by David Cole
If you ride a bicycle on the road, your safety is not guaranteed. Still, there are steps you can take that will make your ride safer. Here are my recommendations...
- Wear a helmet
Yes, this one's obvious, but it may not be obvious that the helmet needs to be worn properly on the top of the head (not the back) and that the straps need to be fairly snug. It's also true that helmets should be replaced every few years and always after an accident when the helmet has absorbed an impact.
- Use a mirror
Your only defense against being hit from behind by a distracted or impaired driver is to see them coming, and using a mirror is the best way to maintain awareness of what's behind you. My personal favorite is Bike Peddler's Take-A-Look Mirror, which can clip to either your glasses or helmet. In my near 30 years of cycling, I've only had to jump off the road three times, but each of those times may have saved my life. And, each of those times I was wearing a mirror so I knew what was about to happen.
- Pay attention
Yes, another seemingly obvious piece of advice, but you need to maintain awareness of not just what's behind you (you're wearing your mirror, right?), but also what's in front and around. Thus, you should know in advance whether you have room to swerve to one side or the other in the event of a sudden pothole. This also means listening, which generally precludes using earphones. If you find yourself surprised by a car or an obstacle, you probably weren't paying adequate attention.
- Be predictable
In North Carolina bicycles are considered vehicles, and you should absolutely behave accordingly. This means staying toward the right of your lane, using hand signals appropriately, and respecting the rights of other vehicles. This also means not riding to the right of stopped cars unless there is a separate bike lane, and not running stop signs or red lights.
- Be visible
A motorist won't avoid what the motorist doesn't see, so you want to make sure you're seen. There are several things you can do that will help.
Use lights, even during the day. Front and rear lights are required now in North Carolina after dark, but I use them during daylight rides, too. I like the Planet Bike Superflash for the rear. The Bontrager Glo Multi-Use Light attaches inconspicuously to the handlebar or head tube from the front, though for actual night riding I use a much brighter light.
Wear visible clothing. This should be obvious, yes? Yet, I was at a ride recently where a rider was wearing a camo kit. Seriously. Choose clothing that will make you more visible, not less visible.
- Position yourself in the lane
Ride to the left of the white line. If you give cars the entire lane, they'll take it, which often means very close passes. You're better off riding slightly in the lane (i.e., to the left of the white line) and force cars to move over to pass. This way, if there is a close pass, you still have room to move to the right without going off the road. Of course, if there's a very wide shoulder, then you can ride there and have separation from traffic.
Take the full lane at intersections. Intersections are the most dangerous places for cyclists, so it's especially important that you're seen there and that you move predictably. As you approach a red light or stop sign and are moving at the same speed as the traffic, move to the center of the lane. This prevents you from being hidden to drivers behind you. Once you pass through the intersection you can resume a position to the right of the lane.
- Cross railroad tracks carefully
I've known many experienced cyclists who have taken spills crossing railroad tracks. It's easy to do, especially if the tracks are wet. So, do this: approach railroad tracks as close to perpendicular as possible. Position your pedals so they're parallel to the ground and then lift yourself lightly off the saddle. When you're right at the tracks, pull up on the handlebars to lift your front wheel over. Once your front wheel is over, the back wheel will simply follow and is usually not a problem. Be aware of where other riders around you are, especially if you change your line as you approach the tracks (do NOT swerve suddenly, as that can take riders out, too). Also be aware of other riders since if tracks take any of them down, you want room to avoid the crash yourself.
If you perfect this technique then railroad tracks pose no hazard and can be crossed confidently.
- De-escalate encounters
If a motorist threatens you in some manner, you should not give them the pleasure of seeing you be upset. You're much better off just smiling and waving. Screaming and using gestures, while tempting, may well put you and other cyclists at greater risk. If you were actually endangered then by all means collect data and file a report, especially if that includes video evidence.
- Clean and maintain your bike
Sometimes simple mechanical failures can be catastrophic, such as a blown out tire or broken chain. It's good to establish a relationship with a mechanic who can advise what may be needed and to get your bike periodically serviced. Even if you do your own maintenance you'll want to regularly inspect your bike for wear and damage. This is especially true prior to mountain rides where braking and cornering at speed apply extreme force. And, a cleaned and serviced bike is simply more fun to ride.
- Carry identification and medical info
Let's assume that you're found unconscious by the side of the road. It happens. What do emergency personnel need to know? That can vary from person to person, but you want to make sure that any information pertinent to you such as allergies and medications is readily available. I always carry with me:
- A copy of my driver's license
- A copy of my insurance card
- A list of my medications
- A list of my medical contacts
I also have started wearing a Road ID bracelet as it makes essential information such as my name and emergency contact very easy to find.
- File a flight plan
Well, that's what pilots do, but the same reasoning applies to cyclists. That is, let someone know what your plans are. My favorite way of doing this is to use the Glympse app. Glympse broadcasts your location to a specified person for a specified period of time. This way, your spouse (or whomever) can see where you are and how fast you're traveling. And, if you should need help, they can see exactly where you are. This is especially useful if you're meeting up somewhere at the end of the ride.