By Laurel-Lea Shannon
Being a skilled rider involves practising safe cycling techniques on highways, following the rules of the road and watching out for motor traffic—all while keeping an eye out for road hazards such as gravel, debris, potholes and broken pavement. Add chatting with your cycling buddies to that list, and you begin to realize just how busy you are on the bike. To stay safe you need to stay focused. Here’s a heads up about what to watch out for on the roads this cycling season.
Potholes and broken pavement: It’s best to avoid potholes and broken pavement but often that’s not possible. There may be too much traffic, preventing you from taking the lane, or another cyclist could be riding beside you, making it impossible to swing around the pothole. That’s when it’s good to know how to bunny-hop. Here’s how you do it:
1) As you approach a pothole or broken pavement, level the pedal cranks and lift your bum off the saddle. This provides a more stable platform.
2) Place your hands on the hoods of the handlebar and shift your weight backward.
3) As you approach the pothole, spring your body and feet upward. A light pull on the handlebars will raise the front of the bike higher than the back. But do this with a light touch. You don’t need to go very high to clear a pothole.
4) Once you’ve cleared the obstacle, focus on keeping control of the bike as you land.
Practice the bunny-hop in empty parking lots, so you are confident you can use it when you need it on the road.
Puddles: If you can avoid them, don’t ride through puddles on the road. They often conceal huge holes.
Rain: The roads are most slippery when it first starts raining. That’s when oil and dust float to the surface of the road, reducing traction.
When it’s raining, allow more time to brake. Wet tire rims affect the time it takes for brakes to engage and once the brakes do engage, they can grab. If that happens, be prepared to ease off the brake levers, or you could skid on the road.
Painted lines and steel surfaces: When the painted lines on roads are wet they become slippery. This includes manhole covers, bridges, railway tracks and sewer grates. Ride with caution whenever you encounter these.
Leaves: This is more of a hazard in the autumn. Leaves are slippery when wet, and, like puddles, they can conceal large holes.
Railway tracks: Cross them at the side of the road where the tracks are less worn. Always cross them with your wheels perpendicular to the tracks. Cross with caution or walk your bike when they are wet.
Sand and gravel: In the early spring, sand and gravel can make the roads treacherous. If you’re cycling through a gravel-strewn corner, straighten the bike and gently lean your body into the corner. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t jam on the brakes. If you need to slow down, feather the brakes before you enter the corner.
Dogs: As a kid I had a near-fatal accident when I was attacked by a dog while on my bicycle. The dog knocked me off my bike and I came within a hair’s breadth of getting run over by a pickup truck. It was an early lesson in how dangerous dogs can be for cyclists. Decades later, when I started road cycling, I spent a lot of my time on the bike watching out for dogs. Even hearing a dog bark would send my heart pounding and my adrenaline skyrocketing.
A couple of years ago, while riding with a woman who owns several large dogs, a furry beast chased us. Unlike me, my friend wasn’t afraid. She just yelled several times in a very loud, firm voice, “GO HOME!”. That’s doggie speak. Dogs are used to their owners barking orders at them. Do that and they’ll think you’re their owner—a plain “NO” may work too.
If you have some road hazard advice, please leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you. And if you have any questions, email us at editor at womenscycling.ca. We’ll do our best to answer them.