Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Because I was visiting family in New Hampshire, my Safety Tips for Cyclists article two Tech Talk’s ago was actually a rerun of one I wrote in 2019. Here’s a link in case you were away, too: https://www.roadbikerider.com/bicyclists-stay-safe-distracted-drivers/.
Thirty four of you commented when the article first ran 4 years ago, and there’ve been a bunch of new comments since the rerun was posted. I’m not surprised because in most places the roads are more dangerous than ever. So today, I want to highlight some of your additional great tips and provide help for an interesting safety lighting question that was asked.
Driving apps detour cars onto formerly safe cycling routes
Bostonian Nancy M wrote, “As a daily bike commuter in Boston, I agree that there are plenty of angry people on the road. Along with lots of pot smoking (legal in MA but illegal in a car). I always assume that I’m not seen. I also think they’re angry because I’m able to pass everyone and not sit in the horrible daily traffic. Unfortunately, driving apps like “ways” have shown people the backroads and shortcuts that I’ve been using for years so there is no way to go without lots of cars. I obey all traffic signals and have front and rear lights and find the blinking modes are most helpful when riding at night.”
Great points, Nancy. While in NH, I walked and rode on formerly quiet back roads (without shoulders) that are now frequented by cut-through traffic with most drivers speeding, too. The roads aren’t wide enough for two cars to pass if a cyclist, pedestrian or even worse, dog walkers are out there. It seems that by now the navigation apps should be smart enough to NOT suggest routes like this… though I fully realize that if they didn’t, no one would use them.
Ollie says, “adopt a road near you!”
I think Ollie Jones has a worthwhile idea. He wrote, “Where I live there’s a nice beach area with bike lanes on either side of the access road. I’ve adopted the bike lanes. That means I go out there two or three times each summer. I trim the bushes that encroach the lanes and pick up broken glass.
I also have spoken to people at a couple of businesses along the road, asking them to ask their customers not to block the bike lanes. That way beach visitors, and I, can use the bike lanes without being forced into the car lanes. A police officer once asked me what I was up to, and I explained. I think the police officer learned something.
If a lot of cyclists did this we’d have safer bike lanes and a little good publicity. Please consider adopting a road near you!”
I think you’re onto something, Ollie. It reminds me of those signs next to roads saying that a group has adopted that section and is picking up litter. Also, it’s a lot like mountain bikers who meet during the year to maintain trails and build new ones, too. Personally, I joined our local bike committee and in that way I could bring road hazard issues I noticed while riding to the attention of transportation officials who could make the necessary changes.
Don’t be a “gutter bunny” or “edge rider”
Reader Dean S advised, “For me, my position on the road is so crucial to my safety. The roads I ride have no shoulders and have narrow lanes, blind turns and hills. You know – nice country roads mostly with some highways sprinkled around.
My default path is about 18 inches left of the white line (or an imagined white line, if there is none). I ride about where the right ‘tire track’ is in the travel lane. I use a mirror and employ hold & release when necessary, many thousands of times a year. If drivers get pissed (about .1%) I try hard not to get bummed, it’s not my fault the road is narrow with bad sight lines, I’m just looking out for my safety.
The instant I try to ‘gutter bunny’ or edge ride, things get bad! I get close-passed routinely, overlooked at intersections more often and hit bad/dangerous bits of road, risking flats/crashes.”
“Keep your life in your own hands”
Robert Hunter offered this safety advice, “Personally I make myself as visible as practicable on the bicycle and my motorcycle and consider myself to be invisible. As much as possible I try and keep my life in my own hands. I have a helmet and bar end mirrors and can’t imagine the rationale for not using mirrors – and this way I don’t have to look up or down distracting myself from the road.”
“Waving off” drivers
David Ide shared his safety technique, “I use the Garmin Varia RTL, radar+light with a Wahoo Bolt. Works fine. It does pick up cyclists behind me in a paceline, but after a while it is easy to tell the difference between cars and bikes.
