As concerns for the environment grow, roughly at the same speed as our waistlines, more and more Australians are hitting the bike path. Sometimes literally.
Unfortunately, this means the rate of cyclist deaths and injuries is also climbing.
According to the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety in Queensland (CARRS-Q), each year an average of 35 Australian cyclists are killed and over 2500 are seriously injured on public roads.
Additionally, about 40 per cent of cyclist hospital admissions and about 60 per cent of all cyclist fatalities are due to collisions with motor vehicles.
They’re scary statistics, but do they justify avoiding the sport altogether?
“Most people have had some kind of incident on a bike,” says Dr Marilyn Johnson, research and policy manager at the Amy Gillett Foundation.
“Personally, I came off a bike and ended up in hospital for the night after a head strike. It was a freak event, a car was parked in the wrong way and the angle of the sun meant that a pothole wasn’t clear. I hit the pothole and my head hit the road. You sometimes can’t avoid it.”
For Dr Johnson, getting over her accident was simply a matter of getting back on her bike, although she remained wary of the spot for months after. For many, it’s not that easy.
Whether you’ve been deterred by the cyclist stereotype, a particularly nasty crash or just a rainy winter morning, here’s how to safely get back on your bike minus the stress, pain and fear.
While a road bingle can mean a dint on a car door for a driver, for a cyclist it can mean injury or even death. With bike riders often sharing sections of road with motorists, especially in the CBD, the risk of collision is high, but avoidable.
Be hyper-aware: Watch traffic movements, be reactive, ride defensively and look out for risks like car doors or potholes. Anticipation is key and checking your phone or adjusting your clothing should be avoided at all costs.
Observe all road rules: You might not be in a car, but you have to be aware that others are. Stay in the bike lanes, signal and pay attention to stop signs and traffic lights, particularly at large intersections.
Wear a helmet: According to CARRS-Q, since mandatory helmet legislation was introduced in 1991 the annual number of cyclist fatalities has roughly halved. Wearing a helmet can mean the difference between serious brain damage and a concussion.
“A helmet is like a seatbelt” Dr Johnson explains, “It won’t stop you from having a crash but it will lessen your injury.”
Sometimes the biggest struggle can just be getting out of bed in the morning.
“The typical barriers to getting back on the bike after a long time are confidence, traffic and lack of equipment expertise,” says Maree Burn, a trainer at Cycling Safe.
Ms Burn says there is a definitely an intimidating stereotype of cyclists that can deter less-experienced bike-owners.
“People look at these fast people, in lycra on roadbikes – the racing fraternity or weekend warriors – and it’s a turnoff for them.” Ms Burn says.
“Really, those people are the minority. Most households have a bicycle in the shed. We’re all cyclists in some way.”
If you’re a beginner or a born-again bike virgin, there are ways to ease yourself back in the spin of things.
Make connections: “Joining up with like-minded people helps to get out there,” says Ms Burn. Joining a community group or forming a club with friends or colleagues gives you a nice security net and source of motivation.
Have the right teacher: According to Ms Burns, many experienced cyclists don’t understand or remember what it’s like to be a first-timer. Choose someone you trust who is willing to take the time to talk you through it.
Have the right equipment: Have an old bike assessed at a bike store to see if it needs any updates. If you need to buy a whole new bike, choose one that has the appropriate tyres and gears for your lifestyle. Being open about your experience level and needs will ensure you get what you want.
Know your route: The route you ride is often quite different to the route you drive. Know where you’re going before you leave the house and carry a current map (available from most council centres or online) to ensure you don’t get lost.
Take the stress out of cycling: If you hate cycling in the rain, don’t force yourself to do it. Additionally, make sure your bike is properly adjusted to your measurements so you feel comfortable. Choose bike paths that are nearby so you minimise transport stress and plan ahead.
After an incident
Stuff happens. If you’re unlucky enough to be involved in a crash, here’s what to do:
Check that your bike is alright: Bicycles can take a beating in a crash and the damage often isn’t obvious. Take it to your local bike shop to check that your gears, wheels and chains are functioning.
Report the risk area to your local council: “I reported the pothole to VicRoads and they reacted really quickly,” Dr Johnson says of her accident. Pointing out a problem area can prevent accidents in the future.
Get a new helmet: Helmets can be damaged in a crash and cracks might not be evident. Better to replace it and be safe than sorry.
Think about how it happened: Consider what you could have done differently and whether the accident could have been avoided.
Don’t beat yourself up: The apprehension and nerves you’re feeling are completely normal and conquering them is just a matter of time.