Use your head, wear a helmet
Some say you're not a real cyclist until you've fallen or crashed. While that's a standard I'd rather not have attained (and would happily still be a 'fake' cyclist without the scars), the reality of cycling is you never know when you might hit the deck.
It doesn't matter how skilled a rider you are. Children, adults and even experienced cyclists can - and do - fall off their bikes. That's why it's important to wear a helmet.
It's a message that Wong Kam-po, top Hong Kong cyclist and 2007 scratch race world champion, hopes to spread through a new cycling road safety campaign by the UN children's fund Unicef.
Last month, in his role as Unicef ambassador, Wong stressed the importance of wearing helmets correctly and other road safety skills to 500 children, their relatives and friends in Sha Tin. His message: 'Always wear a helmet when cycling: it could save your life.'
The campaign - part of Unicef's global 2011-2020 Decade of Action for Road Safety - comes as government figures show 2,500 road accidents involved cyclists in Hong Kong last year - up 23 per cent on 2010 and 50 per cent on 2007 levels.
Road accidents last year killed 20 cyclists and injured more than 2,200 others. In the first two months of this year, one cyclist died and 243 cyclists were injured.
A new survey showed only 4.6 per cent of cyclists treated for traumatic brain injuries last year at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, were wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
'We are teaching children to protect themselves from being injured while cycling,' Wong says. 'Today in Hong Kong, many families love this sport, and go cycling together. But the chance of having an accident is also becoming higher, because many Hong Kong children still lack safe-cycling awareness.'
Falls and crashes can be due to the rider's inexperience, lack of skill, or mechanical failure. But crashes can be caused by factors beyond the cyclist's control, such as road hazards and unsafe motorists.
The Hong Kong government, mindful of road safety concerns, has officially said it 'does not encourage cycling in urban areas' and wants cyclists to use New Town cycle ways and country park trails.
This stance has left cycling groups and enthusiasts frustrated. 'There's a lack of any proper government policy on cycling,' says Chan Chi-keung, a spokesman for Hong Kong Cycling Association. 'The government doesn't regard cycling as a type of public transportation - only a leisure activity. There are no standards or regulations for the departments to follow when building roads and park areas, so nothing is safe and suitable for cycling.'
Martin Turner is chairman of Hong Kong Cycling Alliance, which last year proposed a harbourfront Hong Kong Island cycle way as a convenient system to link locations from Kennedy Town to Heng Fa Chuen. He says the government should do more for cyclists.
'Hong Kong is fabulously suitable for cycling,' he says. 'We live in such a compact city that all the locations you want to go to are close to one another - and easy to get to - by bicycle.'
Tom McGuinness, acting chairman of Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association, says: 'The interest and participation in cycling in Hong Kong has exploded in the past few years. It would be great if the government would acknowledge this trend and bring together all the cycling groups and relevant government departments to draft a comprehensive plan and policy.'
Many of Hong Kong's weekend cyclists head to Sai Kung West Country Park, Lamma Island, Shek O, Sunny Bay, Hung Shui Kiu, Chi Ma Wan Peninsula, Tai Mo Shan, Tai Lam Country Park and Ma On Shan. There are rides along water catchments, coastal pathways and closed roads and family pathways at Plover Cove, South Lantau, Tai Po and Tsuen Wan.
You can cycle on trails in 10 country park areas, but will need a permit, which is free. For application forms and trail details go to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department's website (afcd.gov.hk) or the Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association website (hkmba.org).
Many trails are challenging, but there are a few that are perfect for beginners, especially children, to learn to cycle off-road. South Lantau's water catchment's maintenance road is open to bikers and offers 20 kilometres of largely flat, traffic-free riding.
Clear Water Peak Trail, starting at Ng Fai Tin in the New Territories, takes about an hour, and offers fine sea views. It is closed to bikers on Sundays and public holidays.
Tai Lam Country Park has Hong Kong's most popular and biggest range of bike trails. The gentle 30-kilometre route around the edge of Tai Lam Chung reservoir, which takes about two hours, offers great views and is good for novices.
All of Wan Tsai Island, in Sai Kung, is designated as a mountain bike site. Its relaxing trail, through shaded woods, starts from Hoi Ha village and is perfect for beginners.
RULES OF THE ROAD
Cyclists should always:
Wear a helmet. It can save your life.
Check your bike before you go.
Carry a pump and spare inner tube.
Check the route, and ask an experienced cyclist if you're unsure.
Carry lots of water, and a mobile phone for emergencies.
Ride with friends. Never go alone.
Obey road traffic rules.
Tell others where you're going.