Every scout, guide and member of the SAS knows something about bush craft. It’s the mix of skills that gets you home when you’ve been dumped a long way from the nearest can opener. Getting to your destination on a bicycle takes a mix of skills, confidence, attitude and alertness known as road craft. For experienced cyclists it’s second nature, but you can learn the basics.
Skills fall into bike handling skills and the ability to read the road and the traffic. Even if you travel the same route every day, it’s never the same. Weather conditions change, the behaviour of the traffic changes, sometimes even the road changes. Pedalling, gear selection, braking and cornering abilities determine what you do. And the better those skills are, the faster you can read and respond to changing conditions.
Confidence comes with experience and improved handling skills. With confidence you hold you own as a road user. Timidity can get you into trouble because your risk avoiding behaviour can actually increase the risks you face. You don’t need to be aggressive. But simply believing in your right to be on the road will change your behaviour markedly and make you a safer cyclist.
Of course the other side of your right to be on the road, is your responsibility to share it. Attitude is the partner of confidence. Know the road rules that apply to cyclists and think about how other road users see you. The more you can put yourself in motorists’ shoes, so to speak, the safer you’ll be. Do they know what you’re doing? Have they seen you signal? Can they see you at night or in low light conditions? Do they have the sun in their eyes making it hard to see you? Wherever possible, make eye contact with drivers so you know they’ve seen you. And small courtesies such as nodding thanks always help.
The last part of the road craft mix is alertness. When your bike handling skills are second nature, your confidence increases, which gives you more time to devote to watching your environment. You don’t have to think about what you’re doing. But you still need all your wits – and senses – about you. If you take your iPod along, for example, you’ve lost your sense of hearing. Listen for what’s coming up behind, scan ahead and to each side of your path, expect the unexpected and nothing will surprise you.
See you on the road soon, God willing. Eddie Barkla
First published in the Bendigo Weekly Friday 4 August 2006