3 odd changes to make your next bike ride safer than the last

An interesting article in the Evening Standard caught my attention last week.

Inside, behavioural psychologist Crawford Hollingworth, suggested some quick changes cyclists can make to their next bike ride.

As a reader of London Cyclist, you already know the importance of glancing over your shoulder and of the dangers posed by lorries with large blind spots, so what new things can we pickup?

Let’s take a look at three of the suggestions.

1. Vary up your cycling route

Over time, we all pick our favourite routes through London and use them consistently. This familiarity however, can lead us to cycle in autopilot mode where we are not looking out for dangers as much as we might be in an unfamiliar route.

According to Hollingworth, choosing a new route could heighten our focus and alertness.

It’s an interesting suggestion and clearly with some merit. Although, you could argue that the benefit of cycling along a route that you know well means you know where the dangers are likely to come from and how to avoid them. Additionally, on a new route, you might be too busy trying to work out where to turn, as opposed to looking for dangers.

2. Use two sets of rear and front lights on different modes

The article states that a flashing light can increase awareness, whilst a static light helps with judging perspective and distance. Two bike lights are safer than one, seems like a reasonable finding. Just make sure you are not blinding other cyclists or drivers with lights that are pointed too high. We’ve got a roundup of some of the best selling bike lights here.

3. Use bike light symbols

Brainy Bike Lights

The final suggestion is to use a bike light that projects a cycling symbol. According to Hollingworth, we process familiar symbols very rapidly. The cyclist symbol would therefore make a difference in how quickly a driver reacts to a cyclist.

There are a two products I know of that can do this. One of them is the Blaze Laserlight (which we looked at here) and the other is the Brainy Bike Light, sold by Hollingworth, the author of the suggestions.

It’s certainly an interesting idea and Hollingworth appears to have the research to back it.

Overall, I still believe that going on a two hour free cycle training course is one of the best things you can do to improve your safety when cycling in London. When you combine that with safer cycling infrastructure you can see a future where no cyclists are killed on London’s roads. Fortunately, with work starting on the new North / South Cycle Superhighway in the next few days, that future seems to be finally becoming a reality.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

11 Responses to 3 odd changes to make your next bike ride safer than the last

  1. Nico 05/03/2015 at 1:42 pm #

    Before saying he is backed up by research, do yours. The “report” by Oxford Uni is nowhere to be found (although if someone has a link I’d love to check it out). The research has not been peer-reviewed or published, as far as I know (although that is not necessarily a guarantee of quality).

    From the incredible amount of PR put out and the Brainy Bike Lights website, it seems that all the tests performed were in the lab, so even if there was a significant effect it does not necessarily translate to a real-life situation improvement. In other words, no-one knows if these lights make any bit of difference.

    Now for the 3 points.

    (1) Yes varying your routes means you have to be more engaged, but with the state of London’s roads it is also essential to know where the dodgy passes happen, or which bit of road is always pot-holed etc, and that comes only with experience. I know I studied my routes carefully and now that I have found a few that are relatively safe and quick, I’d need a good reason to change. Who wants to take a wrong turn and end up on a giratory?

    (2) Yeah, sure. Also it’s the law to have lights.

    (3) No research has shown this yet.

    I agree with you about the training course (despite not having been on one; I keep meaning to go).

    I am deeply unconvinced by all the gadget sellers that will revolutionize cycling, particularly all the visibility/lighting kit. In all the worst encounters I’ve had with motor vehicles the driver had seen me perfectly fine, they had just decided that because I’m on a bike they could bully me in the pavement, close pass me, tailgate me, swerve into me and generally swear at me. (The abuse was very unoriginal too, all Fs and Cs and homophobic/xenophobic taunts; you can do better drivers!)

  2. Derek Garcia 06/03/2015 at 1:36 am #

    One of our favorite cycling gear companies, Mission Bicycles, sells an awesome laser light that projects the image of a bicycle, in front of the bicycle (see bullet number 5):


  3. MJ Ray 06/03/2015 at 7:55 am #

    It’s a junk promotional piece. I’m surprised that you took it seriously but glad that you pointed out that training is more useful but not mentioned because they don’t sell it.

