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|Cycling Street Smarts, left-hand drive version|
STEERING OUT OF TROUBLE
A bicycle is a highly manoeuvrable machine, but it stays upright only by being balanced. You have to take extra care to stay upright and watch the road for hazards that can cause a fall.
Beware of any slippery or loose surface, including gravel, snow, ice, leaves, oil patches, wet manhole covers and painted markings. Avoid these, or ride over them slowly. Don't turn, brake or accelerate. Be ready to put a foot down for balance.
Be especially careful of diagonal railway crossings, tramways, raised lane-line dots, steel plates in a construction zone, or a step between the shoulder and the travel lane. Any of these can push your front wheel to the side and sweep your bicycle out from under you. When you can't avoid them, cross them as nearly as possible at a right angle, or dismount and walk is you’re not sure you can cross safely. In the country, cattle grids are another common hazard. Don't ride through a puddle or a pile of leaves where you can't see the road surface.
Steel-grid bridge decks found in some countries, especially when wet, may steer your bicycle parallel to the gridding, making balancing difficult. Test a grid deck at a low speed, and walk, using the bridge sidewalk if necessary.
Drainage grates with slots parallel to the road pose a special hazard. Most often you will be riding to their right, but if not, be sure to avoid going over one. Your front wheel can fall into the grate, pitching you over the handlebar. It's a good idea to notify the applicable road or public works department of these and other hazards. The fingers of bridge expansion joints can pose a similar hazard.
Any bump, rock or pothole more than an inch high can squash your bicycle's tyres flat against the rims, damaging the wheels. Avoid the bumps if you can, and walk your bike if the going gets too rough.
Don't ride through a puddle or a pile of leaves where you can't see the road surface.
Try this technique in your parking-lot practice area. At slow speeds at first, yank the handlebars quickly to the right. Your bicycle will lean to the left, and then you can steer left. Practise first at slow speeds, then at faster ones. The faster you go, the less sharply you have to steer.
The quick turn is useful in many situations. If a car coming toward you begins a right turn, turn left into the side street with it. If a car pulls out of a side street from the left, swerve into the side street. It's best to turn to the left, behind the car - but if it's too late for that, turn right with the car. Even if you hit the car, the more nearly you are traveling in the same direction, the lighter the impact.
On a winding downhill, brake before you enter the turns, so you don't lose traction while turning. Also don’t forget to raise the inside pedal. But sooner or later, you may find yourself going around a downhill curve too fast. If it's too late to slow down, a variation on the quick turn can get you through this situation.
The usual, panic reaction is to steer straight and brake. But then you're likely to go headfirst off the road before you can stop. Instead, steer with the curve. Don't brake. Straighten the handlebars momentarily, as in the quick turn, to drop your bike into a deeper lean.
Usually, you'll make it around the curve - your tyres have more traction than you normally use. If you do skid out, you'll fall on your side and slide to a stop.
If you're about to ride into a wall or over a cliff, you may decide deliberately to skid out. Lean into a turn, then hit the brakes. The fall may hurt - but not as much as the alternative.
There is a pothole straight ahead, and no time for even a rock dodge. You were so busy looking up at the traffic that you didn't see the pothole, and now you're about to trash your wheels. If only you could fly . . .
Unfortunately, you can't fly your bike like the kid in the movie E.T., but you can jump your bike. Holding the pedals horizontal, squat down and pull up on the handlebars. Then jump up and yank your legs up under you. You'll be past the pothole faster than reading "squat-pull-jump-yank." You can't easily get your back wheel over the obstruction unless you use toe clips or clip-in pedals, but getting your front wheel over will usually prevent a crash.
Jumping is the quickest last-resort way to avoid a pothole or other road-surface hazard. Once you get good at it, you can even use it to climb low kerbs or to cross diagonal railway tracks. In your empty car park, practise jumping your bike. You must lift first the front wheel, then the rear wheel as it takes its turn with the bump. Your timing depends on how fast you're riding. Skillful off-road riders accelerate to lift the front wheel, but this requires more preparation.
Once you know your emergency manoeuvres, you'll gain a much expanded sense of security, confidence and style. You'll be able to "ride loose," to use the language of California all-terrain riders. It's a sign of an experienced rider, and it saves you and your bicycle a lot of wear and tear.