Anyone who has experienced cycling on Metro Manila’s streets would conclude that this megalopolis isn’t that bike-friendly. The road networks and the transport infrastructure have been clearly set up to favor motorized vehicles.
It’s a bias that has seen some tragic results for the two-wheeled community. According to figures from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority–the agency that oversees the development of all 16 cities and one municipality that make up Metro Manila–there were 26 deaths and 962 injuries from bicycle-related accidents in 2015 (its latest figures shared with the public).
So, it seems that in the foreseeable future, it’s up to the intrepid bike commuters to protect themselves from hazards that could literally come from any direction, and in any given time and form.
It would help the biker immensely if he or she knew where or how the danger would come. Anticipating danger is the first crucial step in avoiding accidents. Here are the 12 most likely scenarios that an accident can most likely occur, and the ways you can minimize these dangers.
Directly beside, in front, or behind a truck
Trucks can be the most lethal vehicles a cyclist can encounter. Don’t be fooled by these lumbering giants. When you’re in the “certain death” zones, a truck and its trailer can squash you in the blink of an eye.
There are a number of blind spots all around the truck. These spots are directly in front, beside the driver (directly beneath the driver or beside the front passenger door), and directly behind the truck. These are the spots that are beyond the scope the driver’s side view mirrors and front field of view.
If the truck driver can’t see you, then he or she will assume that you’re not there. When the truck makes a right turn, you’re a goner if you’re directly beside the front passenger door. You’ll be road squash, too, if you’re directly in front of, and beneath the truck driver’s front windshield. If the truck is stopped at an incline, and you’re directly behind the truck, then you’re in danger of being rolled over by the rear wheels when the truck driver disengages the brakes and the truck backs up.
Minimize the danger: At traffic stops, don’t stop directly beside trucks. Stop at a safe distance from them (at least a car width or length away). If a truck happens to stop directly behind you, move over to another spot or beside a smaller vehicle where its driver can see you. When moving, don’t ride too close to trucks. It’s safer to cycle in the middle of the lane in front of trucks along narrow or one-lane roads, where the driver can see you, than to let them pass dangerously close.
Directly behind a moving PUV
Public utility vehicles, especially jeepneys, are notorious for stopping on a dime to unload or pick up passengers. If you’re tailgating one and that vehicle suddenly stops, the next thing you’ll see are rows of puzzled passengers wondering how the hell you ended up at their feet.
Minimize the danger: Always maintain at least a car’s length from the PUV you’re following. That distance should increase as your speed increases.
Directly behind or beside other moving cyclists
Such accidents can often be seen during cycling races, when competitors go tire-to-tire, shoulder-to-shoulder. But it also happens in real world situations, too. It’s the same principle behind tailgating motorized vehicles.
Minimize the danger: Always maintain a safe distance from the biker directly ahead of you. If you’re biking with a group on city roads, maintain a single file. That way, it would be easier to anticipate and adjust to the other riders’ actions, while your group avoids being a nuisance or obstruction to other road users.
In a flooded street
Flooded streets, even if the water level is just ankle-deep, can hide deep potholes, open gutters, unmarked excavation works, and manholes. Any of these booby traps can get you flying end over end if you run over them even at slow speeds.
Minimize the danger: If you can’t avoid biking over a flooded street, then bike closer to the center of the road, where you can avoid the gutters or open manholes. Bike slowly, at no more than 15 kph, so you’ll have more time to react to abrupt road changes as you wade along. Don’t worry about the cars following you, they’ll be driving just as slow.
And if you see that no vehicles are passing through a flooded street, it would be prudent to avoid biking there altogether. It may be a sign that the water level is too high.
Within 3 feet of parked vehicles
Don’t assume that parked vehicles on the side of the road are without occupants. There might come a time when one of the doors of those parked cars will suddenly open, and you hit the jackpot of riding too close and too fast to that door. In fact, many such accidents have happened throughout the civilized world, resulting in not-so-civilized exchanges between the biker and the car owner.
Minimize the danger: Stay out of reach of the doors of parked cars, and that’s about 3 feet. If road conditions prevent you from staying that far, then bike at a slower pace to give yourself more time to react.
In-between lanes of slow-moving traffic
One of the enviable benefits of bike commuting is that riders can weave through even the tightest of gridlocks. But be especially wary of other bikers doing the same thing, and of pedestrians crossing the street or alighting from PUVs. They may stay hidden from view until the last split second.
