Bike lane etiquette and safety in Beijing

Serk Cycling's Shannon Bufton talks about keeping yourself safe when cycling

Photo: iStockphoto

The threat: Pedestrians

What to watch out for ‘Pedestrians on the road are the most unpredictable. They’re in this kind of bubble and don’t adhere to any sense of logic. They can put their arm out at any time, turn left or turn right. They’re like wandering sheep, moving about like they’re in the middle of nowhere. Same goes in the hutongs, where people will exit public bathrooms and shops, and walk out straight on to the street without looking what’s around them.’

How to avoid them ‘Fortunately, a lot of pedestrians are really tuned in to the sound of a bell. You can immediately see that, when you ring the bell, they acknowledge your presence. So if they don’t react to it, you know that they don’t know you’re there and they’re likely to be far more unpredictable. A bell is the best secret urban assault weapon in Beijing.’

The threat: Electric scooters

What to watch out for ‘Electric scooters often come out of side streets without looking. If you’re looking the other way, someone could easily ram into the side of you. You also have people going the wrong way on the road, often with quite a bit of speed. There’s an element of playing chicken, but you’ve got to be very careful with that game.’

How to avoid them ‘Make your intentions very clear. If you’re going down a narrow bike lane and there’s another bike or e-bike coming towards you, quickly take one side or the other, so that they know they should go on the other side. Be very certain about your movements – pick a path and stick to it. Make sure your brakes work well and you know your braking distance.’

The threat: Cars

What to watch out for ‘Luckily, the average speed of a car in the city centre is not so fast. The threats are on the ring roads where cars are travelling fast and at intersections where drivers are speeding up for amber lights or trying to beat oncoming cars. In the latter situation, cars trying to turn accelerate very quickly to get in front of cars coming from the opposite direction. According to the law, they should give way to you, but in most cases they won’t.

How to avoid them ‘Nine out of ten times, if you make eye contact with the driver, they’ll stop. If you’re following the rules, they’ll follow the rules, too. It’s always a good idea to use your hand to signal if you’re going to be turning left or right, so cars know what you’re doing.’

The threat: Buses

What to watch out for ‘Buses are very dangerous as they’re always stopping in the bike lane and most people run across the bike lane to catch the bus or they disembark without looking left or right. It’s a transition zone – you have to assume people aren’t looking for you and be extra vigilant.’

How to avoid them ‘You’ve got to make a decision when a bus is behind you whether you accelerate to keep in front of the bus or slow down to let it go past you. My preferred option is to accelerate. Otherwise, if you’re behind the bus and you stick your nose out into traffic, you don’t know what you’re going to encounter on the road. The only way to keep yourself safe is to keep vigilant.’

What to do if you get in an accident

Call the police ‘The first thing is to assess whether or not your injuries are serious. If they are, or if you’ve done damage to the car, call the police (110) and wait for them to arrive. They will do a report, then you have to sort out how to move forward with the other party. If it’s decided that the accident was your fault and there’s damage to the car but you’re unhurt, you will likely be told to negotiate a fee on the spot – say 2,000RMB – and go to the bank to get the money. Never leave the scene until the police come and file a report.’

Get it looked at ‘If the driver was in the wrong and you’re hurt, they’re liable to pay for the medical bills. The driver should accompany you to the hospital for an x-ray. Settle on the spot. They’ll pay for your scan and other medical costs. If it’s more serious, involve the insurance companies.’

Serk Cycling have recently opened a new store new Yonghegong subway station, and organise regular rides for cyclists of all levels.

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