The expert shares the 10 commandments of cycling that will keep you safe for that wind-in-your-face journey ahead!
My first cycling tip was given by my school principal when he saw four of us riding in parallel on the 12th Main Road in Indiranagar. He stopped his car a few meters ahead, and said, “Boys ride in a single file and not in parallel.”
Little did we know that not only was it a safety tip but also one that is used in racing to reduce the drag effect, and induce drafting or slipstream by the first rider for the one behind. This cycling etiquette makes space for faster motorists in other vehicles, and also saves as much as 40 per cent energy for the riders who are drafting behind the leader. And of course, one takes turns, and the lead cyclist moves to the back of the single file and the next one takes over for another stretch of a few km.
Cycling is not unsafe. I feel safer on a cycle because I am naturally more alert and extra cautious about my surroundings than when I am in a four-wheeler. There are misconceptions galore around cycling. There are some basic do’s and don’ts which one should follow to avoid unpleasant experiences and enhance the joys of pedalling.
Here are the 10 commandments I have learned from fellow riders and experts that have helped me stay safe, get to places faster and remain fit for more than a decade — touchwood!
1 Learn traffic rules, signs and practice them — there is no excuse for not knowing traffic rules. For example, in India cyclists must always ride on the left extreme of the road/lane to allow other bigger and faster vehicles passage. While changing lanes or slowing down or stopping, always use your right hand to indicate to others what you are planning to do. Do not surprise others!
2 Never wear headphones or use mobile devices while riding — a cyclist must use all his senses to stay safe and enjoy the ride — sight, sound, smell are the three most important aspects of riding. I am not a big fan of earphones for multiple reasons — while running not only does it take away the sound of your rhythm, breathing, footsteps but also surrounding natural sounds. While cycling, it is a definite No, because one needs to use surrounding sounds as a guiding factor — an over enthusiastic motorcyclist tailgating, cars and buses trailing from behind to overtake, and with headphones one is in danger of not hearing these vital sounds. It’s foolish to think that by keeping the earphones at a low volume one can get by.
3 Sight plus anticipation — Your eyes are capable of more than you can imagine! For example, when you see a parked vehicle in front, look for brake lights, look for a silhouette to see if there is a driver inside and anticipate that they will open the door or cut you without warning — be prepared, either slow down, ring your bell or change lanes by signaling with your hand. Using peripheral vision — this becomes extremely important and will come naturally after a couple of rides — it’s not always possible to look sideways while cycling. Practice ‘glancing’, using ‘the corner of your eyes without a head turn — we can learn from animals here — their peripheral vision is better than ours — that’s why horses wear blinkers to ensure they look only straight and stay on course but in our case, we must use peripheral vision to enhance safety.
4 Smell — This one is my personal favourite — you must use smell as a guiding factor to avoid polluted vehicles, garbage trucks and animal transportation vehicles just to ensure you aren’t holding your breath while riding or drafting behind an obnoxiously smelling vehicle. I don’t wear face masks, though it’s optional. My thinking is that our bodies are capable of dealing with germs floating around and that helps build immunity. But that is a personal choice.
5 Wear a helmet and strap it firmly. Wear bright-coloured close fitted clothing — yellow, orange, fluorescent jackets are good and shoes — some people ride wearing sandals — the feet have the maximum contact with the ground on a cycle and given that our roads have all sorts of objects poking out — cables, wires, steel, glass etc, it’s a good idea to have shoes on. Lose-flowing clothes are not recommended to prevent them from entangling with the cycle.
6 Use lights — The front lights must be white lights and back lights strapped to the seat post must be red lights. This will also help to add front and back lights on the helmet. A cycling bell is good to have to warn others, especially pedestrians that you are approaching. Some riders have a whistle to ward off stray dogs or unwelcome strangers on a lonely road too.
7 Be extra careful at turns and crossings — please do not expect other motorists to see you, especially when a vehicle is turning left, the driver has certain blind spots and may not see you. Our safety is our responsibly. There is also little of use raving and ranting at others who are not following traffic signs or lane discipline or using mobile phones on the road, let the law enforcers do their job, let’s do ours.
8 Choosing the right cycle — This topic deserves another article, lookout for it coming soon. As a general rule, one needs to answer the question — what do you ride for — short commute (5-20km) or long distance (50 km plus) or off-road hard terrain riding. For city riders, I find any good branded mountain bike of the right size is most suitable, although many people prefer to ride ‘Hybrid’ cycles which are a combination of road cycles (thinner tyres) and mountain bikes (straight handle bars) which allow an upright riding posture. Given the state of our roads, I ride a mountain bike for commute and use a roadbike for inter city or long distance rides.
9 Do keep your cycle serviced, do basic checks before every ride, check brakes, chain tension, tyre air pressure and cycle axle nuts. Basic cycle maintenance can be done by anyone — one can clean the chain with a tooth brush, one can change tyre tubes easily, lubricate moving parts.
10 Know your cycle, love your cycle, take care of your cycle and it will take care of you. Fitness guaranteed.
Bicycle diaries of a novice
I have been riding to work every Sunday for the past year. And it’s not due to any august fitness goals, more to overcome the endless traffic snarls in the city and do away with sitting in car for hours on end! Cycling to and fro (about 46 km) has been a lesson in getting in touch with one’s inner survival instincts, which sadly, we have all lost in our race to tech-savviness. The first and most important lesson in cycling is to be vigilant, to the innumerable potholes and bumps across the city, that have only gotten worse after every rain. The second is about keeping to your left and giving way to the big, bold and cantankerous fellows while pacing yourself for the 23 km one way. But in all this, the one aspect that truly amazes me is the universal friendliness of the more evolved and wonderful humans I have encountered on my pedal tours, who give you a high-five, thumbs up, even shout out all the best, and give you way, so that you aren’t cruising down a slope to break suddenly at a large motor vehicle looming ahead. There are also many people who chat with you, incase you have stopped for a drink break, curious about your cycling sojourns.
On the flip and not-so-nice side, are taxi drivers, auto drivers and bikers who love going in the opposite direction of a one way... they are a bane to any cyclist... One wishes they would have some more sense... or traffic etiquette.
Cycling in Bengaluru is a sure shot way of getting to your destination faster, and it’s healthy and reduces the carbon footprint... Though, it would be apt for the city without roads, to first have decent roads to ply on, and if at all there is a glimmer of hope, some cycling paths for those resolute and tireless cyclists that have already done a great job by reducing pollution and congestion, just a wee bit.
— The writer loves life in the slow lane.