Triathlon 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
1. Don’t 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!)
2. Drivers Don’t Realize Realize How Fast You’re Going
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!
3. 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.
4. 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 your training!
5. 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.
6. Move Way Off the Road When Stopped
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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Ride with 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!)
10. Don’t 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 rage. 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!
11. It Doesn’t Matter if you have the Right Of Way
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!
Folks 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.