I am an Audax club member and so am mostly riding on high speed country roads - B class highways in the main.
Firstly I would say that just as a good driver should be using a 'system of car control' to avoid collisions, then in exactly they same manner, and with exactly the same system, so should a bike rider. And this would be whether in the city or the country. Bike riders should be even more diligent in using such a system because if they are hit they have absolutely no protection - just a foam helmet!
The well recognised 'system of car control' emphasises the importance of knowing what is all around - both in front, and behind, on a regular 10 to 12 second basis. That is, the rear-view mirror should be checked about every 10 to 12 seconds in a car, and whenever a hazard is first detected.
I do the same on my bike - both in city and country riding.
I use a good sized mirror that is sturdy, does not vibrate on coarse metal roads, or get pushed around by the wind, and is either flat or only very slightly curved.
The mirror should be able to see a silver or white car at least 300m away. They are the hardest to see because they can blend in with the clouds. A curved mirror is not up to the job. And there are an awful lot of silver cars out there! Although a curved mirror, not too small or too curved, is ideal for the city.
I have also developed a particular system I call 'trigger points' - points in the ride that trigger me to check my mirror, over and above the regular 10 - 12 second checks.
These trigger points are due to three hazards that are of particular relevance to riders, especially on high speed country roads, to avoid being hit by a car coming from behind. Those that overtake when it is not safe to do so.
The three situations, or hazards, that cause me to instantly check the mirror are
a) an ONCOMING CAR,
b) a BLIND CORNER less than 200m ahead (or less than 100m - 150m behind),or
c) a BLIND CREST less than 200m ahead (or less than 100 - 150m behind).
I have observed that
a) in the situation of an on-coming car, and another car coming up from behind, most (I estimate 80% to 90% of drivers) do not do the right thing and slow down behind the bike, and wait until the oncoming car has passed before overtaking.
b) and c) - In the case of blind corners and crests - Most drivers just hope that no car will suddenly appear from around that blind corner, or over that crest, while they are on the wrong side of the road.
I do not take the "bugger you, I'm all right" approach.
That is, just keep riding along hoping that if a car does approach from behind, that the car will do the right thing and slow down and wait.
But if they don't, and then have an accident - a head-on-collison, or a side swipe with the oncoming car, or a roll over as they try to avoid that car . . . "Well it wasn't my fault - it was their fault. I was entitled to be on the road - they should have waited before overtaking . . . I never got hit, so too bad people, sorry you are injured, or dead, but at least I am still alive. And I did not break the law - you did."
Of course the bike rider will also be at risk in these situations, whether by the overtaking car suddenly realising they are in trouble and just trying to miss the rider by a few cm, or actually deciding that they have to save their own neck by wiping out the cyclist!
By doing that mirror check when triggered, in that 200m 'danger zone' before those three particular hazards, then I have plenty of time to move right over to the left of the bitumen so that any overtaking car can safely pass without having to cross the centre line.
Or if the sealed surface is not wide enough, I have plenty of time to slow down to a safe speed so that I can go onto the unsealed side of the road. Either stopping if it is unsafe for my tyres, or continuing riding slowly until the cars have passed, and I check the mirror, plus head turn, before going back to the bitumen.
All this is just exactly what good car drivers do anyway - use the same system.
- Always scanning for hazards - both in front, to the sides and BEHIND
- If a hazard is observed - CHECK the MIRROR
- Now, knowing the full situation, both in front and behind - decide on a course of action (plan of action)
- If the course of action requires a change of direction (e.g. moving over to the left) - then signal
Most times when the three situations above occur, on checking the mirror I see that no cars are approaching from behind (close enough to be a danger), and so there is no action required.
On a typical 200km Audax ride I would say that I average 5 times where I have had to leave the bitumen. And on the other occasions I have just had to move over the white line on the left, to near the edge of the sealed verge. So I have left plenty of room for the overtaking car to not have to cross the centre line. Or maybe just by a small amount.
This well rehearsed system has possibly saved my life on several occasions.
The last one, about a year ago, was when I was daydreaming actually, enjoying a nice downhill run on a narrow road. Suddenly I heard the roar of a semi speeding down from behind! (I really should have spotted the truck earlier, either by the regular 10s check, or by noticing that about 200m ahead, at the bottom of the hill there was a blind corner to the right. A trigger point!)
Well, as the driver 'put the pedal to the metal', the roar of the engine woke me up, so I instantly checked ahead - a blind corner! I just had enough time to use the brakes, slow a bit, and go onto the dirt and stop.
Then I saw a large 4x4 come from around that corner, quite fast, and a lot less than 200m away by now! Just a second or so after that, the semi sped past me with his string of huge wheels on top of the white line. The same white line that I had to my left just a few seconds before!
So it would have been either myself smashed to pulp, or that semi would have hit that 4x4, or hopefully the 4x4 driver, being alert to the problem, being able to leave the road without a roll-over!
But by me being out of the way, right off the bitumen in this case, I had taken charge of the situation, and so I was not depending on others to do the right thing, or be alert and skilled enough to do the right thing.
I had not only possibly saved my own life, but at the same time, by taking myself 'out of the picture', I was not putting other lives in danger either.
It is a good feeling to be in control, and not be at the mercy of others.
And as a result I don't feel at great risk, or in great danger, when riding out there on the highways with cars and trucks doing up to 110km/hr and sometimes more.
Provided I stay alert and stick to my system - the 'system of bike control'.
To put all this in a nutshell -
Riders need eyes in the back of their heads - No, riders need a mirror.
A rider without a mirror is a rider half blind.
A rider with a mirror also needs a plan.
A mirror without a plan is a mirror wasted.