I have worked hard to achieve my role of cycle responder. The course isn’t particularly difficult, but keeping in mind most people have done no training at all, it holds you to a particularly high standard. It also has a particular focus on working in crowds of people safely (you should see some of the maneuvers we’re expected to pull off). Just like anyone else operating an emergency vehicle, we’re supposed to be good at what we do.
Now, I freely admit that there are some idiots on bikes wandering around. This is an unfortunate side effect of the lack of licensing of bicycles. Not that I advocate such a license: we need to encourage people to cycle, not make it difficult for them. (Before anyone interjects that a driving license isn’t difficult to get, I’ll point out that, at 23, I am still unable to drive a car due to the financial investment driving lessons require.) Proper planning, a bit of common courtesy amongst road users and decent provision of dedicated cycle ways should help keep these few idiots safe and out-of-the-way, keeping all parties safe.
We, on the other hand, are response cyclists. We are not just cycling as a means to get to work, or to the shops. Our role has two main parts, in order of importance (in my opinion):
- Responding to calls for assistance from the public, other first aiders and the ambulance service
- Patrolling an event, forming a highly visible first aid presence that can be flagged down when needed
To a lesser degree, we also make good a good advert for the Organisation, as we are very visible and something people don’t see every day. (This is something I think we should capitalise on more…)
Now it is fairly obvious that most of our patients will be found in areas where there are most people, and so it is almost inevitable that we mainly respond to places where there is a crowd. This isn’t even allowing for the fact that crowds invariably form around patients. Given that many of our patients are reported as being quite unwell, this means that we will need to respond fast through said crowds. The most effective way of progressing quickly through a crowd is to make a lot of noise, encourage people to move out of our way (whether with noise makers, voices, “blues and twos” or whatever) and pass through the gaps that naturally form in such groups. It is exactly the same technique as walking quickly through a crowd (which most people can do without thinking), but at higher speeds and with bigger turning circles. It’s not perfect (it doesn’t work in very dense crowds) but it still usually gets us on scene faster than a foot patrol (we can take advantage of larger gaps to put on decent bursts of speed) or an ambulance (which can’t exactly dodge and weave in the ways we can). Sometimes it’s only a minute or so faster, but when someone is very unwell, every minute counts.
Unfortunately, to make it work, sometimes we have to cut things fine. Sometimes I will pass someone by inches then swerve suddenly in front of them to swing through another gap. I try to make myself known to everyone, but sometimes I’ll catch people by surprise. This doesn’t (and I say this with feeling) mean that I’ve nearly hit you. Believe me, if 45 kg of bike plus 60 kg of rider nearly hit you, you’d know. In fact, the first thing you’d know of it would be the screech of brakes as I come to a halt behind you. Because, just like that emergency vehicle going down the road, I never go so fast I can’t stop if I need to. I have a lot of momentum, but very good brakes and plenty of practice emergency stopping. I’ll say it again, because I mean it: I am not going to hit you (well unless you decide to jump in front of me at the last-minute, and that, I’m afraid, would be your fault).
On the other hand, when I’m on a patrol, I’m not in a hurry. In fact, I’m particularly keen to save energy for the times when I really need it. This means I’m going to move slowly. Of cause, all velocity is relative, and slow for a cyclists doesn’t always mean the same thing as slow for a pedestrian. Sometimes the crowd sprawled across my patrol path decides they want to dawdle down the street, taking in the sights. And why not? After all, most of the time they are on a day out, and who wants to rush around on a day out.
This makes cycling patrols a very different activity to normal cycling. On a clear road, we’ll move at roughly normal to slow cycling speeds, stopping sometimes to take in the sights ourselves (everyone loves a bit of people watching). Then we hit that dense bit of dawdling crowd, and so we slow down, down to the speed of the crowd. This takes practice; a bike are very difficult to control at such speeds, particularly given the weight of our bikes. That is precisely why we spend so much time on cone skills and low-speed maneuvering.
Once we’re down to the speed of a dawdle, we can quite happily sit there indefinitely. We’re happy to wait until the crowd disperses, a gap in the crowd forms naturally, or we have a reason to speed up (usually a job from control). Of cause, if people move aside to let us through (which happens fairly often once people notice us), we do appreciate it, and we’ll pop through any gap that forms (naturally or otherwise) to move from behind a crowd if the timing is right. We know that sitting behind people makes them uncomfortable. That said, if that’s where we have to stay, so be it. We’ll wait.
Yet again, and I say this with more feeling this time, you are NOT going to get run over. If we have to stop, we will, no problems, no arguments.
People often mention that we should get off and walk when we’re doing this, often adding that they think we’ll get through faster. There are a couple of problems with that argument.
First, while we are riding our bikes, they are surprisingly manoeuvrable and easy to handle. These bikes are HEAVY (have I mentioned this enough yet…) and being able to use your body weight to balance them is extremely useful. As soon as I get off my bike, I exchange 45 kg of well-balanced bicycle for 45 kg of unstable dead weight. More than once I have lost my bike when I have had to get off and push, and when those bikes go, they go big style. I am much more likely to drop that bike on your (and my) shins when I push it than I am to run you over or collide with you while cycling.
Second, these bikes are a real pain to mount and dismount in a crowd. During these times, that 60 kg of rider that could be used to balance the bike is attempting to swing his leg over the bike and position himself on his saddle, all while trying to keep that 45 kg of bike upright during the inherently unstable procedure. Having to do this in a hurry, while talking to Control on the radio and keeping an eye on where he is going (not to mention where everything and everyone else is going) is a serious challenge. We are rapid response vehicles, and like I said before, every minute can count.
In short, constantly getting on and off the bikes is a pain, and staying on is much easier, safer (and highly encouraged by our training).
