keeping you on the road
Cycling, especially in busy towns and cities, is all about being seen and staying safe. The key to this is to develop an understanding of the physiology and psychology of the other road users. There are reasons, not all of them excuses, why it’s important to engage other road users and make sure they are aware of you.
The excuse of “sorry mate, I didn’t see you” is not necessarily ignorance; it could be down to human evolution.
Our eyes were developed for hunting, not for the fast paced world of modern roads. This has left us with a very small area in our eye that can see things in detail, called the fovea, in the central 20 degrees of our sightline. Anything else is peripheral and will simply not be seen in any detail.
Add to that a process called saccadic masking, which stops the brain from seeing blurred images when you move your eyes, and it’s easy to see how a cyclist can be genuinely invisible to even a reasonably attentive motorist.
Of course drivers should realise they need to take special care to look out for cyclists and to drive sympathetically around them, but you can’t count on that. You need to be proactive.
Once you understand the problems that drivers of fast-moving vehicles face, you can improve your chances of getting them to notice you considerably by making it less likely you will disappear into one of those saccadic blind spots:
Don’t be tempted to ride in the gutter: most motorists will be concentrating on the middle of road, looking for cars and may subconsciously ignore the very edge of the road. Tucking yourself right in to the side of a narrow road may encourage drivers to pass you when it is not safe. What’s more you will inevitably need to swerve out to avoid grids and broken glass at some point. If you don’t, going over such hazards may make you unstable.
As a rider, you should not be afraid to command your space on the road. You may get beeped at a few times by impatient drivers, but at least they will have noticed you. You should aim to ride at least one metre out on most roads and command a full space when it is not safe for cars to overtake you, such as narrow roads or approaching lights or junctions.
As well as being seen yourself, you also need to watch your fellow road users. Check behind you regularly as you ride, and make eye contact wherever possible to confirm that approaching cars have seen you.
You should also watch drivers at junctions carefully, making sure that they see you when they look your way and do not simply sweep their eyes past you as their brains blank you out.
Be clear about your intended actions too – look behind you and all around, make a clear hand signal and make your move when it’s safe. If you don’t think the driver behind you has noticed you are there, don’t take risks.