A very important topic. This is not about legal requirements or what should be a legal requirement, it’s about some of the optional extras you can do to feel and be safer.
I wear a helmet. Always. There is more than one reason for this.
- I want my children to wear helmets. Monkey see, monkey do. I wear a helmet so they want to wear helmets too. There are lots of funky designs for children’s helmets these days so it’s easy enough to get them enthusiastic about it.
- When I came off my bike (The Accident(s)) I distinctly remember my helmet bouncing off the tarmac. I can easily believe the force of that impact would have been enough to put a crack in my skull but, with my helmet on, I got up and rode home (and bought a replacement the next day).
- A lot of detractors suggest that helmets give cyclists an inflated opinion of their own invulnerability but, having been taken off my bike by a car door opened across the bike lane as I approached, I am very aware of how vulnerable I am. Especially when I compare myself to some of the rubbish trucks, supermarket lorries, construction vehicles, buses etc. I share a road with every day.
It’s very important to be visible. The more visible you are, the bigger you look and the more space other road users will give you. I’ve heard the argument that encouraging cyclists to become more visible just removes the blame from the motor vehicle driver to the cyclist in a collision if the cyclist doesn’t resemble the London Eye at midnight on New Years Day but knowing the driver should have been more vigilant is cold comfort for partner / parents / children of a dead cyclist.
- Lights. I don’t think it’s possible to have too many. Not just at night but also to enhance your visibility on all but the sunniest days (although it doesn’t hurt to have them on then too).
- Front and rear lights – Absolutely essential in my opinion. No question. I had a gentleman in a van at traffic lights admire my fibre optic rear light which is bent around 180° under my saddle so I am more visible from the sides.
- Spoke and/or valve lights – Good fun (especially for children) and good for side visibility, although I frequently read complaints that the motion activated ones are overly active with relatively little motion).
- Helmet lights – Honestly, I’ve never had one although, from what I hear, turning to look at a driver you think is about to pull out on you while wearing one is an excellent way of gaining their attention.
- Reflective surfaces.
- Personal – I have a fantastic rucksack made almost entirely from reflective silver fabric on the outside, I’ve taken a photo of it with a flash and the silver shows up bright white, plunging every other part of the picture into blackness. I have a hooded, waterproof running jacket made the same way which I wear if I don’t need to take my rucksack. My cycling shoes have tiny reflective patches on the back and my leggings have them on the ankles.
- Bike – I got mocked a little at work for not taking the reflectors off my wheels but I’m now waiting for the fallout from having attached a dozen little reflective spoke covers to around a third of my spokes on each wheel. Reflectors on pedals are good for distinguishing bikes by the motion (like the patches on my shoes) and some tyres have reflective walls.
- Bright colours. And why not! You don’t have to go the whole hog and wear day-glo, there’s a huge difference between a black cyclist with low powered or no lights between streetlamps and a splash of colour moving along the road. The main problem with this one is if you, like me, are a fan of figure hugging Lycra (it regulates my body temperature better and doesn’t flap around and annoy me as I ride) you’ll have noticed it is a lot easier to get hold of black kit because it’s easier to throw on a coordinating outfit at 6:30 am that way.
Yes, cycling used to be much safer and yes, road layouts, town planning, bureaucratic thinking should all be changed to make cycling safer again but, at the end of the day, does it really hurt to increase your chances a little?