In my distant and increasingly fading youth, I used to cycle a lot, before I was old enough to have powered wheels. The disciplines I learned on pedals helped to protect me when I went on to motorbikes. It is a simple fact that I suffered far worse injuries in racing cycle smashes than I ever did in three spills off my bikes in later years.
One memorable one involved the menace of diesel, currently subject of an awareness campaign by the BMF and now incorporated in the new version of the Highway Code. I was 14 and race training around a new housing estate in my home town in Norfolk, lured by the dual attractions of quiet Sunday roads and brand new, beautiful tarmac. As I barrelled round a bend, head down, arse up and pedalling like fury, I passed over a new bus-stop. I can still remember seeing the road surface coming up to meet me. The front of the bike went out from under so fast that I didn’t even have time to get my hands off the dropped bars and I hit the ground face first.
As I recovered consciousness and started to wander around, dazed, front teeth smashed and blood everywhere, I realised for the first time that I had hit a substantial patch of diesel. It took 3 months and some very unpleasant dental work before I could eat anything more cereal than soup. Ever since, I have been acutely conscious of diesel.
Trouble is, it’s everywhere. Lorries, buses, cars- they all drip with it. Garage forecourts are notorious. You would think with the amount of bitching HGV companies do about the cost of it, they would be less likely to fling it around as they do.
So, given that an encounter with this slippery menace is almost certain to have you off and at the very least you will bend something pricey (and at the worst bend yourself, which is far more serious), how can you reduce the risks? The essential skills, as so often in biking, are observation and forethought. You must engage the brain as you ride- Are you in an urban area? Are there lots of heavy vehicles around? Are you riding in a bus lane? Watch out for the tell-tale rainbow patching, especially on corners, where over-filled tanks will slop. Even with a full-face lid, you can often smell it before you see it, giving you vital seconds to react. In the wet, it is even more lethal, but often easier to see and smell.
Keep an eye on your riding line- if the ideal line would increase the risk of coming across diesel, then modify your line. Bear in mind that it will very often occur on the typical riding line for two wheels, while four-wheel vehicles will be oblivious and unaffected by it.
Finally, if you see vehicles shedding the stuff by the pint, or garage forecourts awash with the stuff then don’t just ignore it- take the trouble to stop, make a note of the registration, date and place, and then complain, both to the offending transport company, bus company, council, garage- and the police. It is now an offence to over-fill a diesel tank and it has always been an offence to deposit dangerous substances on the highway. Even if you manage to avoid it, make a fuss for the sake of the less skilled, or less fortunate.