Over the past few years, Rudy Rollenberg (52) has become a bit of a celebrity as ultra-cyclist. But before that, he was active as an amateur cyclist. He realises as no other the importance of good visibility on the public road, here with us in Flanders but also far beyond across the globe.
“Ultra-cycling and cycling races: this already makes a world of difference but also the mentality among cyclists has changed drastically over the past few years”, explains Rudy while sketching the two totally different worlds in which he has been active. “Previously, when I saw someone riding with a trekking bike, heavily packed and with a rear-view mirror, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I found it a really horrible sight.” Now, in quite similar gear, Rudy cycles over 20,000 kilometres per year.
“When I was still competing races, a racing bike had to look as ‘clean’ as possible. A bicycle bell and mudguard were off limits. Not even to mention a bike rack or mirror.” With the experience that Rudy gained as lonely cyclist in inhospitable areas, he sees things completely differently now. “I really couldn’t do without my rear-view mirror anymore. I only should remember in time to mount it on the right-hand side in countries with left-hand traffic like for instance during the Transatlantic Way, a race that I competed along the coast of Ireland. From all up north to all down south.” Otherwise, Rudy truly enjoyed cycling in Ireland. “In the beginning, I was afraid to ride on the left and worried that I would have the wrong automatic reactions. But this appeared to be totally unnecessary. Drivers in Ireland were so courteous that it was almost impossible to believe. Especially in Northern Ireland, almost every driver waved hello to every cyclist that he came across. Cycling in Ireland comes highly recommended!”
CREATING A SAFETY ZONE
Rudy explains why a rear-view mirror is so important to him. “It gives me a safe feeling. Obviously, as a cyclist you never have your own fate completely into your own hands but you can significantly improve your own position. When I see in my mirror that a car is approaching from behind, I have time to create a safety zone for me.” This appears to be easier than people might think. “I move a bit to the middle of the road so that cars definitely have to move further from the side of the road if they want to pass me. Just before they’re about to catch up on me, I start riding more to the side again. Because moving cars do not immediately follow my movements, there is always sufficient space between cyclist and overtaking car. Among ultra-cyclists, this is called a good ‘shoulder’, referring to the ‘hard shoulder’ or paved area along the carriageway.
Of course, if the hard shoulder is sufficiently wide to cycle at a far enough distance from motor traffic, this shoulder will do as well.” The races that Rudy competes sometimes cross the weirdest places, including countries where people are not at all familiar with cyclists. “The Balkan countries for instance. Here, roads are by no means bicycle-friendly. In Bulgaria, I once had to cycle on the hard shoulder of the highway. And I’ve been almost arrested once because I had crossed a national border without having passed a border control station.
Apparently, these border control stations were also situated along the highway.” Still, there are always exceptions, also in the Balkan region. “Slovenia, for instance, cannot be compared with its neighbours. It is absolutely great to cycle here along good roads, people are friendly and everything is neat and clean. Believe me, I’ve seen things differently in some other countries. Scandinavia is also a fantastic region for cycling. During the recent NorthCape4000 – between Florence in Italy and Nordkapp in the far north of Norway – I crossed the whole of Sweden, with very wide roads and good bicycle paths. I could ride there for quite a while on an old highway, which had fallen in disuse following the construction of a new parallel road. In 12 hours’ time, I literally came across two cars.”
“Touch wood, but so far I haven’t been in any accident in all these years. Of course, you can always have bad luck but much depends as well on your own attitude and mind-set. In Italy, for instance, traffic is war, there is no other word for it. But if you bear this in mind, you’ll get through it. Although, I have to admit, I nearly got caught by a bus twice. Luckily, I could both times swerve to a footpath just in time. These situations do make me angry sometimes. I put on a sprint until I am next to the driver and ask him whether he intended to murder me or what, sometimes in slightly coarser words”, says Rudy, describing what practically every cyclist would do in such a situation.
“This may seem a bit odd but I rather cycle at night than during the day. With good lighting, you are better visible in any event and also the reflective elements on my jacket or body-warmer immediately catch the eye. During the day, you almost blend in in traffic so that car drivers will be less likely to see you. That’s why I always wear a helmet and clothing in fluorescent or eye-catching colours and I also keep my lights on during the day. Every little helps. Simply by wearing fluorescent socks or galoshes, you will increase your visibility considerably because the revolutions that you make with your legs form a rapid movement that catches the attention of other road users.”
When Rudy isn’t cycling himself, he runs his own bicycle store Pervélo. There, he saw the cycling sport booming over the past few years. “Cycling has become hip. And with new hypes such as gravel races, a new and larger audience is being reached.” Besides that, he also saw the awareness about themes such as safety and prevention grow year after year. “When I now look back and realise that I once started training without helmet. Back then, that was the normal thing to do. Cycling with a helmet just wasn’t cool. Now, I can hardly imagine cycling without one.”
Rudy also has good reason to consider safety his number one priority. “I myself made a U-turn after a friend of mine was killed in an accident. A couple of years ago, I was about to make a tour with my wife on our trekking bikes. I myself wore a helmet, as always, but she didn’t. There and then, I threatened to go on my own. Since that time, my wife always wears a helmet as well”, smiles Rudy. “Besides, nowadays you seem a bit like the odd one out when you’re cycling without a helmet. And that’s a good thing. Although the use of colour is subject to fashion, more and more people seem to realise that visibility is more important than a fashionable look. Fortunately, the Wowow products combine the best of both worlds”, concludes Rudy.