Since I’ve started cycling I’ve learnt some very crucial safety rules that have not only saved my butt, but have also made the sport more enjoyable. Many women are afraid of cycling because they think it’s “dangerous” and I often get asked questions like: “But aren’t you scared of cars?”; “What if you fall?” and so on. The truth is, I’m not afraid of cars – I am afraid of bad, mindless and reckless drivers. And when it comes to falling, I’ve fallen during mountain bike races and on the tarmac, but I’m fine – and falling is kind of part of the package, especially if you’re a mountain biker. It’s the fear of falling that’s always worse than the fall.
Cycling season is in full swing and for all of you training for Cape Town Cycle Tour, I’ve put together a handy guide that will ensure your safety out on the road (or on the mountain) and a guide for motorists (so please share!).
1/ Maintain your gear
Servicing your bike and maintaining your gear is crucial for your safety. Mountain bikes need to be serviced more regularly because mud and dust wear away parts more quickly, but making sure that your gears and brakes are in excellent working condition is so important when it comes to preventing an accident on the road or trail.
On the road I get up to 60+km/hour going downhill, which is pretty damn fast on a lightweight frame and two wheels. I also get my bike checked at my local bike shop before a big race, because I want to be confident that my brakes are in good working order, that nothing is wrong with my tyres, that I have enough sealant in case I get a puncture etc… Before you start any race or ride, always check that you’re tyres are pumped to the correct pressure for your weight and terrain and lube your chain. If you’re unsure about doing any of this one your own, ask the experts at your local bike shop to show you how.
2/ Wear a well-fitting helmet
We all have different sized heads and a helmet can only protect you properly if you’re wearing one that fits you properly. So find the size that fits you head and adjust the straps and the boa fit system at the back of the helmet. Also check that the padding inside has not worn out. As this will be protecting your noggin, don’t go skimpy on the price tag – you want a good-quality hard shell. I ride with a Bontrager Velocis MIPS Road Bike Helmet – the MIPS part or Multi-directional Impact Protection System, was developed by brain surgeons and scientists to help reduce rotational forces on the brain caused by angled impacts to the head.
3/ See and be seen
I love a sleek all-black outfit, but, the truth is, it makes it harder for motorists and pedestrians to see you, especially if you’re riding at dawn or dusk. There are three easy ways to make yourself more noticeable: reflective gear, bright colours and lights. When buying a cycling outfit, make sure the kit has some sort of reflective panels or marker or bits of material, this is particularly important on the road. Bright colours also make it easier for others to see you and can be used to your advantage on the road or on the mountain if you’re ever stuck somewhere and need to be found. These are some of my favourite visible items of clothing with reflective details: Ladies Leggero Stowaway Jacket + Race Day Short Sleeve Jersey + TERRI 07 – WHITE bibshorts
Lights are essential for road cycling: a back red light and a front white light. As the seasons change, the sun rises later and the training you would have done all summer in the light will suddenly be in the dark. It’s so important for you to have good lighting not only for others to see you, but for you to be able to see your terrain better, to avoid obstacles, dongas, people, potholes, glass – you name it. I use the Bontrager Flare R City Rear Bike Light and the Bontrager Ion 100 R Front Bike Light.
4/ Find a squad!
“Safety in numbers” has never been a truer rule than when it comes to cycling. On the road, riding in a pack can protect you against bad windy conditions and can make you more visible to motorists. When you’re going off-road, it’s wise to ride with friends in case you fall and hurt yourself as there might not be other passersby for a long time. Plus, we all have to be realistic about bike theft and muggings in quieter areas and mountain paths.
If you’re new to cycling and don’t have many (or any) cycling friends, don’t worry, there are many social cycling groups. Just speak to the people at your local bike shop and they’ll be able to give you details and check social media for more info on groups in your area. Female-forward mountain bike groups, which organise ride outs include: Biking In the Bosch (in Stellenbosch), Trail Angels (Constantia area) and Ride Like A Girl (Joburg). You can also join a cycling club or even multi-sport club to meet like-minded peeps and find your #FitFam.
5/ Weigh up when to go out
There are two things that effect when you should (or should not) ride: 1/ traffic and 2/ weather. I always try get out before there’s any traffic, so that might mean a 4.30am wake-up depending on how far I want to ride. Traffic will also help dictate your route – choose roads with a wider shoulder or quieter roads that take you out into the countryside.
If you’re mountain biking, traffic plays less of a role, but riding earlier is better anyway, because you avoid mid-day heat. You’re also less effected by weather on your mountain bike, for example, if it’s windy, your mountain bike is heavier and steadier and you won’t be riding at the same speed you would ride a road bike. Road bikes are very vulnerable in the wind and rain, especially when you’re riding at speed. So keep that in mind when training. My weekends are now planned around which day weather-wise will be best to ride and not about social occasions or Friday drinks.
But don’t let a spell of dodgy weather stop your training! You can still get amazing training done in the gym on the watt bike or in a spinning class. I divide my training between hard-quality sessions on the watt bike and long rides outdoors.
Also, anything can happen on race day and I’ve ridden road and mountain bike races in rain storms and gusty wind and survived (although I was a nervous wreck for some of the time!). If conditions are really bad, race organisers will either cancel the race or cut the route short. Remember that this is not a decision taken lightly and is for your safety.
10 Safety Tips For Motorists Courtesy Of Cape Town Cycle Tour
1/ Treat cyclists like fellow motorists and obey traffic laws and signs.
2/ Be aware that cyclists are more vulnerable and might have to swerve to avoid an open car or road hazard.
3/ Leave at least one metre – ideally 1.5m – between yourself and a cyclist when overtaking. If you’re unsure if you have enough room to pass a cyclist safely, don’t.
4/ Be patient – when roads become narrow, wait until an oncoming lane is clear before you attempt to pass a cyclist.
5/ Do not hoot when approaching a cyclist – this could startle the cyclist and cause them to swerve.
6/ Do not cut a cyclist off by turning left in front of them. This is a very dangerous move.
7/ At intersections, note where the cyclists are and which direction they will be taking.
8/ If you are parked on the side of a road, check for oncoming bicycles before opening your door.
9/ Stay in your lane – don’t swerve into the shoulder, where cyclists may be riding around the next corner.
10/ Make yourself seen by driving with your headlights on, especially at dawn or dusk or dodgy weather.