I cycled 11,000km around Aotearoa and learned the following bonus safety tips
by Dunc Wilson
It's one of the most talked about issues of cycling: how safe is that bike person over there on the road? Almost universally, the conversation comes from the perspective of preventing the cyclist from being hit by the car. When, really, it should be about preventing the car from hitting the cyclist.
Still, we are where we are and, right or wrong, it makes good sense to deploy every safety tactic, weapon and disinfectant available when we clamber onto a bike. If only to view things through the 'survival of the fittest' prism.
1/ Rear view
First up, I highly recommend watching. I don't mean just the regular, forward watching you already do from the saddle perch; I mean enhanced watching. Hugely unfashionable, despised by the speed demon cycle fraternity, but I'd like to take a moment to recommend mirrors. I know: gross, right? 150 words in and I've already unleashed a cycle safety item on you.
One week into The Big Loop, I'd barely been dangled into even a fraction of danger, yet a mate bought me a helmet mirror. Willing to try most things once, I stuck it on my visor at Hot Water Beach and cycled on over Pumpkin Hill. A few more days of stunning Coromandel cycling and I was a convert. It allowed me to claim my slice of road, remain there for overtakes and keep half an eye on any motorists willing to chance a close pass. On any occasion where a buzzing seemed likely, I was able to scurry on over to the shoulder and dictate the passing distance myself. I feel hindered road-riding without my mirror now.
2/ See everything
Anyone who's done any defensive driver training will tell you to clock every junction you’re about to pass; even if you have right of way. It's amazing how an early glance at a side road can inform you of the future and help prepare you for evasive action. The same applies for cycling. I embrace the motto 'never trust a motorist', since any car could become a danger at any moment. Keep part of your mind on the brakes, ready to pull them at any moment.
3/ Return the rays
Aside from seeing all the things, it obviously pays to be seen. I'll leave it up to you exactly what decorations you choose, but the brighter the colours, the flashier the lights and the more glittery the jangles, the less likely you are to be missed. Also, what’s your back-up plan if your lights fail? Have one.
4/ State Highways good, cut-throughs bad
Of all the wonders and quirks of New Zealand roads, there are a couple to note as a cyclist. Firstly, the shoulders on state highways are generally nice and wide, giving you plenty of room to hide in, if needed. On the flip side, some smaller, cut-throughs, can have next-to no shoulder and twice as much traffic. These backroads become like superhighways at rush hour and are best avoided where possible.
5/ Passing on the passing lanes
Secondly, those nice, wide highways will occasionally offer motorists a passing lane. That nice shoulder usually disappears to make way for the second lane. Most vehicles will take that outside lane, but know that trucks and campervans will likely be getting overtaken and be stuck in the inside lane. This can create a temptation to pass you close.
If you spot a passing lane early, then you might want to set out your stall and “take” a piece of then left lane. This could stave off the temptation to buzz you. Other options include walk in the grass by the road or wait, but I don’t recommend riding as close to the kerb as you can.
Dunc Wilson once smashed himself and a bike round the New Zealand coastline, then wrote a book about his 11,000 km adventure. ‘The Big Loop’ is available in stores and online now.