Friday, June 01, 2012

Mental preparedness: Towards Bicycling Zen

Note: I'm an amateur sharing my own perspectives on leisure cycling. I'm learning as I go (you know what they say about the 'blind leading the blind'). Feel free to join in the conversation.

As mentioned in the previous post, my preparation and learning could be explained via this Framework for Cycling Zen:
  • Equipment readiness (including road safety gear, cycling gear)
  • Physical conditioning (fitness and balance)
  • Mental conditioning (including road safety)

Relatively speaking, the'Equipment' part was the easiest to find information and to achieve it (one's purchasing power was a huge determinant).

Mental conditioning was the most crucial for me. Something money couldn't quite buy. This post covers the mental part.

For me, it's to reach a state of mind such that when I take to the roads, I am conscious and confident in my actions. That consciousness and confidence also means I have a reasonable expectation of how other road users may react. BTW, it's PCNs for me as first choice and roads as a necessary last resort. And even then I'm sticking to my "ride on roads only on Sunday early morning hours" rule.

I readily acknowledge to myself that I fear scenarios like these:

Credit: lobstar28, CC BY-NC-ND.

I have some experience riding on the roads from years back (e.g. including turn/ filtering lanes). So my initial search was not on traffic rules*, but on "riding safety" and more directly "how not to get hit by cars".

[* Upon hindsight, I should have first looked up the Singapore Highway Code anyway. Reading it now, I'm glad I was already practicing most of what the code stated. BTW, the Highway Code is part of the Singapore Statues, available at]

Traffic rules and the Highway Code only told me what was ideal. But accidents often happen because rules weren't fully adhered to. I needed to know HOW accidents happened, so that I could anticipate and avoid them.

One very good find was the website by Michael Bluejay. Here's a PDF version adapted for Singapore's right-hand drive, i.e. driven on the left side of the road (hat-tip to my friend Siva for tweeting about the adapted resource).

If you're relatively inexperienced in tackling the roads like me, you MUST read Michael Bluejay's website or the PDF adapted version.

His information helped (a) validate what I knew but was never quite sure, and (b) made me aware of more potential accident-situations. His concise explanation and no-frills illustrations allowed me to visualise each scenario. It was as good as a mental rehearsal before the actual game.

THANK YOU, Michael Bluejay!

My take-away, reinforced with actual riding, is this: I should anticipate that each traffic situation (crossings; filtering; passing stationary cars; vehicles passing me) has a potential accident waiting to happen. Assume almost every situation is unsafe. So that I remain cautious.

It's not to be fearful every second of the way. It is about keeping my guard up all times; not taking safety for granted.

I found and went through more online readings/ viewings, so that key safety and riding concepts was drilled into my head.

The recurrent themes were:
  • Obey traffic rules
  • Ride in a predictable manner
  • Make yourself visible to other road users
  • Know yourself on the bike

Check these out:

Here's a YouTube video NHTSA Bicycle Safety Tips For Adults

As I was drafting this post, I discovered this Singapore-based website Good stuff and definitely worth subscribing to their feeds. Here's a very relevant post on cycling safety:
Safe Cycling Clinic for LoveCycling.SG
Steven Lim, the President of Safe Cycling Task Force, he conducted a “Safe Cycling Clinic” at the Road Safety Park in East Coast Park last Sunday for the LoveCyclingSG group. The presentation material was jointly prepared with the Traffic Police. Steven gave an hour long talk on the basic principles of Safe Cycling and later gave demos on lane positioning in the Road Safety park.

The following is a summary of the points covered:

1. Bicycle is considered a vehicle, you drive a bicycle.
2. Observe all traffic rules like any other road users on the roads.
3. Be competent and confident before hitting the road.
4. Know all traffic rules and road signs. Get a Basic Theory Book.
5. Know your skills, your ability, your health. Do not over estimate yourself.
6. Know your bike, it’s performance, it’s ability, it’s wear and tear.
7. Know your equipments, clothing, helmet, gloves, etc. their functions, performances, their life span, when to replace.
8. Know your route. Plan your route before you ride, know it’s traffic conditions.
9. Know your right of way but NEVER INSIST on it.
10.Be courteous and patience with other road users, share the roads.

I'm sure books would have similar information; no I did not look at the library catalogue... yet.

Nothing can beat actual experience, I feel.

My tip is that you should try and find a group who are comfortable with you, as you are with them. For me, it's friends who also ride as ZenDogs 2.0.

In my initiation ride, it became very clear to me there was greater safety in numbers. In a way, riding as a pack means you are more visible on the road. Of course, the group must ride responsibly and practice good road habits at all time.

Which brings to the point about having an experienced mentor/ pack leader. In ZenDogs 2.0, it's unanimously our friend Siva. He's a natural instructor, pointing out good road-riding practices and dishing out just-in-time instructions. Even reinforcing them at the appropriate situations. Or simply pointing out what I did wrong or could have done better. And the Whys.

One very good tip that's now drilled in my head: When pedaling across road intersections, where cars are giving you right of way and waiting for you to pass, one should speed up (watch for traffic as well; eye contact with the driver). It made sense to me because us pedaling slow may appear like we're not moving to the driver. The driver, not being able to judge our speed, may be tempted to make a move first and the cyclist risks slamming into the vehicle. I also think the faster we make it across the junction, the less time we make the drivers wait. Less likely that they get impatient.

I feel this is the most important. Meaning, I would tell my friends about my concerns and my limitations. For instance, I tell them I am just uncomfortable riding on the roads. I will and I'm prepared as I can be. But they have to know I still have reservations.

Some rides, I outrightly tell my friends I prefer to ride on pavements. According to the ordinance, it's illegal to ride on the pavement. But I play by ear and practice non-intrusive pavement riding.

As a newer rider to the pack, I can't always catch up in terms of speed. At first I tried to speed up but mistakes tend to happen when I'm tired and I speed. Either I fail to keep a proper lookout (thankfully drivers were watching and stopped; but I can't always rely on drivers to not make mistakes). Speeding means my reaction time is also reduced relatively.

With mobile phones and GPS-enabled cycling social apps, there's always a way to link up if we lose the pack.

I just have to gradually build up my skills and confidence on the bicycle and on the road. My friends understand that.

A good ride is one that I start and end home safely.

And where others do as well.

NEXT: Equipment and Physical preparations.

ASIDE: Are We Getting 'Soft'? If earlier generations could tackle the roads without such seemingly elaborate preparations (mental preparation, getting equipment like helmets and lights and whatnots), was it because we're a generation of softies? No, I do not think we are soft. For one, road conditions are a lot busier now (statistics on the number of vehicles will show that). Two, vehicles are faster and more powerful; their safety and crash devices have been upgraded but those for cyclists have remained almost stagnant. Three, who's to say earlier generations won't consider safety equipment if there were proper awareness created?

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