situation at locations like Bow and Aldgate absolutely seems to merit fully Dutch solutions. I just wouldn't generalize that to the rest of the UK and Ireland. By and large, I like cycling on roads and don't mind sharing them with other traffic; it certainly beats sharing with pedestrians in many cases. I have had most of my bike accidents while using sub-standard cycle paths (sand, gravel, mud, potholes, kerbs not properly dropped that had to be crossed at odd angles). When I find a road scary, it's as likely to be because of a steep, twisty descent as because of traffic. I do find heavy traffic on narrow roads quite unpleasant, though, especially at night.

I find the current safety discussion incredibly frustrating: hi-viz, helmets, lights and RLJ/rule breaking by cyclists in general are all issues of marginal relevance and yet they take up 95% of the column inches in the media that are desperately needed to send out much more important key messages that are still going largely unheard. Yet I also sense that we may finally be on the cusp of a more meaningful debate like the "Stop de kindermoord" one.

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sm [382 posts] 2 years ago
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No. I've commuted every day in London for ten years. It has become safer, or at least that's my perception. More cyclists on the road has been great and led to more awareness from drivers. A marginal improvement and there's a long way to go for sure.

There are also a great deal more of inexperienced cyclists on the roads who need training to ride in busy cities. I have definitely noticed in the last few years that commuters make a variety of bad decisions as has already been discussed elsewhere on this forum. Cycling is safe, unfortunately the headlines around recent deaths shouts way louder than the statistics when compared to other forms of transport.

PS: I'm not referring to the five who have just died (unlike Boris) as I wasn't at the scene to know the cause of the accidents.

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OldRidgeback [2620 posts] 2 years ago
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I've been cycle commuting in London for well over 20 years and one thing the current statistics and news stories don't reveal is how much worse things used to be. The news gives the impression that the fatality rate amongst cyclists is increasing hugely. It isn't. The death rate for cyclists on London's roads is now far, far lower than it was in the 70s and 80s.

What's changed? Well the Internet and modern communications means we know more than we did back then, and find out more quickly too.

It's true that there has been an upturn in the death rate after years of this falling. But this is a spike and we aren't anywhere near the fatality rate we used to have amongst cyclists on UK roads in the bad old days.

I let my kids ride on the road and they have had appropriate training. But I'm still cautious as well and despite elder son wanting to cycle to school and us having discussed a route, I've not let him yet.

As a cyclist you do face a lot of aggression from white van drivers or BMW drivers for instance. And Jermey Clarkson is to blame for some of that at least. There are many drivers too who are plain careless. Just yesterday I was nearly taken out by a dolt in his MPV who flicked on his indicators as I was passing and then started to change lanes, oblivious to the fact that I was in the process of overtaking. And I was on a large and fairly noisy motorcycle with a very bright headlight too, rather than my bicycle.

But I remember just before the congestion charge was introduced and London's junctions were really bad. Now that was a very dangerous time and I think analysis of the data would reveal a much higher fatality rate then than now.

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AWPeleton [3312 posts] 2 years ago
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Doing the job i do i have seen the worst that mankind and machinery can produce so it doesn't really effect me, i'm not being blasé about it, because its still not pleasant at all, its just life unfortunately and these things happen although i wish they didn't and we could find an answer to it.

To a certain extent the North East does not suffer the way London and the larger cities such as Manchester and Birmingham do with the number of vehicles on the road so it is safer for cyclists and the risks are a lot lower.

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jollygoodvelo [1419 posts] 2 years ago
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I did a thousand miles' commuting in London, riding very defensively and so on, and then got wiped out on a roundabout in the countryside in broad daylight.

The recent accidents are a statistical cluster, but none - sadly - are inherently unusual; just the likely outcome of darker evenings, stupid road layouts, big vehicles and squishy humans sharing a space with insufficient care given on one or both sides.

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OldCog [7 posts] 2 years ago
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These events have not affected my attitude to my own cycling, but my daughter commutes in north and east London and the risks to her scare the hell out of me.
Every time she doesn't answer her phone or respond to a text….
I'm wondering whether cycling is such a blessing to give our kids after all.

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badkneestom [135 posts] 2 years ago
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I ride roads where cars pass at 60. It doesn't scare me, you have to hope your clocks got time on it still. Just enjoy your world and the ride.