OPINION

Guest blog: Is your bicycle safe for the roads? (+ video)

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London cycle workshop Handlebars highlights the risks of cycling with worn brakes

London bicycle repair workshop Handlebars, which operates at Monument in the heart of the City and at Shoreditch, is currently running a campaign encouraging cyclists to ensure that their bikes are roadworthy. In this guest blog post, the company explains how they ran a stopping distance experiment to help highlight the risks of cycling with worn brakes on roads where cyclists are already exposed to danger from drivers and road defects, among other things. Here's their post.

Bicycle accidents, like car accidents, are sadly all too common. The effects of both are catastrophic. The most common reason for both types of accident is driver error. However, one of the big differences in statistics between cars & bicycles is those caused by ‘Vehicle defects’.

In the UK, it is mandatory to have a car MOT check every single year once the vehicle is older than 3 years. As a general rule of thumb, services are recommended annually. As a consequence, the number of incidents reported due to ‘car defect’ are low.

For bicycles, there is no equivalent of the MOT. Vehicle defect is still one of the main contributing factors noted by police following bicycle incidents, with a high proportion being defective brakes. With regular maintenance, these incidents should be largely avoidable.

Proportionally, the number of cyclists injured on UK roads is higher than people driving cars. It’s not surprising that 62 per cent of the population felt it’s unsafe to cycle on Britain’s roads. Restricting vehicle check regulation to cars, leaves cyclists who are already vulnerable on the roads at even higher risk.

On top of that, the number of bicycle workshops is dwindling. Small independents have an uphill battle against city centre rents and matching online retailer prices on spare parts. There are an estimated 2,500 bike shops in the UK, with roughly three-quarters of those consisting of independent retailers.

With 4.5 million cyclists riding once or more a week, that’s six repair shops for every 10,000 people. By contrast, for every 10,000 cars there are 13 car maintenance centres. This lack of conveniently placed workshops leaves many cyclists neglecting to take their bicycle in for vital repair work.

Handlebars decided to run an experiment demonstrating the risk of cycling with worn brakes. The team took a bicycle with old brakes on the rear and measured its stopping distance. The brakes were switched over to new ones and then they cycled the exact same stretch again. The difference is both astonishing and terrifying (see the video above).

The results?

With old brakes (simply on the rear), the bicycle took 7 metres to stop. The average car length is 4.5 metres. With new brakes, the stopping distance was reduced to 2 metres. The difference truly is enough to save a life.

To help, Handlebars is running a free safety check campaign.

Cyclists are encouraged to either book their bicycle into one of the London-based workshops (Shoreditch or Monument) or arrange for the mechanics to come out to workplaces around the capital.

Handlebars co-founder Nick says, “It’s truly frightening the number of people who are cycling every day with virtually no brake pads. Just yesterday, we did free safety checks at a local office and out of 26 cyclists, 15 needed their brakes changing.”

Co-founder Jeyda goes on to say, “and this is just brakes. When you factor in all the other parts on a bicycle that get neglected through lack of maintenance, it makes you realise that there’s lots of people cycling today on bikes that aren’t really roadworthy.”

In 2016, 18,477 cyclists were injured or killed in the UK. Given those numbers, any measures to reduce the risks seem highly worthwhile.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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