As summer approaches and the weather warms up, I always look for ways to enjoy the outdoors that are a little cooler than running or walking. Biking always comes to mind as a great option. But those who cycle often know that while we are required to obey the same traffic rules of the road and maintain similar road courtesies as motor vehicles, we are too often treated as secondary citizens on the road. That doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t enjoy the experience of cycling, but it does mean that you need to take your own safety as your primary responsibility! Here are some tips to stay safe this summer.
So let’s begin with the number one rule of road cycling: Assume drivers don’t see you! In this age of texting drivers, if you take precautions assuming drivers’ worst instincts and your own invisibility, you’ll go a long way toward staying safe on the road. That being said, here are a few other safety precautions you should take:
1. Be prepared
- Make sure your bike is in good shape: check your tire pressure and condition, pedals, chain, seat, and head set to be sure all are properly tightened and in working order.
- Use lights: even during the day, front and back lights make you more visible to drivers, particularly when there are other distractions on the road.
- Use a bell: a bell is a good way to signal to pedestrians, other cyclists, and parked cars that you’re approaching.
- Wear high-visibility clothing: those crazy colors cyclists wear aren’t just for fashion; they help you be seen on the road, which decreases the likelihood of a motorist turning into you.
- Wear a helmet and gloves: in the case of an accident, these items will help protect the parts of you that often hit the road first.
- Don’t use your phone while riding. If you must take a call or text, pull over in a safe area and stop before you do so.
- Don’t use headphones: sound is an important way that we maintain awareness of approaching vehicles and hear others warning us.
- Pay particular attention to parked cars: drivers often fail to look before exiting a parked vehicle and may open a door in front of you. Avoid this by maintaining a door’s width gap to the left of parked vehicles.
- Watch for blind spots: the best way to avoid this is to stay behind a vehicle rather than stop next to one.
- Road rules . . . rule: you are expected to follow the laws of the road, and you will go a long way toward creating respect for cyclists by doing so.
- Act like a car in heavy, slow traffic: you are better off taking space toward the middle of the lane than staying close to the curb, which invites cars to pass you too closely.
- Maintain safe distance from not only cars, but also other cyclists. Touching another rider’s tire can cause you to fall in dangerous places.
- Use hand signals: when turning, the basic hand signal is to point in the direction you are turning. You should also be sure to look over your shoulder or use a mirror before moving across the lane or making the turn–cars don’t always know what your gestures mean!
- Ride in single file: some states require this and others allow two riders abreast, but you’re courting trouble if you ride anything other than single file.
- Don’t hug the curb: Not only does this invite dangerous behavior from drivers, but it also puts you in a place where there is debris, gutters, and road damage.
- Don’t ride on sidewalks: cars pulling out of driveways or turning in and out of parking lots often don’t see bikes approaching on sidewalks. This is also a danger at intersections, where turning drivers may not look for cyclists crossing from sidewalks.
- Slow down at intersections: this is where you need to be most aware, and while you should pedal with purpose through intersections, you should also be prepared for unpredictable driving behavior.
- Make eye contact: whether you’re turning or a vehicle is turning, you should try to make eye contact with the driver to ascertain whether they are aware of you.
- Be predictable: the more steady and predictable you are as a rider, the more confident a driver will be in operating around you, and the more respect they are likely to show you on the road.
Have fun and happy cycling!
Ivan Young is a writer in partnership with steel piping distributors Fed Steel.