Long-time cyclist and GPSpeak clinical editor, Andrew Binns shares his thoughts about pedal-pushing in the Northern Rivers…
It hardly needs saying that I would not have been a recreational and commuter cyclist for about 60 years without some enthusiasm for this activity. Cyclists will weigh up the benefits versus the risks as the number of reported serious cycle accidents seem to be on the increase including in our own region.
We live in times when bicycle imports have exceeded car sales for over a decade. Import figures across Australia have shown the growth in adults cycling and bike sales. Imports for adult bikes have increased by 21 per cent since 2009-10, whilst children’s bike imports have recorded a 7 per cent fall over the same period. Some 30 per cent of all car trips are 5km or less, a distance that can be easily cycled.
In NSW in 1971, only 12 per cent of children were driven to school, but by 2010 half of all secondary students were being driven to school (Bicycle Industries Australia, July 2013). According to a Royal Society for the Prevention of Accident Report (August 2014):
Around 75 per cent of fatal or serious cyclist accidents occur in urban areas
Around half of cyclist fatalities occur on rural roads
75 per cent happen at, or near, a road junction
80 per cent occur in daylight
80 per cent of cyclist casualties are male
Almost one-quarter of the cyclists killed or injured are children
Around three-quarters of cyclists killed have major head injuries.
To look at some of the hazards and some preventative measures, we need to look at all aspects of cycling.
With the modeling for making bikes lighter being driven largely by the huge bike racing industry, material such as carbon fibre has been used. Whether these bikes are stronger than aluminum or other metal frames is open to debate, and in the accompanying article Max Osborne discusses this further .
Collapse of a bike frame whilst riding is a potentially catastrophic event, as Dr Chris Gavaghan recounts in his article.
Aside from weight, bikes are certainly more efficient, as the technology used with gears and brakes has improved so much. Other safety features such as vastly improved lighting back and front using light emitting diode (LED) technology has made riding at dawn, dusk and at night both feasible and safer.
A new craze of riding motorised bikes is gaining momentum. In my area I see young children and adolescents roaring around the streets on these bikes, often without a helmet and no need for a licence. This is highly dangerous.
If I can emphasise one safety feature for cyclists it is the need to wear bright clothing. Dark colours should be avoided and the choice is immense. However, bright clothing and lights doesn’t mean cyclists are visible in thick fog, and this weather condition is reason enough to abandon a ride altogether.
Just as there are good and bad drivers the same applies to cyclists. Skill, care, manners, knowledge of road rules and bike group-ride etiquette are all needed for safe cycling.
Having been on a number of cycling trips to Japan, where the roads are smooth and well maintained, makes one realise just how bad our roads are and this can impact on safe riding. Pot holes are dangerous for cycling particularly those that seem to emerge on a steep descent. After a wet season they are particularly dangerous for cyclists. Wet roads can be slippery and riding to conditions is important.
Again, motorists in Japan are very respectful of cyclists and the road laws and penalties favour the bike rider, which helps with safe riding. France is another country where cycling is such a significant sport that cyclists are treated with respect. Over there, a car approaching from behind on a narrow road will give a light toot of the horn to alert the rider of their presence rather than the kind of aggressive blast we often experience here.
That leads to the topic of road rage and the ‘shave’ given to some cyclists on their journey by a passing vehicle. The law says the passing width of such a vehicle should be one metre.
One of the pleasures of cycling is being able to enjoy the environment. As well as the scenery there is the wild life one comes across. I have seen koalas, kangaroos, carpet snakes, wedge tail eagles, platypus in the creeks, and more in our wonderful area (whilst keeping my eyes on the road, of course!).
However, animals can also cause accidents when they unexpectedly stray out onto the road, particularly on steep descents. Then there are the magpies during their breeding season – they can literally bring a rider down when they attack from the side. Stray cattle and dogs can also propose a major hazard for cyclists.
I am delighted to report that cycling is becoming more popular, and in all likelihood this trend will continue in both urban and rural areas. With the push to encourage cycling for health, transport and environmental reasons, safety also needs to be addressed more seriously, with safer cycle ways and education for riders and motorists of all ages.