Bicycling safety in Britain - CycleBlaze

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Bicycling safety in Britain

Scott Anderson

We’ve been cycling in Britain for almost three months now, and on the whole have been pleasantly surprised by the consideration we’re given by motor vehicle drivers.  On single track roads they regularly slow down to make sure we have room to pass, and will frequently stop at a pull off and flash their lights at us to indicate that we can take the road.  There are exceptions of course, and we’ve been on busy highways from time to time where we didn’t feel safe and probably didn’t belong.  But in general biking here has felt much safer than I’d expected.

A partial explanation for this was given to me by our B&B host this morning.  He said that the British Highway Code was recently updated to specifically give more consideration to bicyclists.  I followed up on this later and found this link that gives an overview of the changes that we’re implemented earlier this year.  It’s worth reading if you’re planning a bike trip in Britain.  

The code now advises drivers to give 1.5 meters clearance when overtaking a cyclist, and to give priority to by cyclists in traffic circles.  Maybe the most interesting addition though is to establish a hierarchy of road users, placing those at the most risk of harm in a collision at the top.  Motor vehicles are at the bottom, pedestrians and people on horseback are at the top, and bicycles are in the middle.  The idea is that you have the greater responsibility to watch out for others at greater risk of injury.

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3 weeks ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Scott Anderson

Thanks Scott, I read it, especially since we are leaving for England next week. The improvements are slightly comforting, assuming first that any drivers have read them. Also, though it is nice to know when you are in the right, such as in taking the lane, it is not nice to be dead right. Dead right can occur when the giant SUV driver behind you is drunk, crabby, texting, or all of the above!

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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Steve Miller/Grampies

Well, yes of course.  They have primary responsibility, but you have your own and you have the most at stake.  And they’re only people.  And it’s guidance, not law.  

After almost 12 weeks here though I think the greatest risk to myself is myself.  Even after all this time there’s still an occasional instance where I catch myself looking left instead of right when entering a street.  Hopefully I’ll retrain myself quickly when we return to France.

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3 weeks ago
Gregory GarceauTo Scott Anderson

I haven't toured overseas, but I always considered Great Britain to be near the top of my list of possibilities.  I didn't know England was considered dangerous for cyclists, but even with that information, I don't fear it.  From my experience, no matter the amount of traffic, no matter the size of the shoulder, no matter what country you're in, there are very, very few car drivers who would actually WANT to hit you.  Some will pass to close to you, yell at you, or try to scare you (especially in the U.S.), but very few of those losers want to deal with the possibility of being seen by witnesses, caught on camera, or having to deal with the hassle of police reports.  It's true, we cyclists are never safe from the drunk or incompetent anywhere, but those highway codes won't stop those people.  There are risks wherever we ride, but all we can do is try our best to be seen, look around at all intersections, ride sidewalks if necessary, avoid riding into sunrises and sunsets, pedal onward, and hope for the best.

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3 weeks ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Gregory Garceau

Ouch, that hurts (literally). - It was riding into a sunrise that got us in Florida (compounded by a typical American pickup with huge side mirror).

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3 weeks ago
Gregory GarceauTo Steve Miller/Grampies

Steve, I remember reading your account of riding to (as I recall) Cape Canaveral.  I've never been one to start riding early in the morning, but your crash gave me a reason not to start doing so.

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3 weeks ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Gregory Garceau

Or you could make it a rule always to cycle west!

Sometimes we think cycling at night can be good, since today's headlights and taillights can be very strong and visible. But in practice we'll only do that if forced.

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3 weeks ago
Jeff LeeTo Scott Anderson

I've never traveled outside the USA, except for riding in Canada for a couple of days during two bicycle tours. 

I'll probably never do a bike tour outside this country, but several years ago, bored in the middle of a cold Midwestern winter, I ordered the book "Land's End to John O'Groat on the National Cycle Network", and looked at it quite a bit.

It's sort of embarrassing, but the main reason I don't think I could ride in Britain is because I'm pretty sure I could not get used to riding on the other side of the road.

Britain is still appealing to me, though, because of the lack of a language barrier. Now that I know your journal, despite its title, is not about riding in France, I'm going to read it - maybe it will inspire me to overcome my fear of riding on the other side of the road!

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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Jeff Lee

Funny - it didn’t occur to me that the title would mislead people to think the journal was set in France.  It’s part of a trilogy with all three parts being around France, and I was just looking for titles that bound them together.

Actually, thinking back now that’s not really right.  It was originally going to be a single 9 month journal that began and ended in France, but I changed my mind when the idea of scrolling through a 9 month table of contents sounded too odious.

Anyway I hope you enjoy the read, and if you ever do decide to try a trip abroad I’d certainly consider Britain.  We’ve enjoyed it far more than we’d expected to and now I wish we’d given it a try years ago.

And as a Kentuckian there’s one aspect you might appreciate - the dogs here are especially well mannered.  There are dogs aplenty everywhere you go but they’re almost always leashed or fenced, and even when they aren’t they’re no threat.  We haven’t had a single adverse dog encounter in three months.

And you could figure out the right side of the road, I’m sure - or die trying, I guess.  You have a much younger brain than I do, so if I can do it you probably can too.

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3 weeks ago
Graham SmithTo Scott Anderson

Hi Scott I recently did a ridiculously short, bike-less  visit (only 1 week)  to England (from Australia) to visit my son & his girlfriend, my London cousins and an old friend Simon in Sussex  who I cycle toured in the Middle East with in 1979. 

Simon lent me a mountain bike and we did a few hours cycling around the area near the delightful village  of Southwold on the Sussex coast. This is the first time I’ve ridden off-seal in the UK and it was great. And another cycle touring friend and his daughter did a very extensive off-seal, almost traffic free cycle tour in northern England and southern Scotland a couple of months ago.

Decades ago I did a cycle tour circuit of England, but given my recent experience, if I were to cycle tour in the UK again, I’d put on fatter, knobbly tyres, some bike-packing bags and concentrate on off-seal routes. 

Enjoy the rest of your stay in the UK. You have lucked onto an extraordinarily historical couple of weeks to be there; especially today. RIP QEII.

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1 week ago