Keep your mind on the road
In a city where everyone seems to own a bike, it feels quite novel being a person with no confidence in cycling.
More than once my friends have tried persuading me to get on a bike and each time I have refused, too nervous to even go around a park, never mind the road. It was my work colleagues who persuaded me, in the end, to register on the Keep Your Mind on the Road cycle confidence training. Determined, I think, to make a good news story out of me!
The session started by telling us how we, as a species, are inherently bad at driving. Not the most confidence-boosting thing to say at the start of a cycling course, but it did drive the point home that cyclists need to be extra careful because of this. The reason we are bad at driving is because we have evolved to process information at a much slower speed (a fast walk is about 5mph).
If human history was a clock, it would only be at three seconds to midnight where we start driving. Even when cycling, the eye is taking in more information that what can be fully processed. The focus is on what is coming up, and so looking forwards, but as a result peripheral vision is lost, putting cyclists at risk.
To drive the point home (pun intended) we were shown a picture for 30 seconds of a desk with a lot of clutter on it and told to count how many pens we saw. Answers ranged from 7 to 12, with the answer being 11. We were then asked to say what else was on the desk. Answers were much less certain and it was worrying how much on the screen was there that none of us saw. The point being cars will be looking for other cars, as they are the focus point/danger and not for cyclists, so therefore cyclists must be aware of the risks of being on the road. Especially since cyclists only make up 3% of traffic on the road.
We moved on to talk about positioning, something I don’t think I would have previously considered, thinking that you just cycle on one side of the road and that’s it! We learnt about the primary position, to cycle in the centre of the road, and the secondary position, to cycle about 1m from the curb. We played out different scenarios and discussed which position to use where. For example we were told that 20mph is a comfortable speed to cycle at, once more experienced, so to be in the primary position going down a 20mph road is perfectly reasonable, as it also holds the additional benefit of controlling the traffic behind you. We also looked at navigating roundabouts, country lanes, different types of junctions and how to filter through traffic.
Visibility was the next topic of discussion. The legal requirement, to cycle on a road at night at night, is to have the white front and red rear light lit, and be fitted with a red light reflector on the rear and each pedal to have amber light reflectors on each side.
On leaving we were told to practice in a comfortable environment and that confidence comes with time. Also, if we felt we needed it, Norfolk County Council also provide one-to-one on-the road training for your journey for free.
There is lot of good information about positioning on the British Cycling website. For example:
You may also be interested in these links:
- The AA: Cyclists and drivers sharing the road
- Cyclescheme: Road positioning
- London Cyclist: '7 mistakes you are making with your cycling and how you can correct them'
- Highway Code: Rules for cyclists
About the author, Heather Bingham
Heather is working in the Sustainability, Utilities and Engineering Team as her Year in Industry placement while studying in ENV.