I feel a bit strange writing this entry. It was about a week ago that I found myself in a pub talking to a friend about cycling in London. They said they were too scared to take to two wheels and, while I was of course sympathetic to this view, I didn’t really understand it.
Of course, the roads are busy, narrow, full of huge trucks, manic vans, irate car drivers, speeding motorbikes, unpredictable pedestrians and sometimes reckless fellow cyclists, but it’s still OK once you get used to it, I reasoned. I also had my 100% cycle safety record to prove it – cycling in London for about 12 years, and not a single accident, as well as an incident free jaunt around SE Asia. Ergo, cycling is safe.
This pub chat coincided with National Cycle to Work Day 2015. Over a buffet breakfast for cyclists at my workplace that morning, we talked about the perceived dangers being greater than they really are, while encouraging newbies to take to two wheels for the first time.
Now I wonder if I was beginning to get a bit blasé about this whole cycle safety thing. Maybe it’s taken an accident – fortunately minor – to bring me back down to earth (literally). I’ve also learnt a couple of lessons that will hopefully make me a safer cyclist.
The circumstances were pretty commonplace, I guess. I had got on my bike to cycle to a friend’s house and feed their cat. The friend lives 5 minutes cycle away (if that) along quiet back-streets so, I reasoned, I don’t need to bother with a cycle helmet. I’d be home in 15 minutes.
Lesson number one: however short your journey, wear a cycle helmet. You can come off your bike at any time.
Not only that, but once you’re out and about, you never know if you may end up going on a longer journey or on busier roads than planned.
While feeding the cat I got a message from another friend asking if I wanted some stuff he was throwing out. Sure, I said, I’ll pop over. This detour took me towards Brockley and I ended up joining Brockley Road after rolling down a quiet side-road (Eddystone Road), just before the mini-roundabout where it joins with Brockley Way.
I’m not sure if I was in “back-street mode” still, but I was certainly on a busier, faster road than I’d expected to be, and suddenly I was at the mini-roundabout.
I needed to turn right, but it’s a weird (no, make that ‘terribly designed’) mini-roundabout, where as a cyclist you need to be concerned with the fast oncoming traffic to see whether it’s going to slow down enough and stop to let you pass safely, as well as looking for traffic coming around the roundabout from Brockley Way.
I looked to my right to check for oncoming traffic, but didn’t see anything. This was because the white van that suddenly came into my field of vision wasn’t where I expected it to be. It had cut across the ’roundabout’, driving right over the patch of white paint on the road as it turned right from Brockley Way, rather than going around it properly, and it took me out from the side. Bam!
Lesson number two: give mini roundabouts extra caution, because no other fucker does.
At this point, I’d like to say “time slowed down” but I don’t think it did. Very quickly the van hit me – I think a combination of my front wheel and my shoulder took the impact – and I was down on the tarmac. I saw the face of the driver as it happened, but weirdly he didn’t react at all.
I was fortunate though. The van wasn’t travelling at speed, and nor was I. Had either of us been, it could have been a very different story. I was also fortunate in that the van stopped, the driver got out, checked I was OK, and spent a long time trying to phone through the accident to their depot and their insurance company
After the accident I was shaken but thankfully not really injured, although three days later my shoulder and back do still hurt. They suggested calling an ambulance but I really didn’t feel this was necessary. I hadn’t banged my head (thank God) and nothing felt broken. Instead, I did what any sensible Englishman would do, and went to my friend’s house for a nice cup of sugary tea.
The bike faired less well, with a buckled front wheel and a bent pedal and pedal arm which will cost about £180 to repair. Now I’m just hoping that getting their insurance people to pay out won’t be a massive ball-ache.
Hanging around at the junction afterwards for an hour or so, I witnessed one more near miss, a cyclist going round the roundabout the wrong way (no joke), high speeds, drivers not looking, and general confusion and high jinx aplenty. I’ll definitely be following up with the council or whoever it is about the safety of this junction, along with the crazy double mini-roundabout the other end of Brockley near the station.
As I mentioned, speed (or lack of it) was definitely a factor in this and most accidents, and is why Lewisham’s plans to introduce a 20mph speed limit can’t come soon enough. Unfortunately, for reasons only they can explain, the limit isn’t due to come into force until March 2018. I already find myself yelling at cars and vans as they tear down back-streets at 30 or more; I don’t much fancy doing this for another three years, thanks.
Will the accident make me ride less or put me off cycling altogether? Definitely not. I slow-rode the damaged bike home as pushing a bike is no fun (and takes ages), and life without my bike this week has been thoroughly miserable (yep, buses still suck!)
Will it make me ride more cautiously? I hope so. I feel a little bit like I got away with it this time, but if there’s a next time maybe I won’t be so lucky, so let’s try and avoid a ‘next time’. And I’ll certainly not leave home without a cycle helmet again (and might even invest in one which fits properly.)
I have to confess I am a bit haunted by the moment of impact, and especially the thought that for cyclists who are killed, the sight of a vehicle careering towards you or across your path is probably one of the last things you will ever see – that or the pavement.
There was definitely a moment in my mind when I did think ‘fuck, I am going to be hit’ but I knew there and then that the van wasn’t travelling fast enough for it to kill me.
So, don’t forget, kids: please ride carefully even when you’re just nipping around your local area, always wear a helmet, and be careful on mini roundabouts; they are the worst kind of junction. And just because you’ve never had an accident, it doesn’t mean you never will; the same rules still apply!
If you’ve had an accident I’d be really interested to hear how it affected you, or what you make of my experience?