I appreciate that bikes are unusual, and seeing a fully laden response bike bearing down on you is intimidating. It is my eternal hope that people will eventually get used to response bikes and begin to understand how they behave. If nothing else, I hope people start to realise that we are an emergency vehicle, and just like any other emergency vehicle, the operator really does now what they are doing.
I was going to leave you with two things. The first was a relatively old advert that I really like about how to respond to an oncoming blue light vehicle (in this case, and ambulance). Unfortunately my Google skills have let me down and I can’t find it… The second (which I have found) is my customary musical interlude (on both YouTube and Spotify), this time a track from a band I have just started listening to again after having been forgotten for quite some time. Enjoy.
The first day of training was to prove that we could control the bikes, and that we were safe enough to be let loose on the roads. The second day was for demonstrating that would could cycle safely in real traffic, and the fitness tests.
First up was the cycle in traffic. As campus is on the top of a hill, this first involved a cycle down the hill. Oh, and the glorious weather yesterday had turned in to pouring rain.
I was riding one of the response bikes. Complete with an almost full load-out of equipment (including a full O2 cylinder). Down a steep hill. A wet, steep hill. That was an interesting experience.
To save time, our instructor combined the endurance test with the proficiency assessment. The requirements changed depending on age and gender, but we were all aiming for 10km in 40 minutes, the young male target. This is a fairly comfortable patrol speed, and even before allowing for the traffic and the rain, we did fine.
We had a lunch-break in town, just about hiding from the rain while keeping a close eye on the response bikes.
The next assessment was a 1km sprint, followed by a six-minute scenario including CPR. Except, this had to take place on campus, where we wouldn’t have as much traffic to deal with.
Remember that hill. We were now headed the other way. With our bikes, so no cheating by taking the bus.
Four of us tried to ride our bikes up the hill, two on response bikes (me and one other) and two on their own bikes. Everyone else decided not to even try to cycle, walking up instead.
It was a slog, more so considering the fact that I was already soaked through, and was lugging a gas cylinder. And I made it. Once I’d got my breath back, and decided I wasn’t about to have a heart attack, I was very pleased with myself. I’ve never managed that hill before, but this bike had a decent set of gears.
Of cause, I then had to do the sprint. Along a road on campus, and up and down another one, including two hard turns and an automated barrier to navigate. I had to aim for 2 minutes 40 seconds, from the end of the radio call. Oh, and still have enough breath to do CPR for six minutes, and enough sense through the adrenaline to run an AED without ‘killing’ myself.
I made the time, just about. Felt like I was going to keel over when I skidded to a halt by the ‘patient’, but some how managed to survive.
The scenario wasn’t textbook. I forgot to check if the patient was breathing, but otherwise did okay.
Only then did we find out that we didn’t need to do the manoeuvres again (a great relief), and we had all passed. After a small amount of paperwork, a quick round of presentations, and then we headed home. Dripping wet, absolutely knackered, but pleased, and more importantly, now all qualified Cycle Responders.
Oh, and that hill climb… I felt that one for days.
- Cycling First Aid (walkingplasterdispenser.wordpress.com)
A few weekends ago, I attended a two-day course to become a Cycle Responder for the Organisation. As promised, I’ve written a bit to describe the course.
The first day was pretty relaxed. The obligatory introduction to a course. A quick bit on the various levels of Cycle Responder in the Organisation, and what the course would entail. Designating a first aider for the course (a course for first aiders who are all at least trusted to use an AED, if not medical gases, and with a doctor also attending) caused a brief session of everyone volunteering everyone else. A quick reminder that if we came across anything while cycling around on the bright yellow, Organisation branded bikes, we would need to stop and help. Then, on to the course.
Our instructor first had to take us out to a car park and get us to show that we could actually ride our bikes. We had to demonstrate that we could ride without wobbling, signal and look over our shoulders without problems, and perform an emergency stop from a sprint without falling off (or shooting over the handlebars).
Next up was the low-speed manoeuvring. As a Cycle Responder on duty, it is expected that we will spend most of our time on our bikes. Unless we’re treating or stopping, we should aim to cycle everywhere. This includes through crowds and behind people meandering down the pavement. Constantly mounting and dismounting looks silly, and on a bike that’s a little on the tall side, is rather awkward.
To make sure we can do this safely, we have to demonstrate that we can handle the bikes at the speed of a slow walk. This is a pain in the arse. It involves gearing down as low as possible, and then peddling with the rear brake partially on to give a little resistance to work against. Doing this, while remaining balanced, is hard.
The first unofficial test is what our instructor called the slow race. A set of cones, spread out in a triangle shape, with everyone at the wide end. The aim was to be the last person to reach the point, without stopping. Chaos ensued as we all moved off to fast, slowed, wobbled, collided with each other, and generally tried to move slowly. Needless to say, none of us did well.
Next, after much more practice moving slowly, came the 10 foot box. More cones, this time arranged in a square with sides 10 feet long. We had to enter the box, circle inside of it three times, and then cycle out, turn around, and do the reverse.
Picture, for a minute this box. Now add in a bike. A bike about 5 feet long. With two heavy panniers on. This is not an easy manoeuvre.
We spent several hours on this, by which time we were all thoroughly bored, irritated and frustrated, but everyone pulled it off, to our unified relief. Though, when we found out that this was a practice run, and we would be assessed on it tomorrow, we were far from impressed.
Then, after a bit of a talk on bike maintenance (mainly how to take a wheel off and repair a puncture), we were done for the day. Tired, sunburnt, a still a little dizzy from the box, we headed home.
- Cycling First Aid (walkingplasterdispenser.wordpress.com)