What I’ve learned from hitting the tarmac

Cyclists at Cycle Superhighway 3

I love to ride my bike. I have done so for years – it’s a great way of getting around and I like to ride for sport, too. Despite the fact I love the feeling of whooshing along tarmac, with recent crashes grabbing the headlines, it’s hard not to let worry creep in when commuting on busy roads.

I’ve had two incidents with cars in my riding career, and both have taught me a similar lesson: always be aware, and never assume.

The first crash took place as I waited in a Brighton cycle lane to the left hand side of a queue of traffic.

There was a one way street to the left hand side designed only for the purpose of allowing oncoming traffic to leave from the station. There was, in my opinion, no chance of any driver wanting to take the denied road and drive up to the station.

As the lights changed, a thud proved otherwise as a small red car rammed into me and pushed me to the ground before I got a chance to react. The driver stopped, started making those annoying high pitched noises that drivers make when they’ve hit you and are totally in the wrong, got out the car and apologised profusely whilst various onlookers offered to provide photographic evidence if I needed it.

Thankfully, I was unharmed excluding a wing-mirror mark to the upper arm, and the alloy bike I was riding was also unscathed since the crash had been at a very low speed, so I never took them up on the offer.

This accident taught me a valuable lesson: never assume. Following the highway code, that car would never have turned left and would never have hit me – but real life on the roads, does not always follow the highway code.

As cyclists, we should always seek to follow the code, but we have to bear in mind that the unexpected might take place. In this case, I should have positioned myself in front of the car, I should not have been to the left hand side of it, and I could have made eye contact, and the accident, though definitely not my fault, could have perhaps been averted.

My second crash was a lot more painful and resulted in much more damage to my bike. Happily pedalling my way home from work, only minutes from my front door, I rode past the entrance to a small car park. It was dark, but I had high viz stripes on my trousers, and a high powered front and rear light set.

From nowhere, it would seem, came a set of headlights crossing from the other side of the road, directly across my path and careering into me. I registered the situation, told my hands to pull on the brakes, and then started to realise, in slow motion, that the brakes were not going to stop me quick enough.

Straight onto the bonnet I went, before hitting the tarmac. Once again, on the floor – not my fault. The driver had been turning into the car park from the opposite side of the road, I had been blocked momentarily from her view I think by a parked car, and she’d not taken a second to check the entrance was clear before pulling in. I must have screamed quite alarmingly because a member of the public called the police and an ambulance.

This accident resulted in whiplash, purchase of new front forks, helmet, and shifters – and also nearly risked me missing my Majorca training camp holiday. Thankfully, I managed to mend myself in time to get on the aeroplane and go. The driver paid for the work to my bike with her insurance and was sent on a driver awareness course.

Note: If you are ever in an accident, we work with CAMS to help cyclists claim back any damage to their bike and get them back on the road as fast as possible. Find out more here.

In this case, I learnt to always be aware. Now, when I cross any junction – be it a car park, a minor road or a major junction, I’m careful to keep my wits about me. Though my path was crossed and the accident wasn’t my fault, I could have prevented it by looking around for headlights acting strangely before moving across the entrance.

On the roads we all have a responsibility to look out for ourselves and for others. Among drivers, many accidents are prevented by another person behind the wheel taking evasive action because unfortunately – people sometimes do stupid things. When cycling, we need to do the same – constantly being aware of what is going on around us and managing our own safety.

Though we sometimes meet antagonistic, rude drivers, the majority don’t really want to hurt us, and though cyclists often feel irritated by drivers, we don’t really want to collide with them. Since we all have a shared aim of getting where we are going safely, we may as well work together.

If you’re worried about riding on the roads, check out our post on how to make your cycling safer.

Michelle is a time trial rider who works for a bike shop but writes for a number of websites, including her own Ride.Write.Repeat. site in her spare time.

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18 Responses to What I’ve learned from hitting the tarmac

  1. Vincent 08/01/2014 at 11:47 am #

    > Straight onto the bonnet I went, before hitting the tarmac. Once again, on the floor – not my fault. The driver had been turning into the car park from the opposite side of the road, I had been blocked momentarily from her view I think by a parked car, and she’d not taken a second to check the entrance was clear before pulling in.

    Maybe spoke lights could have prevented the accident by making you even more obvious.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=bike+spoke+lights&tbm=isch

    • Kate 09/01/2014 at 10:17 am #

      I think helmet lights are really helpful in this kind of situation too. I run a Lezyne Femto (front) which is perfect – compact and not too bright (it’s just a secondary light to be seen rather than light the way as my main light does).

      The light always follows where you are looking (ie: a car coming towards you) and generally your head and the light stays above the roof of parked cars so cars pulling out from side roads see you better.

      Not saying that should have been wearing one though – the driver was at fault – but little things like this help make me feel a bit safer

      • John Rawlins 09/01/2014 at 10:42 am #

        I am a big fan of headlamps too. I wear a Petzl headlamp as I don’t usually wear a helmet and I believe that it is far more effective than a lamp fixed to the handlebars – especially when turning on dark country lanes and when trying to capture a driver’s attention at busy roundabouts.

  2. Jason 08/01/2014 at 5:15 pm #

    Good blog, very useful advice here.

    Motorcyclists call this ‘defensive riding’ and are taught to anticipate this type of thing where possible.

