For Riding in Traffic
Kent and Warren Green
and cycling events are wonderful - cops blocking the
traffic, no cars on the road, no traffic lights and stop
signs to worry about.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the same benefits
during our training rides.
Every cyclist has a long list of stories about
their close calls with cars and trucks, and too many have
stories about being hit. This article contains a few
suggestions for cyclists for dealing with traffic.
These are my techniques and practices, and you must
evaluate whether they work for you.
DO NOT ASSUME THE DRIVER SEES YOU.
When approaching an intersection, a parking lot
with road-side exits or a crossroad slow your bike down
and be on the lookout for cars pulling out. Ideally, you
want to make eye contact with any driver at an
intersection or stop sign, but do not always assume the
driver sees you! Even when you think you have made
sustained eye contact, drivers often are oblivious to
understanding what they see.
When approaching intersections or cross-roads ease
up on your speeds, get up out of your aero position. Hands
on your breaks (back break preferably) and be alert! A few
seconds of conservative cycling will not hurt your
training ride and may save your life (or collar bone!)
DRIVERS DON’T REALIZE HOW FAST YOU ARE MOVING.
Drivers think of bikes as slow-moving toys, and
they do not understand that you may be moving at more than
20 mph. Consequently, drivers may not realize they are
putting you in danger when they dart out in front of you
to cross at an intersections, or pass you just to make a
right hand turn onto another street or highway access
ramp. Again, the key is have some foresight and be alert!
Don’t ASSUME anything!
STAY TO THE RIGHT! Stay on the right side of
the road moving with traffic. Basically, the law states
that we too are considered a vehicle on the road. And some
cyclists will ride in the middle of the car lane. However,
not all drivers really know the law, or simply don’t
care. And frankly, 3000 lbs vs. 20lbs is no contest.
Folks, stay to the right and if at all possible, stay off
the busy, busy roads to avoid any mishaps. Some roads will
have specific shoulders outlined for cyclists but that
will depend on your specific community.
ALWAYS PLAN AN ESCAPE ROUTE.
As always, riding defensively and being alert is
the key. When cycling is busy situations, think about
where you might swerve if you have to bail out.
What will you do if there is a pothole or sewer
grate in your path, or the rider in front of you applies
the brakes unexpectedly.
Do you have room to move left or right without
running into a car or a curb? Foresight, thinking
ahead…it’s key folks! And it won’t interfere with
BEWARE OF CAR DOORS.
When you are passing a line of parked cars, look
for people sitting in their drivers' seats exiting their
vehicle. Being “doored” is a common cycling accident
in urban areas and along public beach highways. A parked
car also presents the danger of pulling into the roadway
in front of you.
MOVE WAY OFF THE ROAD WHEN STOPPING.
If you pull off the road to check your route, catch
your breath, whatever, pull WAY off the road. A friend of
mine was stopped on the shoulder of the road checking his
map, and although he was at least three feet from the
white line at the edge of the road, an 80-year old driver
wearing fashionable wrap around “cataract” type
sunglasses veered off and clipped him. He's lucky that he
survived, and the only legacy is an aching leg when the
weather changes and an inability to run.
ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET.
And keep that strap buckled.
The helmet should sit firmly on your head, with the
front edge about two finger-widths above your eyebrows.
It is not a cap to be tilted to the back of your
head, or worn like a yarmulke.
PAY ATTENTION TO RIDING.
Are you distracted on the bike?
There you are, cruising down the highway resetting
the lap timer on your watch, monitoring your cadence and
clicking the buttons on the cycle computer to check
distance and average speed and elapsed time, glancing at
the gears to confirm you are pedaling efficiently,
grabbing a snack from your jersey, and checking your heart
rate monitor to make sure you are still in the zone.
No wonder you thought that pothole seemed to sneak
up on you.
A lot of accidents are caused by distraction, and
the toys we use add to that risk. Learn to do quick
glances at your computer, heart rate monitor ect. If it
takes three quick glances to focus on your speed…so be
it! Learn to drink from your water bottle or grab food
from your cycling jersey while keeping an eye on the road.
You will develop a feel for this.
RIDE WITH A FEW OTHER PEOPLE.
You can learn a lot from experienced riders and
it makes the miles go easier.
Knowing you are meeting up with a group of riders
is a great incentive to getting out for the training ride.
From a safety standpoint, riding with a group
increases the odds that a driver will see you.
And finally, it discourages random violence and
outbreaks of road rage from drivers. (which can occur…I
have seen it happen!)
DO NOT NEEDLESSLY PISS-OFF DRIVERS.
Drivers think they have personal space on the road.
The perception that their space is being violated
or they are being challenged is a principal cause of road
Avoid taking actions that provoke this reaction.
For example, after drivers have finally moved
around you to pass you on the road, don’t re-pass them
at the next traffic light, and circle in front of them
blocking the lane while waiting for the light to change,
just to make them wait to maneuver around you again a
quarter mile down the highway. If a driver yells at you
while passing you or points a certain appendage at
you…IGNORE IT!!!! Just keep riding. They are looking for
a reaction. Don’t give them the satisfaction!
IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU HAVE THE RIGHT OF
You are on a 21 pound bicycle, but the driver has a
3000 pound lethal weapon.
A driver going through a red light or otherwise
ignoring your right of way and hitting you will think he
had a bad day and may wind up with a ticket; your life
could be ruined or ended.
I remember teaching my daughters that when the
light turns green for you, DON’T GO! Look instead then
decide if it is safe to go.
Sound advice for children and cyclists too!
the bottom line is - ride defensively and always be alert.
You CAN do this while still enjoying your ride. After a
while, you find your reactions to things will sharpen. And
most importantly, enjoy yourself.