Minimize the danger: Be especially alert and mindful of other road users when weaving through traffic. Assume that they’re there, even if you don’t see them. Maintain slow speeds (not more than 10 kph) when passing through heavy traffic.
At the turning lanes of intersections
There have been many accidents along intersections involving cyclists and motorists. One of the more common and predictable scenarios is that of motorists turning right and sideswiping cyclists who intend to cross the intersection.
Minimize the danger: As you approach the intersection, and you’re positioned on the right side of the rightmost lane (the turning lane), slowly shift to the middle of the lane, keeping in mind the approaching vehicles. Motion with your left arm stretched out your intention to cross the intersection. That way the vehicle following you knows what you want to do, and most likely the driver will give way. In the event that the car is already beside you, don’t attempt to outrun it. Slow down as safely but as quickly as you can, and give way to the turning vehicle.
It’s one of the most dangerous practices for a cyclist. Not only does going against the flow of traffic increase your chances of colliding with other road users, it also magnifies the gravity of the collision. Let’s say you’re counterflowing at a speed of 20 kph, and the car that crashes into you is going along at 30 kph. The combined impact of your collision becomes 50 kph. Guess who’ll end up at the hospital (or the morgue) at that speed
Pedestrians are also vulnerable to counterflowing cyclists. When a pedestrian crosses a street, he or she instinctively looks first at the left side for oncoming vehicles. That pedestrian won’t have enough time to react to a counterflowing biker coming from the right–the blind side–of the pedestrian.
Minimize the danger: Don’t ever bike against the flow of traffic, even if the coast is clear. If you absolutely need to go against the flow, then alight from your bike, and just walk it on the sidewalk.
Sidewalks aren’t meant to be biked on (that’s why they’re called sideWALKS, duh). Thus, a biker doing his or her thing on the sidewalk tempts danger. A typical pedestrian can walk at a brisk pace of 4 to 5 kph. A biker can go at sustained speeds of up to 30 kph. That’s a big difference, one that both pedestrians and bikers may not have time to react to in such a cramped space of the sidewalk. Pedestrians are also forced to walk on the street just to avoid bikers on sidewalks.
Minimize the danger: Never bike on the sidewalk. Alight from the bike and walk like everyone else.
Any place takes on a more dangerous light for bikers at night. Motorists will find it harder to see cyclists, for one. For another, cyclists will find it harder to see potholes and other poorly lit road obstructions at night.
Minimize the danger: Be very visible at night. Wear light-colored attire and reflectorized vests. Install your bikes with bright headlights (at the front) and bright red lights (at the rear).
On an ill-maintained bike
The safest of roads and the most skilled cycling won’t stand a chance if the bike itself breaks down or malfunctions. Brake failure would be catastrophic, as would broken forks or sudden tire blowouts, when you’re speeding downhill at 40 kph.
Minimize the danger: Like any machine, bicycles require regular checkups and maintenance. Be sure to keep two brake systems working (for the front and rear). Your two tires should be replaced when the threads are already showing or the treads have been worn out and smoothed. Look out for bulges on your tires, they are signs of an inner tube distress. Do not overinflate nor underinflate your tires (maintain the recommended tire pressure of the tire manufacturer by load and tire size). It would be best to maintain a close relationship with a trusted bike mechanic or shop that you can entrust with the upkeep of your bike.
Any spot where the cyclist rides unprotected
The same principle of safety applies to the cyclist himself/herself. Any place is unsafe for cycling whenever the biker rides without a helmet or proper cycling gear. Cyclists can shrug away the bruises and scrapes. They can eventually recover from broken or dislocated limbs. But it’s almost always game over when a rider smashes his or her unprotected noggin on concrete or metal.
Safety is also compromised when the sense of hearing is impeded, such as those who wear earphones or headsets when biking. Texting while biking also tempts fate, as both sight and balance is impaired in this practice.
Minimize the danger: Always wear a helmet when cycling, even if it’s for short trips to your village store. Wear bright clothing even during the day. Don’t wear headphones or headsets when biking. You need to hear the sound of oncoming traffic, the whistle of traffic enforcers, even the sirens of trains, to keep you aware of your ever-changing situation. And never text while cycling. Better to stop by the side of the road, at a safe distance from traffic, to do your business on the phone.
(The author has been a cyclist for nearly 40 years, and has organized a number of group cycling tours in Metro Manila and in the provinces for half that long.)