Cycling has increased in popularity in most locations in the past decade, but in some places that means driver animosity toward cyclists has only increased. In some cities and regions, there are more bike lanes, and more laws to protect cyclists. However, regardless of the regulations in your area, there are a few simple things you can always do to improve your safety.
If you are riding on roads, act like a car. Ride with traffic. If there's a red light, get in line with the cars if possible rather than passing on the right and going to the front of the line. (Unless there is a marked bike lane.)Stop at stop signs and clip out if there are any other vehicles present.These are not necessarily laws. In fact, in some states in the U.S., it's allowable for cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs, and stop signs as yield signs. Nevertheless, imagine being in a car. You have your kids with you, whom you teach to be careful and follow the rules. And you are running late to take them to an event. You are sitting impatiently at a red light when a cyclists breezes up along your right side (which you only happen to notice out of the corner of your eye and would have had difficulty seeing) to pass the line of waiting cars. You would be annoyed because it seems unfair. You would be annoyed because you now have to pass this cyclist (probably for the second time) when the light turns green. And, there's a chance you could have decided to make a right turn or move over into a turn lane and not seen this cyclist coming up on the right.It's less important to follow the letter of the law, and more important to act with courtesy and care toward people who are going from place to place in 2,000-pound metal boxes with wheels.If you are in a rural area at a four-way stop and you can't see any cars, then yes, it's fine to slow down, look both ways, and go through to avoid the annoyance of clipping out and coming to a complete stop. We're not being absolutists here. But it's important to understand the impact of aggressive cyclists on the mental attitudes of car drivers. It may be someone smaller and more vulnerable than you who suffers the brunt of the anger of a driver who has been ticked off by other cyclists.It's important to understand why you should ride with traffic. Many beginners think it's a good idea to ride facing traffic, so they can see approaching vehicles. This is a very bad idea. If you are riding with traffic and the cars are driving 35 miles per hour and you are riding at 15 miles per hour, the closing speed between the car and you is 35 - 15, or 20 miles per hour. That affords a certain amount of time for the car to recognize you, predict what you will do next, make a plan to pass you if they need to move into another lane, etc.On the other hand, if you are riding against traffic in the same scenario, the closing speed between you and the car is 35 + 15, or 50 miles per hour! The car driver has much less time to evaluate the situation and make adjustments to avoid you. Moving against traffic is a fine idea for walking and running, because your speed is not making an appreciable difference in closing distance, and you are willing to step into the grass. On a bike, you often can't move off the roadway without risking a crash. It's important to keep this in mind and ride with traffic.
If you are using a trail or path system that is shared with walkers, runners, baby strollers and dogs on leashes, you need to act much more like a pedestrian than a vehicle. Follow the signage that indicates which side of the path to use, and keep your speed down. Many multi-use paths have a speed limit of 15mph, for good reason. Although you can't achieve an ideal workout at that speed, the limit is set for a reason. Coming around a blind turn and finding a person texting on their cell phone with a leash stretched across the full width of the path while their dog sniffs something on the other side is a great reason to follow speed limits, even when they are unenforced.In most areas, the same people frequent the same stretches of path, and they are used to certain conventions and courtesies. Observe other path users and follow their lead. It's also polite to let someone know when you are coming up from behind, in case they stop suddenly or step sideways. Although a common phrase is, "Passing on your left," or simply, "On your left," I've found this produces mixed results. Some people instinctively move left when they hear the word "left." I've had better luck with simply, "Passing." Better yet, attach a small, low-profile bike bell to your bike. It's a sound that is likely to convey a lot of information. The person ahead of you will guess that it's a bike, and be able to determine approximately how far behind you they are. Also, such bells can be more effective than shouting when pedestrians are using earbuds or headphones, which is increasingly common.Speaking of earbuds, we are certain you already know this, but never ride with earbuds in. You wouldn't ride with a blindfold, so don't impair another of your critical senses on purpose. You need all the information you can get. If you really need music, attach a bluetooth speaker to your bike and play the music in the open.
There are many great apps that will notify a loved one of your expected ride time, and provide them with a map of your general route and location. RoadID has an especially good app that includes an alert that goes off if you don't move for a few minutes, in case you've gone off the road into a ditch. It allows you to set up your contact or contacts ahead of time, and then for each bike ride, you can start the app and have it notify your contacts. If something happens, at least someone will know.It's also a good idea to carry or wear identification.
This seems self-evident, but I frequently see cyclists without them. It doesn't matter if you are on a path or on a busy street. It's not that expensive and it's not that uncomfortable, compared with a traumatic brain injury. It's just common sense. Besides, it's required in triathlon races, so you may as well practice as you intend to compete.
Keep your head in the game and always imagine the worst case scenario, so you can be ready. If you can't see around the next turn, "cover" the brakes by moving your hands to a position in which you can quickly brake.If you are riding along a line of parked cars, assume someone is sitting in one and about to open their door to get out. Look for people's heads in the cars.If you are riding with traffic, assume a car near you is suddenly going to turn in front of you or into you. By being prepared, you can mentally plan an escape route or emergency move, which will help keep you safe. Many motorcyclists, who are also vulnerable on the roads, train themselves to have multiple escape routes at all times.It's a great idea for cyclists, too. Take up the space you are entitled to (rather than riding on the white line) but be prepared to yield it quickly. Keep an eye out for areas where you can "ditch" and go off the road in case of trouble. None of us wants to ride in the grass when we are out for a training ride, but bouncing off the road in the face of an otherwise deadly situation can be a great choice. Keep your mind open to such options. Being on a bicycle, you rarely have "nowhere to go" even if it seems like you do. We all drive cars so often we have trained our brains not to stray from the pavement, and certainly not to veer into hedges or weeds or a pond. Our car would be destroyed. However, our bike would not, and it might be just the move needed to keep us from being seriously injured, or worse.Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down. Happy training!