    Basically everyone is out to get you, so always have a back up plan ;) (only joking…well half joking – you can still enjoy riding while trying to anticipate other peoples stupid actions)

  3. commuterjohn 08/01/2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Yes, A very well written article. I was passing a side street whilst on the main road when a car came out at about10 mph and hit me off because I assumed they would give way – wrong.
    Now I am always ready to give way even when I have the right of way. This has worked well for me for many years .

  4. John Rawlins 09/01/2014 at 10:08 am #

    Somebody once told me how bicycle accidents hardly ever happen when cycling uphill. He was right – accidents don’t often happen when you are travelling slowly. Of course, this is a generalisation – but very many accidents would never have happened if one or both parties were travelling more slowly.

  5. Richard Keen 09/01/2014 at 1:11 pm #

    I totally agree with you Michelle, you have to look out for yourself and ride defensively as the blind, impatient and speeding idiots don’t see you no matter how many lights and reflectors you are have on yourself or your bike. At least once per ride I have to take evasive action to avoid being run down even when riding very carefully. Take care out there on those mean streets. Long live the bike!

  6. Richard Keen 09/01/2014 at 1:13 pm #

    You have to look out for yourself and ride defensively as the blind, impatient and speeding idiots don’t see you no matter how many lights and reflectors you are have on yourself or your bike. At least once per ride I have to take evasive action to avoid being run down even when riding very carefully. Take care out there on those mean streets. Long live the bike!

  7. elspeth 09/01/2014 at 7:15 pm #

    i pulled up to a set of red lights within the green cycle box and had a new black ? mercedes or similar drive into the back of me while i was stationary. the agressive and large man proceeded to hop out of the car and yell and me when I looked back shocked and indicating that he had bent my mudgard. he accused me of stopping in the middle of the road – to which i explained that it was a red light and i was in the cycle box, that he was also in the cycle box which he shouldn’t be as he is driving a car. he yelled for 3-4 mintues, hoped back in his car. the10 cyclists around me all checked i was ok. when the lights went green, he took of like a rocket and nearly knocked anothe cyclist off the road.

    I’ve ridden in 4 cities around the world and its the only time ive been hit by a car and it made me accept that even when you do nothing at all wrong, we’re at the mercy of other idiods. always keep our wits about us!

  8. Zoe 09/01/2014 at 8:00 pm #

    A car drove into the side of me while I was in my car in the next lane and the driver got out and yelled at me about female drivers. I had to sue him to get him to cough up. Some people are just horrible people and treat everyone badly. Problem is, when you are on a bike it’s not just damage to the car you suffer.

  9. Mark 10/01/2014 at 10:14 am #

    It’s not only drivers which pose a threat to cyclists, the only times i’ve been hit or knocked off my bike was by other cyclists not paying attention.

  10. William 10/01/2014 at 10:31 am #

    Always take a witness details.
    I had an accident – car went the wrong way round a roundabout about 6.30am – elderly gentleman – he was really shaken up – gave me his detials felt sorry for him – just a few scratches and he totally admitted it was his fault.
    After about 5 months heard nothing back from the insurance – then got a massive document back from his insurance – totally changed the story blamed me for everything.
    Cut the story short week before court date they agreed 50/50 split – wish i had gone to court but by then been going on 2 years.
    So always take any witness details no matter how minor and if you can take photos – his car was parked on the roundabout facing wrong way – one photo would of saved all the stress.

  11. Nige 10/01/2014 at 10:33 am #

    Good advice here, luckily only had two close shaves myself both of them caused by drivers stopping to give way to a vehicle turning right when they shouldn’t (the vehicle turning right can wait imo). You’re always hidden behind the vehicle who gives way like that, strange considering that the driver has just passed you so should know you are there!

  12. Shady 10/01/2014 at 10:45 am #

    As I always tell others – as a cyclist you are the squishy thing on the road – so should ride accordingly (defensively).

    The reality is that it does not matter who is in the wrong, a cyclist will almost always come off worse in an accident (excepting pedestrians).

  13. Paul 10/01/2014 at 1:16 pm #

    Never assume they have seen you is the best rule. One time at night even with street lights, my lights and high vis gear I still got hit by a van coming from the opposite direction overtaking a parked car on a narrow road. The impact was so loud people came out of their houses.
    I was going uphill and I’m sure that’s what that saved me because I was standing up on the pedals providing a good launch position on impact and keeping my head away from the van.
    The point is if I hadn’t spent a precious second or two saying to myself “I can’t believe he can’t see me” assuming he must be able to see me then I probably could of avoided a brutal take down.

  14. crudgie 11/01/2014 at 12:49 am #

    make every effort to get away from an accident , swerve ,jump off, put your foot out, whatever it takes and roll and look out for other vehicles , get up and get safe

  15. graham barker 13/01/2014 at 9:27 pm #

    the advice i would give to any cyclist that has been involved in an accident and is able to get up….if you dont have a camera to take pics of the vehicle, registration and possibly the driver….get witnesses….write down details immediately, even if you are shook up.,….this will be vital…no driver will like any of this….i have only ever been knocked off my bike once, i refused someones name as a witness and took the driver at her word she would pay for any damage, when i told her the cost she refused to pay, refused to give me her insurance details…i had to get the police involved….it showed me that people when in the wrong deny everything….dont be fooled by a kindly gesture, it will bite you on the arse later….

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