    • Andreas 06/03/2015 at 11:06 am #

      Cheers MJ – I didn’t feel the need to point out the conflict of interest of a psychologist promoting their own product. I felt readers would easily reach that conclusion for themselves:
      “Brainy Bike Light, sold by Hollingworth, the author of the suggestions.”

  4. Phil 06/03/2015 at 8:50 am #

    The frequency of these advertising-oriented pieces does seem to be increasing; in the interests of transparency it ought to be stated if any income or benefit was derived from such content, or if the content was sponsored in any way. Bikesnobnyc does this, and his blog remains extremely popular.

    • Andreas 06/03/2015 at 11:08 am #

      Cheers Phil – Though to be clear, there was no exchange of money, camels, land or any other goods or services for this mention. It was purely a “hey this thing came up in the Evening Standard – here are my views”.

    • ed 06/03/2015 at 3:45 pm #

      its called ‘native advertising’ Phil, A vast chunk of publisher revenues are made up of it now. Paid ads just dont get the click through they used to, so articles are written to effectvely promote or favourably position the advertiser / product service.

      In their defence, as no one is prepared to pay for the daily throw away news (ES, Mirror, Mail etc) then they have to make thier money somehow.

      Pretty standard practice and should be fairly easy to decipher with articles are written in that manner

  5. Charlie 17/03/2015 at 12:55 pm #

    Have just stumbled across your blog. Thanks for the tip about the free training schemes. I wasn’t aware of them – I will definitely do that. I commute 20 miles a day, about 3 days a week, in London on the bike and it is the most stressful part of my day!

  6. ZebraThree 20/03/2015 at 9:48 pm #

    I agree it is important to have two sources of light front and back, but as a car driver I find it easier to perceive speed and distance when the sources of light are positioned apart from each other. In addition to a light on the handlebar this could be achieved by placing a light higher up such as on a helmet, lower down like on a fork, or at least some distance apart on a set of handlebars.

  7. phil 23/03/2015 at 9:31 am #

    I’m a big fan of multiple lights at different flashing speeds. Through a rigorous, totally non scientific, non-blind experiment with a sample set of one I found it was a big help in becoming more visible, over other options i had tried.

    I particular it was when approaching a junction where traffic would be turning into or across the road i was in that i saw the reduction in near misses. I’m not sure if it is because drivers are automatically looking for two lights or that one light flashing gets lost in the noise but i had a number of cars at one particular junction on my commute pull out over a year or so. Switching it up to two lights saw cars thinking about pulling out and then braking before they really got going as they saw my lights.

    I’ve also added a second light to my helmet at the back as i think that the movement of my head means that the light moves and catches the attention more.

    anyways that’s my personnel experience. 1 light : okay, 2 lights: good

  8. adrian 11/04/2015 at 9:23 am #

    I had the misfortune to be driving recently in central london, in the dark, during a busy evening travel time.

    It was extremely difficult to determine where anybody was, or where I should be going – the satnav and roadsigns were ambiguous , misleading, too late. But worst of all were the lights.

    Car lights were too bright and numerous, washing everything else out.

    Some bike lights were missing or too dim : bikes invisible until in front of me.

    Some bike lights were bright point sources : seemingly modelled on car lights and trying to compete with them, they were certainly visible but gave no location information, just a dazzle in the mirror. I knew there was a bike there (or maybe a motorbike, or a car) but could tell nothing about it. I didn’t know whether they were moving or not, stuck behind me or filtering up. My only safe option was to wait for them to pass, and if they didn’t do that, to carry on cautiously.

    I’m an obstinate bugger and I don’t care if drivers behind me hoot, especially if the alternative is to squash someone, but not everyone is so thickskinned. Most people will just angle the mirror further away from the dazzle and press on.

    This brightness war doesn’t work, guys. Especially, not with point sources.

    My best idea for improvement is a lit jacket. Something bright enough to see in a mirror but big enough to locate.

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