Did you know that each year, just under 4,000 road users have a crash which is directly linked to being dazzled by the sun?
It’s an astonishing fact, and one bike riders need to be only too aware of as we take to the roads in autumn, when low sun is a perennial problem. It often sits just above the horizon on our commute into and away from work as the days shorten, directly in our eyeline.
That makes it more difficult to spot problems in front of us – and when the situation is reversed and we’re riding with the sun at our backs, it means car and van drivers heading towards us might fail to spot the slim silhouette bike riders project. Even when close up, such as at junctions when a car is turning across your path, be aware that just because the driver is looking in your direction does not mean they can see you if the sun is behind you.
How do you get out of the problem? Well, you can’t move the sun - so keeping yourself safe is all about riding at the right speed, observation and anticipation. Where visibility is reduced, lower your speed to allow more time to respond to hazards. If you know the sun is at your back, be mindful that drivers approaching may not spot you, so be on your toes for them pulling a dangerous manoeuvre
And never look directly at the sun: it can dazzle you for several seconds, during which time anything can happen
Other top tips for autumn riding
Glare is worsened by dirty helmet visors. Keep yours clean with paper towel – not an old rag. It is better to use a paper towel then throw it away because a rag or de-mister pads will just drag the grease around the glass
Here’s a tip: a few drops of vinegar on the towel will help remove any grease.
Puddles and lying water
With the combination of heavy rain and leaves blocking drains, large sections of road surfaces are often covered by water, sometimes surprisingly deep. It is easy to lose control if you ride through deep water too quickly.
Puddles disguise potholes, so they should be avoided if possible.
On the subject of standing water, a tyre manufacturer advised that we should avoid parking in puddles if we can, as sitting the tyres in the water helps break down the composition of the rubber, degrading tyre grip and control.
Leaves on the road
Leaves cause two main problems in addition to blocking drains. They often cover road markings, a particular problem at junctions, where you also need to be aware that braking will be more hazardous.
It has been said that riding in the autumn is more dangerous than in the winter, because bike riders often underestimate just how slippery leaves can be. Mulch caused by the leaves is as dangerous as ice, therefore using acceleration sense early to prevent heavy braking at junctions is essential.
Autumn means it’s getting windy. On open roads, and particularly on bridges and motorways, high-sided vehicles not only swerve from side to side, but can actually topple over. And if you overtake one, having been sheltered while overtaking, when you get past the vehicle a strong wind will buffet you and force you towards the centre of the road – so be careful.
In towns, watch out for street debris entering the roads. We’ve all seen litter and solid items such as wheelie bins, dustbin lids and other debris flying around when strong winds strike. In a biker’s case, they can appear in your path from nowhere and cause you to swerve to avoid them – so again, be on your guard. Watch your speed, keep your observation keen and anticipate the worst.