By Alison Hill
Alison is Chair of Cyclox
On 30 April the Oxford Mail reported that there had been 135 personal injury claims submitted to Oxfordshire County Council over the last year. One of the leading causes was potholes.
Potholes are extremely hazardous for people on bikes, especially if they encountered at speed. What makes them even more perilous is that they are often hard to spot. Puddles, leaves and debris can obscure them. If unsuspecting cyclists can’t see the potholes, the danger is even greater.
The limited funds allocated for road maintenance in the UK have contributed to the worsening state of our highways. Oxfordshire County Council, as Highways Authority, is responsible for maintaining our roads. But local budgets continue to be squeezed by central government and there aren’t enough funds available for this vital task. As a result, many potholes remain unrepaired, posing an ongoing risk to cyclists and other road users.
A car driver hitting a pothole may experience a jolt and potential damage to their vehicle. The risks for people on bikes are much greater. Even the most skilled and experienced cyclist can face severe consequences if they hit a pothole at speed. A slight knock or a bumpy ride over a deep pothole can lead the cyclist to lose control and be thrown off their bike. In some instances, cyclists have swerved into traffic to avoid potholes, leading to accidents that not only damage their bikes but also cause serious injuries and even loss of life.
One cyclist’s experience
Here’s Cyclox member Sushila Dhall’s account of her encounter with a pothole which illustrates just how dangerous they can be for people on bikes.
On 11 August 2021 the front wheel of my bike hit a deep pothole where Cowley Road had not been repaired properly. I was indicating to turn left and had one hand on the handlebar. It seemed I fell in slow motion onto the handlebars, cracking my ribs and unable to take a breath. I fell briefly unconscious as I landed on my hand, breaking my wrist, and had a seizure due to brief lack of oxygen. I was in hospital for three days, and off work for several weeks. It took my wrist a year to heal properly, as the bone had to be mended with a metal insert.
Another of our Cyclox members told us that she cycles less frequently due to worry about potholes on the roads. This reduction in cycling not only affects individual wellbeing but also undermines efforts to promote sustainable travel and combat congestion and air pollution.
Avoiding the danger
What can you do to avoid potholes when out on your bike?
- Never let your mind wander. The term sometimes used for what you need when on your bike is “relaxed concentration”.
- Don’t hug the kerb. Good road positioning, at least 70 cm out from the kerb, will keep you away from sunken drains or steeply cambered road edges and will give you more room to manoeuvre around a pothole.
- Swerving out into the road is dangerous. Scan the road far ahead so that you can change your road position gradually if there’s a hazard.
- Pothole depth can be hidden by rainwater so always go around puddles if you can.
Since potholes present a greater danger to cyclists, it’s important that the council prioritises those that put cyclists at risk. It’s crucial therefore that you report dangerous potholes. The best way to report is through Oxfordshire County Council’s dedicated FixMyStreet website. Alternatively you can download an app on your phone and report through that. Our experience has been that the County Council is pretty responsive if a pothole is posing a danger to people cycling.