The dangers of cycling

As July 7th gets closer and closer, I thought I’d get a bit more info about all the little things I’m working on and thinking about before my 1000 mile bike ride. First up – a few concerns I’ve had about safety and cycling (after reading this article about why cyclists don’t always hug the kerb).

Whatever way you look at it, cycling has the potential to go horribly wrong. When you’re whizzing along at 30mph with only a thin veneer of Lycra to protect you should the worst happen; a lot of time is spent focusing on staying upright. Over the 3000 miles I’ve cycled in my life I’ve been quite fortunate to have remained upright – but I’ve had a couple of near misses which I’d like to lay out here in a top 5 of Antony’s cycling mishaps:

At number 5 the one and only self-inflicted incident to make this list. When I was working as a pizza chef in my home town of Tavistock, I occasionally cycled the route home in the quiet, late night hours. This was almost all uphill, with the exception of one short, speedy decent down into the town centre. The lack of traffic led to an ability to hit high speeds… Which is all fine and well until you take a tight corner over a button roundabout, still pedalling and your foot/pedal hits the ground, lifting you off the ground a few inches (whilst leaning at about 45 degrees and travelling at about 20mph). It was only about 100m down the road that my brain processed the audible gasps of some kebab munching passers by as being directly related to my brief attempt at flight. Needless to say, I’ve taken corners and roundabouts with my inside pedal at the top ever since.

At number 4 is a brief foray with that staple of British road culture, the white van man. I’ve never willingly played a game of chicken in my life – the potential risks far outweigh the short term kudos boost. So imagine my surprise when, as I gazed down a long straight Shropshire road, I saw the eponymous white van man overtaking another car at a speed which I quickly calculated would not be sufficient to pull in before it reached me. At first, I plodded on, expecting either a speeding up of the pulling in. This didn’t happen. I made eye contact, in what I like to imagine was an assertive “hello! Please don’t hit me” kind of way. Nothing changed. We drew closer. I surveyed the prickly hedge on my left with immense suspicion. I braked. I braked a bit more. I noticed that he read the Sun! I began to panic a bit. And then, at the last second (with his eyes already averted from the potential splattering) he managed to pull in.

The number 3 slot is occupied by a more urban encounter. As I approached the end of a 250 mile ride to London, I utilised London’s out-of-favour canals to avoid the dangerous city traffic. Little did I realised that KILLER BIRDS patrolled these tow paths. In some places the path is only 2 foot wide, and is made up of a lumpy grass surface – not ideal when you’re on a road bike with tyres barely an inch wide. The going was tough enough without my sudden intrusion on a family of geese who decided to get all territorial up in my face. I got within a few cms of the water, locked up the rear wheel, wobbled dangerously, and then peddled like hell as I was chased by MUTANT KILLER GEESE. Ok, maybe they weren’t killer, but I didn’t want to hang around.

Coming in a close second is my encounter with a skip. On my last Lands End ride (indeed, on the same day as the game of chicken) I had a close encounter with high speed flying metal poles. I was approaching a corner at the top of a slight rise as a lorry carrying a fully laden skip came towards me. It hit a bump, the whole vehicle juddered, and about 10 bits of 3ft scaff pipe jumped out towards us. We were doing about 15 mph, the van probably about 45 – so a closing speed of 60. Metal pole to human flesh at 60 would not be pretty. A few bounced either side, I cycled over 1 (possibly 2), and another bounced over my head. I remember distinctly watching it bounce off the ground, wondering if it would clear my head, and nervously ducking. I ground to a stop at the same time as the lorry, collected my thoughts, and ambled slowly to help pick up those recently lethal poles. Just goes to show that you need to expect the unexpected!

And today’s winner, taking away a rather choice selection of blue words, goes to an overly optimistic quarry lorry. I was going up a gently spiralling hill meaning that visibility for overtaking traffic was very limited. The left hand side of the road was an almost vertical sheer rock face. I was jolly surprised to see a lorry (one of the ones that works on quarries – 12 wheels, 3-4 metres high, and generally massive) attempting to overtake me. To be fair, he was giving me a wide berth… Until another car came in the other direction. He was forced to pull in, and lost momentum, so as travelling at the same speed as me. My major concern at this point – and please don’t think I’m exaggerating for effect as the story needs no embellishment – was that I had about 6 inches between me and the rock face, and about the same distance between me and what I can only describe as two bicycle-height spinning wheels of death. Cycling in a straight line is hard enough at the best of times, but when you’ve only got a foot of leeway between you and a chuffing massive lorry it gets somewhat harder. We were locked in a duet of parallel movement for a fair while, and when the lorry did eventually pass and I was able to focus on more than just avoiding wobbling I made it very clear, vocally, why his overtake was dangerous, what he shouldn’t be on the road, and a whole range of unrelated but to my mind fully justified criticisms of the drivers existence. It may not have turned back time, but it was quite effective at stopping the car behind me from overtaking for a couple of miles!

So, there you have it – my honour list of things which nearly ended me on the bike. Some sound quite trivial, others still bring vitriol to my blood. I publish this not as a some sob story to get extra funding (although please do sponsor me! http://www.justgiving.com/antonybutcher) but as the first of a series of all the things which go through my head whilst planning this bike ride. I’m hoping to write a bit more about training, logistics, equipment and so on. Is there anything you’d like to know about? Let me know 🙂
Stay safe now y’all!


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