What is Risk?
In the last tip I added, I talked about risk. It's worth discussing
what we mean by risk and how far we can decide how risky an exercise
First let's define safety:
Safety is defined as the "absence of risk".
So is riding a bike safe or unsafe? Neither. Since it is
impossible to ride without risk, we have to talk about relative
safety and relative risk.
So can we define risk a bit more clearly? We can say something like:
Risk is the chance something might happen multiplied by the effect
of it really happening
Clearly we need to talk about management of risk. To maximise safety
we want to take as few dangerous chances as possible.
To do that we have to be able to recognise what is and isn't
dangerous. Some activities are often considered highly risky -
overtaking on a blind bend is likely to lead you to collide head-on
with an oncoming vehicle, braking or cornering hard on a slippery
surface is liable to leave you sliding down the road beside the
bike. The chances of something going wrong in either case are high,
multiplied by the effect on you if it does go wrong suggest that
either situation is likely to have very serious consequences.
But if you think a little harder, not all overtaking on a bend is
dangerous. If you have a clear view of the road ahead, it might
actually be quite safe. Equally if you know your road surfaces, you
may found your wheels are actually on Shellgrip, which is just as
grippy in the wet as it is in the dry, allowing lots of brake use.
In other words, "bend" does not automatically mean "dangerous
overtakes", and "wet surface" does not always mean "reduced grip" -
managing risk means you must think beyond the basics - we need to
consider "view" and "surface characteristics" too. I was chatting
with a friend recently and he told me the following story about a
ride with another rider.
"...I was following the other rider quite closely. In a straight
line, he did a a number of swerves to avoid riding over a drain
cover. Really sensible! And the best bit was that a couple of the
outrageous swerves only served to take him into a second offset
drain with some silly lean angle on, on a straight road."
Unfortunately, this is a half-baked application of the theory that
manhole covers are slippery. Leaving aside the obvious comment that
he has not looked ahead far enough or planned ahead early enough (if
he had he would have moved smoothly round the covers rather than
swerving), the problem is one of incomplete comprehension. The rider
concerned has clearly been told or believes manholes are slippery
and therefore to be avoided at all costs, but has quite simply
failed to make the next leap - attempting to calculate risk:
are they slippery all the time?
are there more dangerous things he should be
are there additional dangers attached to
If the drains are dry and flush with the surface, if you are riding
at moderate speeds, and if you are upright or at a gentle lean angle
then you and I know they are not a big problem. Even when wet,
unless you are braking or cornering hard, the worst that is likely
to happen is a small slide.
It's a question of grading hazard and prioritising your actions. I
would look for more important considerations:
what I can see of the
road ahead (potential hidden dangers for example)
am I in a position to be
seen by other road users?
conflicts with other road users
oncoming cars to the
pedestrians and cyclists
to the left.
In the dry I would not compromise any of these to avoid running over
a manhole cover. The chances of losing control of the bike are
In the wet a smooth riding line becomes more important, and although
the cover will be much more slippery and I would look for a safe
line that took me clear of manhole covers, most likely I still would
not avoid one if it meant making a sudden manoeuvre. If avoiding a
manhole cover took me into a potentially dangerous position of
conflict with another vehicle, I would certainly slow down and ride
over the cover, and accept the small slide as the much less risky
When you start to think of your riding in these terms, you can start
to make informed choices about what you do and don't do.