Several years ago a man was descending from the foothills in Boulder, CO with his wife. Several pedestrians hit the button to flash warning lights signaling they were about to use the crosswalk to cross the road. Vehicles — including bikes — are required to stop. The wife did, husband didn’t. He hit a pedestrian, who suffered minor injuries, but the man crashed, skidded and his helmet was knocked askew. The husband died of brain injuries. He:
- Wasn’t paying attention
- Violated the vehicular traffic law
- Didn’t wear his helmet correctly.
I started cycling over 40 years ago (yes, I’m an old fart) in Palo Alto, CA. In 1971 John Forester was ticket in Palo Alto for riding his bike on the street instead of on the sidewalk, a recently legislated separate bikeway along that section of the street. He contested the ticket and eventually the city ordinance was overturned.
Forester is the father of “vehicular cycling” and wrote, “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.” The Boulder cyclist above died because he didn’t act like the driver of a vehicle. I was hit and nearly killed by a truck driver who didn’t treat me like a vehicle. Car drivers and bike riders both bear responsibility to avoid accidents.
As a cyclist what can you do to prevent an accident?
1. Behave like a car. Forester’s basic point is to ride just like you’d drive.
- Signal your intentions to turn right or left.
- If you will be going straight ahead at an intersection, don’t get in the right turn lane.
- If you are going to make a left turn stick out your left arm, check behind you and move onto the roadway before turning left. If possible move to a left turn lane — don’t just dart across from the shoulder.
2. Be predictable. For example, don’t move right between parked cars and then back into the traffic lane.
3. Don’t ride against traffic. You wouldn’t think of riding down the shoulder against traffic. If there is a two-way bike path adjoining the road and you ride on it against traffic, a driver entering the road from the right will look left for oncoming traffic and won’t notice you coming up on the right.
4. Ride on the road, not a path. You are much more likely to be seen by a driver if you are riding on the shoulder than if you are on a separate path along the road. Not all experts agree with this and depending on the circumstances a separate well-signed bike path may be safer.
5. Obey all laws. Following the law makes you safer and makes a good impression about cyclists on drivers.
6. Yield to cars — they’re bigger. Even if you have the right of way if your not sure if it’s safe to proceed then yielding is probably prudent.
7. Always wear a helmet and wear it correctly. If I hadn’t been wearing a helmet when the truck hit me I would have been an organ donor. You shouldn’t be able to move your helmet more than about 1/2 inch (1 cm) with your hands. The Snell Foundation is an excellent resource on how to buy the proper helmet for your head and how to adjust it.
8. Use a mirror. Another Boulder rider was killed because he moved left without looking behind himself. I use helmet mirror because I ride several different bikes and the mirror is always with me. Some riders prefer a mirror on the glasses — this works as long as you remember to put it on. Some riders prefer a mirror on the end of the handlebar; however, the rider has to look down from the road to see in the mirror.
9. Look twice. A mirror is good for monitoring what’s going on behind you; however, if you’re about to move or turn left also look over your shoulder to be sure the road is clear.
10. Look for yourself. If you’re riding in a paceline and the lead riders yell “clear” as they enter an intersection look for yourself to see if it’s clear as you approach it.
11. Use only one ear bud. If you like to listen to music while you ride only use one ear bud in your right ear. Your hearing is a good supplement to your mirror.
12. Scan continuously. Fighter pilots are taught to scan the sky rather than looking ahead; they’re more likely to spot changes, which could be significant.
13. Be aware and anticipate. As you scan the road, anticipate potential problems. Especially in a group keep looking around for potential problems.
14. Be visible. For a dozen years I led the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and also ran my JHnFriends bicycle tours. I produced different jerseys each year and most of them just hang in my closet now — they aren’t very bright. I’ve also started using a flashing headlight and taillight day and night. My riding partner John Elmblad has written a column on Rear Lights for Daylight Riding.
15. Assume you are invisible. Even with a bright jersey and flashing lights don’t assume that the driver of the car about to make a right turn or exiting a parking lot sees you.
These tips will help avoid an accident riding in a group.
16. Know your fellow riders. If you’re riding with a group you don’t know well be cautious because you don’t know how they’ll behave.
17. Call out your intentions. In a group either signal your intentions or call them out before you turn or move sideways.
18. Guard your front wheel. In a group don’t let your front wheel overlap the rear wheel of another rider. If he moves sideways he’ll knock you down.
19. Feather your brakes. In a group brake lightly to slow down so you don’t take out the rider behind you.
20. Use both brakes and get your weight back. Most of your braking power comes from the front brake. If you have to brake hard use both brakes and slide back in the saddle so you don’t go over the bars.
21. Practice cornering. Set up a slalom course in an empty parking lot and practice riding through it. Start slowly and gradually go faster. Here’s a column on how to countersteer, an effective way to get through a corner faster.
22. Practice riding a straight line. In a large empty parking lot practice riding in a straight line on a white line separating parking spaces. You can also practice this on a road with very little traffic. Practice riding on the white line separating the shoulder from the road while using your mirror to watch for traffic coming from the rear.
23. Practice balance. See how slowly you can ride across a lawn just in case you fall. Ride with a friend to see who can go slowest.
- John Allen has an excellent on-line tutorial called Bicycling Street Smarts.
- John Forester’s Effective Cycling explains how to ride in all kinds of conditions: on congested city streets, busy highways, winding mountain roads, day or night, rain or shine. It goes into detail about how to choose a bicycle, maintain it, and use it in the most efficient manner.
- The League of American Bicyclists has an excellent set of Smart Cycling Videos.
Coach John Hughes has been riding since the 1970s and coaching since the 1990s. He has earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the author of the best-selling Anti-Aging 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process as well as over 40 other eBooks.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.