How not to get hit by cars

03:39, Aug 21 2012

One thing that made me initially nervous about riding on the road was having to share with cars.

Having hailed from Wellington I’ve been long aware of the attitudes that surround the issue of who has the right to use the road.

So often at the Wellington newspaper where I worked we would receive complaints from cyclists about drivers being inconsiderate.

In all honesty, and I know I will lose biker street cred, I was not often overcome by a lot of sympathy for them.

Too many times had I seen cyclists speeding through zebra crossings as cars were stopped and people were about to step out, or would see them glide right through a red light, as if the road rules didn’t mean anything. (I’ve haven’t really noticed this in Nelson - but maybe I’ve not been paying as much attention?)

It was frustrating to then hear complaints about not being treated fairly when, in many people’s eyes, they themselves were trying to get it both ways.

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"I’m a vehicle..No, now I’m a pedestrian! Nope, vehicle again!"

I digress.

I've seen the statistics around the number of cycle and vehicle accidents, compared to other cities, cyclists were over-represented in Wellington’s road accident statistics last year.

But no matter who is in the wrong, the cyclist always comes off worse.

With this in mind I’ve been hyper-aware of being as considerate and safe on the road as possible.

Having now ridden with some very experienced riders, the main advice seems to be "Be confident" and "Don’t hug the shoulder".

As a cyclist, we do have a right to be on the road, and we do have the right to feel safe.

We also have the responsibility to abide by the road rules and not flout them to suit our every whim.

It can be scary riding on a road where the speed limit exceeds 70kmh. And the general advice seems to be, if you hug the shoulder and appear to be uncertain, drivers may not see you as a valid road user.

But if you act confident, and make eye contact or wave at drivers, just to let them know you are there - you’re much more likely to remain safe.

Interestingly, I’ve felt safer riding on my bike than when I ride around on my scooter here.

You may have seen my scooter Nemo around, he is painted bright orange with white strips, exactly like the clown fish in Finding Nemo.

In fact, since his wee accident about six months ago, he is even more Nemo-like with only one wing mirror (yes, it’s legal) so it’s like he has the "lucky" fin!

Anyway - I know that sounds bizarre to say I feel safer on my bike, but in the last two days alone I have been passed while on Nemo three times. Each time I’ve been going 50kmh, in a 50kmh zone, sitting in the middle of the lane as is my right as a motor vehicle.

I’ve never seen a car pass a motorcycle while within city limits, so I fail to see why a scooter should be treated any differently.

The biggest difference between Nelson and Wellington for cyclists though is that there are dedicated cycle lanes everywhere.  It really is a cycle-friendly city.

In fact, I believe more Nelsonians cycle to work than in any other part of New Zealand - Well done!

For those who don’t want to be on a busy main road, there are so many other options.

Quieter back roads, like those around Brightwater, are great at the moment with the abundance of lambs skipping in the paddocks.

Then there’s the cycleways which means you can ride for hours virtually without having to use the road - bliss!

For those, like me, who prefer to exercise in the wee hours of the morning, it is a beautifully peaceful time of day, even on those busier stretches.

Although there are often quite a few large trucks around, those six-, eight-, even 10-wheel drivers are hugely experienced and amazingly considerate of little ole’ me on my skinny two wheels.

If you’re going to pick a city to learn to ride - Nelson is definitely the best place.

What are your tips for staying safe while on the road? Do you, like me, find most Nelson drivers to be quite considerate?

Nelson