Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Cycling at Night

I cycled home from the gym last night and decided to take the scenic route home via West Lake. Unfortunately it became slightly more scenic than required as I took a wrong turn and ended up going all the way round the lake.

There seem to be specific rules about cycling at night in China:

1) Thou shalt not use any safety equipment - that includes helmets, lights or anything reflective on your bike.
2) Thou shalt wear dark clothing, preferably camo.
3) Thou shalt weave erratically from side to side of the bike lane to ward off faster cyclists

Obviously these aren't such an issue during the day and the larger number of cyclists tends to make the weaving less practical so people tend not to do it.

The biggest problem, by far, is pedestrians.

Its an observable phenomenon that people are extremely good at filtering out background noise - not surprising because the hubbub of daily life here is overwhelming. Even so, every single morning as I drive my car out of my complex, there will be people milling about in the entrance. If they're facing away from me I can drive to within one foot of them and they will not hear the car until I beep the horn and even then, 25% need more beeps to get them to realise that they're about to die if they don't move.

So, as a cyclist, you stand no chance.

My bike has a bell. I discovered that it's not loud enough. If you're travelling at speed, by the time you're close enough to attract someone's attention then chances are (as I discovered) that they will not only turn around to look where the sound is coming from but they will take a step, either to the left or the right, thus making the situation worse.

Twice in the space of 60 seconds, people who were walking away from me on the pavement turned and stepped straight into the bike lane when I was only about 3 feet away and travelling at speed so had to swerve out of the way - the first time into the car lane (followed by swerving out of the way of a car and seconds later by swerving out of the way of the kerb that I was now heading for), the second time I was forced into the path of 4 oncoming cyclists who luckily managed to part either side of me!

So - I need solutions. Clearly a louder bell is an option but a bit dull. I think an air-horn would be ideal or, failing that, front-axle mounted swords like Boudicca's chariot.


JP said...

Damn, I was about to suggest Boudicca's blades...or the blades of Boudicca perhaps.

Bottom line D, you could quite easily plow through people, it's not like they're going to knock you off and if they can't be arsed to get out of the way...

...I'm sure news would travel fast, you might instigate a change in the culture...or you might go to prison.

pete said...

The solutions is to stop worrying about it. Their safety is their problem. Remember the locals have years more experience than you of diving out of the way of other ‘road users’.

If you really want a solution – get an e-bike horn – people actually move, well drift, out of your way. In fact, get an e-bike!