SAFETY AND SECURITY
"Never stop after running over a chicken"
Good advice from Phillip Davies, adventure cyclist
Adventure cycling is pretty safe. You hear very few reports of any cyclists being robbed, attacked, injured or killed. Many men and an increasing number of women, do long tours on their own, through very wild places, without incident. You really don't need to worry too much, but this section contains a few tips and precautions that will help keep you safe.
Look the partOne of the things that keeps you safe when adventure cycling is looking too poor and too stupid to be worth mugging. You can cultivate this image by:
- Allowing your bike to get dirty and a bit tatty - it's best if it does not look as if you just wheeled it out of the showroom.
- Wearing worn clothes, in dull colours, rather than brightly coloured lycra or just out of the shop goretex.
- Not being too tidy about the way you strap stuff on the bike - a pair of underpants hung to dry out works quite well.
- Using old Coke bottles instead of proper water bottlesl
- Keeping any high tech items like MP3 players, GPS units and palm computers, well out of sight.
Be seenAt only £5 each, a Hi-Vis waistcoat is by far the best value bit of safety kit you can get. Wearing them in urban traffic or on busy main roads is strongly recommended. In addition, in some developing countries, the only other people who wear such vests are the police, so motorist are extra wary when passing you. It's best to remove your hi-vis waistcoat when you start looking for a stealth campsite or are trying to sneak past a checkpoint.
Take account of cultural sensitiviesBe aware of cultural sensitivies and dress/behave accordingly. In some Islamic countries shorts and short sleeved shirts are frowned upon, as is other revealing clothing such as skin tight lycra. So, if you want to go unnoticed, dress conservatively and get some light baggy trousers and a long sleeved top to cycle in.
Cycle HelmetsThere's no end of debate on cycle forums about the pros and cons of wearing helmets. In the end it boils down to personal choice based on your perception of the risks. A lot of adventure cyclist take them, but only wear them in high risk situations, such as steep descents or heavy traffic.
TrafficTraffic is probably the single biggest risk when cycle touring. The only time I have been sure I was going die on a bike was cycling in four lanes of heavy high speed traffic on the main road in to Istanbul. Guidelines for staying safe are:
- Try and plan you route to avoid main roads - particularly in developed countries.
- Be very careful on main roads where there is not room enough for two trucks going in opposite directions to pass while one is passing you. If this is the case, and you can hear a truck approaching from behind and can see one coming towards you in front, you must be prepared to dive off on to the verge to let them pass.
- If traffic is stacked up behind you, pull over and let it pass at the first opportunity.
- Avoid cycling in big cities during rush hour.
|Monsters are rarely a hazard!|
Bike TheftLuckily a loaded bike isn't a very attractive target for thieves - a quick get away being a bit difficult. However, an unloaded bike is different question. If a determined thief wants your bike, no lock is going to stop him, so it's not worth carrying a big heavy D lock. However, it is worth carrying some sort of lock to prevent the opportunistic thief - a cable and padlock is probably the most versatile.
To prevent theft, the best strategy is not to let the bike out of your sight. Of course, this is a lot easier to if there are two of you. If you are on your own and you want to do some shopping say, you can always ask a shop keeper or cafe owner to keep an eye on your bike. If you do have to leave it unattended, taking the saddle with you helps make it a bit less attractive.
Most cheap hotels have some sort of store room or garage where your bike can be locked away. Otherwise, you have to take it in your room with you. When you are camping, at night it's best to make the bike as invisible as possible - lay it down behind the tent and padlock it to a tent peg loop.
DogsAggressive dogs can be a hazard almost anywhere, but they are not that big a problem. The following strategies have all been recommended by cyclists:
- Ride the adrenaline rush and pedal like hell to out run them - can be exhausting and not always successful.
- Stop and maybe get off the bike (ideally, keeping it between you and the dog), so they can see you are a human and not some wierd animal. You may have to wait until the dog's owner arrives before you can proceed.
- Carry a stick so you can try and whack them as you pedal past.
- Corrin Higgs suggests:"An authoritative shout while pointing back to where the dog's coming from. I shouted "a tu casa", but I'm sure "to your house" would work just as well, even for Spanish speaking dogs. This stopped or turned around three out of four approaching dogs."
- Just raise your hand as if you are going to throw a stone at them - this is surprisingly effective.
- Use a DogDazer (a battery powered gadget that emits a high frequency noise) -however, I have heard these only work on about 50% of dogs.
- Pepper spray - good as a last resort against the more lethal looking mutts. You'll need to carry it in a handy pocket and check it is not illegal in the country you are travlling through. (Another one from Corrin Higgs)
Dealing with officialsIn my experience, the best tactic for dealing with dodgy officials, e.g. police or army types, is to appear to be friendly, very respectful, but rather dim (Tim, nice but dim, that's me!). So, smile, say hello, shake their hands, but don't let on you know any of their language. Keep saying "tourist". Only show them the documents they ask for. And be patient, the aim is to bore them into leaving you alone.
Altitude sicknessIn the Himalayas and the Andes there are a number of routes that take you as high as 5,000m. This is high enough for the effects of altitude sickness to be fatal. The good news is that if you pedal up to this sort of altitude from sea level, you will have time to aclimatise progressively and be reasonably fit by the time you get there, thus reducing the risks significantly. You are at a much higher risk of altitude sickness if you fly into places like Leh, Lhasa or La Paz, that are already at around 3,000m, and immediately start pedalling. In these cases, it is vital you take some time (a few days at least) to aclimatise. Important points about coping with altitude are:
- Allow plenty of time to aclimatise.
- Take things easy.
- Make sure you drink plenty of water - it's really easy to get dehydrated at altitude.
- Wherever possible sleep a good bit lower than you highest point during the day.
|Copyright © Tim Barnes 2007|