Bike terrors: 6 things that cyclists are scared of

From black ice to a lack of coffee, here are the things that will put the frighteners on

Clock18:32, Thursday 16th November 2023

Halloween may have come and gone, but there are still plenty of things to spook us cyclists out on the roads.

No matter how experienced a rider you are, there will always be things that terrify us – GCN presenters included.

These can range from the serious and highly dangerous, such as motor vehicles and weather conditions, to rather more mundane matters, such as a dreaded shortage of coffee.

On the GCN channel, Manon Lloyd and James Lowsley-Williams pick out the things that terrify them when they’re out on the bike.

Black ice

First up, we have, as James puts it, “the invisible killer, the breaker of bones”. It is, of course, black ice.

This is a super thin layer of ice that blends in with the black road surface and is almost impossible to spot. Often, you don’t know you’re on it until it’s too late. You panic, you grab your brakes, you slide and, almost inevitably, you hit the deck. You’ll be lucky to get away with bruises, with numerous bones broken on black ice.

Read more: Five advanced skills every cyclist should know

In fact, one of the worst things is you’re probably going to hit it at slower speeds, and sometimes the slower you go the harder you fall.

Ironically, it’s your attempts to correct the problem that can actually make it worse, as grabbing the brakes will only make you more slippy and slidey. If you do manage to stay upright or spot a section of black ice in advance, the best thing to do is get off and proceed on foot.

Wet drains and white lines

It doesn’t have to be icy for cyclists to slip and slide on the roads. When it’s wet, drain covers and even painted road markings become treacherous obstacles that strike the fear of god into us.

Read more: Five common descending mistakes to avoid

Starting with drain covers, the metal surface, when wet, leaves little opportunity for purchase. If you’re going in a straight line, this is usually fine, but introduce any cornering or wheel movement, and it could spell trouble.

“There was this one time in a crit race," Manon recalls. "It was pouring down with rain, in a city centre, and I was like ‘I don’t want to crash, I’m going to ride on the front and be safe round the corners’. I sprinted to make sure I was first, probably went in too fast, hit a drain, which was soaking wet, slipped right out, and took half the peloton out with me.

“The TV commentator even called me out for it, and it really did scar me for life. Ever since drains have been quite scary for me.”

The same goes for white lines, which can be super slippery when wet, especially if it hasn’t rained for a while and then there’s suddenly a big downpour. We’ve all been there, with a heart-stopping skid of the back wheel. Best to avoid.

Being chased by a dog

Most of us adore our fluffy friends but it can sometimes seem that they don’t like us too much, especially when out on country roads.

One of the things that can suddenly send you into a state of panic is seeing a dog come tearing out behind you, barking its head off. You can feel it snapping at your heels, you imagine the newspaper headlines, and your heart rate starts to rise…

Quite often the dog gives up and goes home, but it’s still terrifying.

Animals running out in front of you

Staying on the subject of animals, it’s one thing them chasing you, but another when they run out in front of you. Or, worst of all, actually, run into your front wheel and get caught in the spokes.

While Demi Vollering did have a horse run out ahead of her at the 2023 Strade Bianche, we're usually talking about small animals here, and squirrels are among the chief culprits.

If you’re riding somewhere that’s surrounded by trees, chances are you’ll have seen one of them dart into the road or path in front of you. Often, they’re far enough away, but occasionally they can suddenly run out into your path, leaving you no time to do anything about it.

Here at GCN, we’ve heard numerous reports of squirrel-based crashes, and they are a very real fear for many of us as we make our way along otherwise tranquil wooded roads.

The café being closed

There’s nothing worse than depriving a cyclist of coffee, and there are a few things more terrifying than the sight of a café that looks as if it might be closed.

Read more: GCN's eight worst things to say to a cyclist

For many of us, coffee is a sacred ritual of a weekend ride, allowing us to kick back and grab that caffeine hit that will power us back home. In some cases, the café stop is the focal point of the ride, central to your careful planning of the route. So there’s nothing worse than turning up and finding it’s empty and then, on closer inspection, closed.

You sit there, twiddling your thumbs, kicking yourself, or, if it wasn’t you who planned the route, cursing your ride buddy.

Car doors swinging open

Cars are surely the greatest source of fear for cyclists. We share the roads with powerful machines that can seriously injure or kill us if driven dangerously. But amid the general anxiety that can come with cycling on busy roads, one aspect that we want to highlight, which can cause a particular fright, is the door of the car.

Read more: Cycling in the USA: the case of Richmond, Virginia

We’ve all been there - rolling down the street, minding your own business, and suddenly a car door opens right in front of you, and you go straight into it. These collisions can cause serious damage to your bike and your body.

Part of the fear factor is that they’re so hard to predict, and you never know when a door is going to swing out in front of you. Of course, we’d all like drivers to check behind them before attempting to get out of their cars, but as cyclists we need to control the controllable, so it’s always wise when riding down streets lined with parked cars to give them as much space as possible. Even if it means sitting that bit further out in the road than you’d like, it means that if a car door does swing open, you’re going to avoid it.

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