9 Tips To Stay Safe While Cycling On Sri Lankan Roads

Commuting via gas-powered transportation is a part and parcel of everyday life. Be it commuting to school, work or for leisure, we cannot deny that owning a vehicle has become ingrained into our societal norm. That’s why when societies get deprived of fuel imports to power such necessities, our daily lives become jeopardized and for many, this may mean difficulties or even inability to continue their line of work. This can be felt extensively throughout fuel-import-hit Sri Lanka. And with the rising cost and scarcity of fuel that do get imported into our country, an increasing number of people are starting to shift towards an alternative mode of transportation instead – cycling.

As a cyclist myself, it brings me joy knowing more and more of my fellow Sri Lankans picking up this sport. Regardless the circumstances, cycling to work as a means of exercise gives the cyclist numerous health benefits.

  • Strong stress reliever
  • Improves overall mood
  • Increases energy reserves
  • Makes you fit
  • Less prone to getting sick
  • Overall increase in productivity

However, cycling has its own risks too. In 2015, a paper published by the University of Moratuwa concluded that fatal accidents involving cyclists in Sri Lanka are 2.25 times higher than the global average. Added to that, a news report published by Adaderana.lk noted an increase in cycling accidents in Sri Lanka and are urging riders to practice defensive riding whilst on the roads. Reading these articles caused real worry in me that maybe people aren’t knowledgeable enough on how to take proper safety measures to better protect themselves on the roads.

1. Wear a helmet!

This is a no brainer. The most common injury a cyclist face when met with an accident is a head injury. Often, they plunge headfirst. Most of the time it may not even be your fault as accidents can happen to cyclists due to 3rd party actions. And in Sri Lanka, we are blessed with crazy tuk-tuk and bus drivers who are the worse of the worst when it comes to driving on roads. Then, there are the dogs. I myself got hurt once when a bunch of dogs chased me. I was climbing a short hill at the time, causing me to panic and lose balance, plunging headfirst to the ground. What saved me from the impact? A really good helmet.

The head is the most vital part of your body. A helmet – a proper one with a liner – can potentially save your life. During an accident, it works by absorbing most of the impact and preventing much of the resulting head trauma that may be inflicted. Here is a video that may help better explain how helmets work.

Video explanation on how helmets work!

If you feel self-conscious about what other people may say when wearing a helmet, remember this: Your life is your own responsibility. What others may think should not matter.

2. Wear bright reflective clothing

Regardless the time of the day, whenever you’re out cycling on the roads, always wear brightly coloured or reflective clothing! Get into the habit of it. It will help other motorists see you better especially late into the night and it helps them safely avoid you.

Remember: Cyclists are not the primary users of the road! To most Sri Lankans, we are a rare breed. As minority road users, other motorists have a hard time identifying us in fast moving traffic. Therefore, it is our personal responsibility to take extra steps in order to help other motorists be mindful of our presence.

3. Install a proper tail light reflector

In addition to brightly coloured clothes, it is also important that you install a strong tail light reflector on the back of your bicycle. As a general rule of thumb, before starting your ride, ensure the tail light is turned on and switched to its blinking mode where you will see short pulses of light emitted per second. These pulses of light help the motorist driving behind you to spot you faster and signals them to slow down. This is extremely helpful especially when cycling on roads with spotty street lights.

4. Check your equipment pre-ride

Before starting a ride, make sure you do a simple check on your bicycle. This can be

  • Checking if your tires are not flat and the pressure is right.
  • Making sure your handle bar is properly aligned.
  • Check your breaks. Emergency breaking can save your life.
  • Double check that your rear and front lights are working and charged if the battery is low.
  • Check that your bike chain and gear shifts are working properly.
  • Ask yourself if your clothing will make you visible.
Have the right tires: Most mountain bikes come with tires that are great for dirt roads or rough bike paths but are not ideal for road cycling. At high speeds, a mountain tire can cause extra vibrations (i.e. the handle bar shaking left and right) that can lead to balance issues. If you did purchase a bike with mountain tires pre-installed, get yourself a pair of road tires instead! The thinner tires make lesser contact to the surface of the road removing a lot of friction generated while cycling. This helps reduce the potential of a bike to wobble, thereby, preventing accidents from occurring.

