Thursday, 16 June 2016

Can-do girls - Gutsy cycle commuting in Dublin!

I recently put together an article on Total Women's Cycling website about commuting, in which different women around the world talked about their experience of cycle commuting in their city.

Beth in action at the Cyclo cross championships
Beth McCluskey, a university technical officer and Irish national cyclo cross champion based in Dublin had a lot to say about her rides around Ireland's capital. I must say I was impressed at her perseverance and tenacity to continue cycling around, particularly as it is only recently that cycle infrastructure in Dublin has improved. 

Statistics suggest that women are put off commuting partly because of the various hazards on the road. So I have a lot of respect for her to have continued despite the incidents she encountered. Chapeau!

The good news is that Dublin, like London has seen a significant increase in cycling in the city, and motorists are now more aware of cyclists - making it a less daunting place to cycle. 


'My commute is quite long - 30km each way. I start in a small town called Greystones in County Wicklow and cycle into St Stephens Green in Dublin city centre. It generally takes 60-70 mins depending on the wind direction. The last 30 minutes of the inward commute are along a bike lane on a very busy dual carriageway, and I have at least one near-death experience every day. 

I’ve had several accidents, all of which have happened while I was in the bike lane.  I have been cycling this route all year round for 15 years so I know every pothole on the road and every dangerous junction along the way. It wouldn’t be a commute I would recommend for a novice cyclist.

Most of the accidents I’ve had while commuting have been at junctions where the cycle path goes straight on at a left hand turn junction. Cars turning left assume they have the right of way and will turn left and expect the cyclist who has the right of way to stop. 

I expect this at every junction and I am hyper vigilant for cars who are indicating left, I will generally move as close to the right of the lane as possible and use my hand to signal that I’m going straight, if that fails and the car starts to turn I will slow down and if I can’t stop I’ll try to turn left with the car. I always try to stay in control and not to panic. If you panic and slam on the brakes you could go head first over the bike so I always try to stay in control of the situation. This has taken many years to master!

The other near miss I have is the “girl on a bike” syndrome as I like to call it, and it’s particularly bad if I wear a pink jacket. This happens when a motorist at a junction, a garage or a house is crossing the bike lane to get onto or off the road. They see a “girl on a bike” and assume I’m not travelling very fast as I’m just a “girl on a bike” so they shoot out across the lane right in front of me.  

Well, I’m travelling at 25-30km an hour so even if they see me 100m away, by the time they decide to move I can end up right on top of them in an instant! So I always have to be on the lookout for drivers like that, and try to make eye contact whenever possible to make sure they see me.

Dealing with traffic hazards
The ‘punishment pass’ is another regular thing I encounter on my commute, whereby a driver will deliberately pass too fast and close to “teach that cyclist a lesson”. This can be quite scary for a novice, but I’m used to it by now. 

My tactic for dealing with that is to always allow myself a buffer space to move into if a car comes too close, so I never cycle really close to the edge of the kerb. I always take a position which gives me some “get out of danger” space between myself and the kerb if I need to take evasive action.

As I draw nearer to the city the pedestrians pose more of a danger than the cars. Drivers in Dublin city have become quite observant and mindful of cyclists in the last few years, but pedestrians plugged into music and looking at their phones, texting, talking, taking selfies etc. are a real danger to themselves and to cyclists as they wander out onto the road without paying attention. 

This has become even more prevalent in the last two years I’ve found, as we get increasingly addicted to technology. People feel the need to be “connected”, but in fact they then become completely disconnected from the immediate environment. It’s a real problem!

Although I cycle quite fast I still ride defensively, I think every vehicle on the road has the potential to injure or kill me, so I never let my mind wander, I never wear earphones or let myself get distracted. I always wear a helmet and am well lit up in poor light.

I don’t get involved in commuter-racing as tempting as that might be on occasion. It’s a very dangerous thing to do as it distracts your attention from the dangers around you.

The cycling infrastructure in Dublin is not great. Driver attitudes are changing but there are still some who hate cyclists and think they have no right to be on the road.

Coca Cola Zero Dublin bikes have been hugely successful
Having said all that commuting by bike is a great way to travel. The Dublin bike-sharing scheme is brilliant. It has been the most successful scheme in Europe and there are plans to expand it. 
Bike-sharing has been great for city cycling as well as improving driver behaviour as there are now so many more cyclists sharing the roads with cars, taxis, buses.

My cycle commute forms part of my training. I can cycle 30km in the morning, then take a longer route to get home making a good 80-90km which is a good day’s biking.'



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