Monday, January 13, 2014

Cycling, Safety And The Law

According to Australian Road Laws, a bicycle rider is required to make a signal when turning right or merging to the right. Something along the lines of this, I imagine:

What this means is every time that you turn right on a bicycle without making this signal, you are actually breaking the rules. And if you happen to be unlucky, that could land you in trouble with the law.
While this might seem a bit absurd, and I’m pretty sure this rule isn’t enforced all that often by Police in Victoria, I always like to take these little victories against the law whenever possible. Every time I manage to successfully navigate a right hand turn, gesture-free, without receiving an infringement notice, I give myself a point. It makes me feel like I’m winning something on the commute to work even if my Commuter Cup tally is less than impressive.

When it comes to bicycles, the traffic laws in Victoria are not vague. In fact, they start out by defining what constitutes a bicycle:
“A bicycle is a vehicle that has two or more wheels, built to be propelled by human power through a belt, chain or gears. Pedicabs, penny farthings and tricycles are considered to be bicycles. However, wheelchairs, wheeled toys and scooters are not.”
The good news for uni-cyclists is that, because your vehicle only has one wheel, you are not beholden to these traffic laws. The flipside, however, is that you are, intrinsically, bound by the Carny Code of Conduct, which includes such (unofficial) guidelines as:
“Don't Ask, Don't Tell.”
“Once a Carny Always a Carny.”
“Always get a first floor hotel's easier when jumping out the window to heel the joint.”
“What happens on the Road stays on the Road.”
"Respect the land, defend the defenceless, and never spit in front of women or children."
"Screw you, I got your dollar!"
"You’re a stranger in every town you go, so we only have each other." 
Delving a little deeper in to the Victorian Road Laws, one discovers that it’s possible to apply for an exemption to the compulsory helmet laws (which seem to make the news every so often).
“This type of exemption may be requested for a range of reasons, such as a medical condition, physical condition or religious belief.”
The certificate of exemption is much like a cyclist’s Golden Ticket to freedom. If you value fashion more than safety, or your hairstyle more than your brain contents then a craftily worded application letter to VicRoads might be all that you need to rid yourself of the burden of a helmet. Helmet laws, safety and cycling hairstyle options are discussed further in this article.

It is also interesting to note that:
“When riding a bike you must sit astride the rider’s seat facing forwards and have at least one hand on the handlebars.
This law is a little contentious for anybody who has ever competed in an amateur Road Race where many clubs require riders to keep both hands on the handlebars, even during that time-honoured tradition of the victory salute.

Macedon Ranges Cycling Club
“In finishing sprints, all riders will maintain both hands on the handlebars at all times. THERE WILL BE NO VICTORY SALUTE.”
Victorian Veterans Cycling Council
“Hand/s off Handlebars in sprint (Victory Salute) - $100 and/or disqualification from race”
Cairns Cycling Club
“A competitor who removes his hand(s) from the handlebars, whether in a sprint, or otherwise, without a valid reason, (e.g. Feeding/Drinking), will be penalised.”
Australian Veteran Cycling Council
“Dangerous riding, including the practice of saluting by removing one or both hands off the bars at a finish, will not be tolerated and the referee shall discipline any rider whom he/she deems to be guilty of this practice...”
Personally, I find this rule a little harsh. Many riders go their entire racing career without a victory. Imagine cycling for 40 years without a win and then, at the age of 65 getting in to an ambitious solo breakaway in a Masters race that actually paid off. Crossing the finish line, you raise your arms in the air to the adulation of the adoring crowd of 2 or 3 volunteer race commissaires, before being promptly disqualified for taking your hands off the bars by these same commissaires. It would be a defining and crushing moment in an amateur cyclist’s racing career.
All these salutes could be grounds for disqualification at your local club road race.

Thankfully though, there’s no mention of having both feet on the pedals, so you can probably still get away with this one, assuming you have enough time to get yourself organised:

As a measure to help try and reduce the number of disqualifications in local club racing for “hands off the bars” infringements, perhaps riders could adopt some sort of signal to indicate to the peloton that officials will be enforcing this rule during the race:
This signal notifies other riders that officials will be enforcing the “hands off the bars” rule at your local club road race.

Outside of organised bike racing though, the only signal actually required is that which indicates a right hand turn…although there’s probably some others in use by Strava enthusiasts (or Segmenteurs):
And because cyclists are always keen to differentiate themselves and their sub-culture, a whole host of informal signals have been developed to enable communication between riders. Some of these include:
But this is far from a complete list. In fact, new cycling hand signals seem to pop up all the time. Here are some of my personal favourites:
Just be extra careful when giving the “Ride Single File” signal as Michael Hepburn was (rather unfairly) kicked out of the Tour de l’Avenir in 2011 after giving this gesture.

When riding in a peloton there are many useful signals for pointing out hazards in the road:
Hopefully you’ve taken on board some of the practical information contained in this article and can look forward to a future of safe and legal cycling.

And if you are serious about further championing the cause of improved bicycle safety, then why not show your support with one of these great t-shirts?

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