Added to that, road tires are now built in such a way that it has a reduced tendency for a flat tire. So, you can be assured an easy and worry-free experience when cycling on the road.

5. Do NOT use headphones or earpieces

Many a time, I have noticed cyclists with headphones covering up their ears or ears plugged up with earpieces whilst cycling. Noted, they’re usually cycling along empty roads or bike paths but this adds a risk of not being able to hear an approaching vehicle from behind. As much as you would love playing some music during your cycle, it’s better to have your eyes and especially your ears peeled for anything around you. This is not only to avoid getting startled by the sudden presence of a vehicle, but also if something were to occur nearby, you will be able to react to the situation faster than if you’re caught unaware.

6. Know your road knowledge, road signs etc

Many road cycling accidents occur at road intersections. This is because there are many cyclists who still perceive themselves as road sharing pedestrians rather than another motorist on the road. That’s simply not true! When you’re riding along the roads, you’re sharing it with other motorists too so, it is important for you to also follow the traffic rules. When the traffic light turns red, you stop. If it turns green, you go. It is that simple.

In addition, try making it a habit of allowing lorries or any other heavy vehicles the right of way. This requires you to break and stop for a few seconds until they have overtaken you. They have a hard time seeing their surroundings especially towards their left side. So, why take the risk? Thank you for @StandTogether00 on twitter for pointing this out!

7. Hands on the handlebars, no freestyle

Try your freestyle moves on an empty path. Not on the road.

You’ve seen professional athletes cycling one-handedly whilst taking a quick sip of water and you’ve probably seen people who ride their bike completely hands-free. Please, please, please do not attempt these stunts on busy roads! If you really need that sip of water, just stop your bike at the side of the road before taking it. Afterwards, you may continue with your journey. Remember to always practice safe riding whilst on the roads.

8. Limit your distractions, eyes on the road

Distractions come in various forms. The most common being distractions from mobile phones. You must always be mindful of your surroundings. Get into the habit of switching your phone to silent or vibration modes. Remember to follow the road rules; no texting or using phones whilst driving. It applies to cyclists as well.

9. If there are bike lanes and bike paths, use them

Bike lanes and bike paths are your best friends when it comes to cycling. Remember to plan ahead of time the route you’re taking and include as many bike lanes and paths as possible. Also be mindful that these paths are often used by pedestrians as well. Being distracted and bumping into a pedestrian can lead to fatal injuries so make sure you’re attentive while using them.

A great tip I picked up is using the bus lane as a cycling lane. When doing this, make sure to check behind you at every traffic light stop how far the closest bus is. This way, you can safely filter into the bus lane properly.

On top of that, it’s great to see our government opting into constructing more cycling lanes allowing many to start viewing cycling as a potential mode of commuting in our everyday lives.

Know your fitness and speed

Speeding is a thrill that many people seek. For cyclists, pushing your bicycle to speeds of up to 35kmph gives you that adrenaline rush. However, for you to maintain that speed throughout your cycle, you have to know your limits. Getting out of breath and draining yourself of energy reduces your reaction speed to anything that may happen on the road. So, if you’re new to cycling, I suggest investing in an activity tracker. It helps by monitoring the rate of your heart beat (bpm) as you cycle and you can use that information to pace out your breathing. Over time, your fitness will naturally improve and you can safely enjoy faster and longer rides on the road. Remember: Nobody wants to last only 30 seconds. 😉

Personally, it took me 4 months to get myself to where I could cycle at 140-150bpm without getting out of breath. So, stop and take proper breaks whenever you feel tired or uneasy.

Closing thoughts

Cycling is a great sport to stay fit so I hope more people get into it. Even after our country’s situation gets better, I still hope people continue to cycle as a form of exercise. As more deaths occur due to the sedentary lifestyle that we have become accustomed to, a little exercise can go a long way for your heart and mind.

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