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Citibike - Lifesavers, anyone?

The risks of riding a motorbike are, for the greater part, all too obvious – cars violating our right of way, high differential speed between us and the surrounding traffic, motorcycles being easy not to see, and so forth. But there are some risks that are not so obvious, things that even experienced riders don’t necessarily think about.


In view of this, I want to share two tips with you that might just save your life one day. To make it easy for you to remember them when you’re riding, I’ll coin my own impromptu phrase as an aide-memoire: “Mind the light, and mind the right.” Many of you may already instinctively be doing this, so I am aiming this week’s column squarely at those who have never though about these two little gems of safer riding.

Mind the light. One of the greatest distractions of riding is having to squint into the sun. This, fortunately, is not the case most of the day – only for an hour or two after sunrise and before sunset does the sun shine directly into our eyes. The harsh glare of the noonday sun in summer can also be discomforting, but as the afternoon shadows grow taller, riding takes on an almost magical quality. The temperature drops, the world seems to grow quieter, and the light becomes gentler. It’s right about then that you are at great risk.

Riding in a relaxed and blissful state in the late afternoon, have you ever considered the danger implied by the warm glow of the sun on your back? What danger, you ask? The fact that oncoming traffic, with the sun shining right into their eyes, will find it extremely difficult to see you. Your headlights, even on bright, all but disappear against the brighter backdrop, and your high-visibility clothes count for nothing because you are just a black silhouette to approaching traffic.

These are conditions under which the motorists’ almost universal defense of “I didn’t see you” suddenly becomes extremely plausible. Because they really can’t see you. Bear that in mind next time you approach an intersection with the sun behind you. If there is cross-traffic, slow down and make very sure they are aware of you before you cross the intersection.

Mind the right. This one is simple enough – whenever you can, ensure that there is another vehicle on your right when you go through an intersection. The philosophy is simple: a car on the right will shield you from a vehicle turning across your way. If needs be, slow down to ensure that you don’t enter the intersection ahead of your “shield car”. Apart from it’s value as a shield, the car will also serve as a preventative measure – the reality is that most drivers are less likely to violate the right of way of a larger vehicle than that of a bike. By virtue of its mere presence, a car on your right can save your life.

While we’re talking about the right, here’s another hint: always check your mirror before turning right. The reason why there is a greater risk during a right turn than a left turn, is because when you are turning left you are normally close to the edge of the road, and you do not leave much space for somebody to overtake on your left side. During a right turn on a two-way street, there is at least one entire lane open – more than enough space for a vehicle to overtake on your right. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve checked your mirrors on approaching the intersection, do it again just before you turn.