When alone, as my radar detects a car approaching, I stick my arm fully out to the side and give a wave. I don’t think the driver knows for sure what I am signaling but it does make my visual road space bigger. Almost all drivers seem to give me a wider pass and most will wait for a clear line of sight if it is hilly (which all my rides are in hilly terrain). Then as they are passing I give a normal friendly wave of thanks. This really seems to make a difference.”
I don’t use a radar device, David, but I have tried extending my arm to encourage drivers I hear approaching to pass safely. Unfortunately, while doing this my arm was hit by a guy in a pickup truck. I hollered “stop!” He did stop but didn’t care at all that he’d hit me. Of course I took the opportunity to get his license and memorize his features. But when the California Highway Patrol got in touch with me, they refused to do anything because I wasn’t injured.
An alternative to extending your arm that’s less risky is getting a side flag like the one sold by Cantitoe Road. A home made alternative I’ve seen on social media is to attach a styrofoam pool noodle to your bike so that it sticks out to your left and into traffic. The one thing about these devices is that there’s some slight chance that they might get hooked by a vehicle in which case you could get pulled down and hurt.
“Thank goodness for Zwift”
Michael Chritton said, “We moved from Ohio to the Lowlands of South Carolina (coastal adjacent) a year ago. In northeast Ohio, it was easy to get onto low traffic farm roads and ride safely for hours. It’s a different story here in coastal SC where the roads and traffic are so bike-unfriendly that the downtown bike shop doesn’t even sell road bikes and organized group rides are on a bike path or in an industrial park.
The reasons are many. Geographically, rivers and wetlands limit the locations of roads. The influx of new residents has clogged the existing roads. Nearby state roads have narrow or no shoulders and are filled with fast-moving dump trucks and timber haulers.
It’s probably better in other parts of the state but as it is, this 70-year-old hasn’t ridden outdoors except for races in all our time here. Thank goodness for Zwift.”
In the slight chance that “Zwift” is a foreign name to you, here’s the article I wrote as a Zwift rookie: https://www.roadbikerider.com/observations-of-a-zwift-virtual-world/.
Now for that technical query about lighting
Doug Kirk asked, “What does the research say about steady versus flashing rear lights?”
The best analysis I’ve seen recently about this was a story by Bike Radar, Doug. Here’s a link: https://www.bikeradar.com/advice/buyers-guides/flashing-bike-lights/. They cover it well.
However they don’t get into one of the concerns about flashing/blinking lights, which is that they may actually cause target fixation and as a result increase your risk of getting hit. Here’s a link to a short article about this phenomenon: https://www.bikede.org/2013/01/14/just-ride-chapter-19/#page-content.
I hope these resources are helpful. In case you’re wondering, I use flashing taillights.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s cycling streak ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.
Kerry Irons says
Regarding front and rear flashing lights, I started using them a few years ago and am certain that they have improved safety. Fewer drivers turning left or pulling out in front of me and passing cars giving more space and waiting for enough space to pass. I have seen the articles about target fixation but wonder if this is really only an issue in the dark and I wonder how solid the research is. I have no doubt that daytime use of flashers is a significant safety benefit.
Edwin Johnson says
I live in rural Nebraska and have had drivers stop me and thank me for a blinky light. Said they saw it long before they saw me.
John Coyle says
My best safety advice is to use lights front and back (I don’t know why all riders don’t use them, they make such a difference), always signal your intentions, glance behind you as you approach a squeeze point if a car is behind you (cars usually will back off), stay out of the right turn only lane if you’re going straight, and acknowledge and thank drivers for their courtesy.
Judi A Schwandt says
I use front and back lights but not radar. I wear bright clothing and use a mirror. If I notice a vehicle behind me and always an RV or large vehicle, I wave my left arm around to catch their attention. It works most of the time. I ride to the left of the white line and often where I live, the county loves chipseal so riding where the right tire is seems to be smoother. Still, I have been hit so I assume I am invisible. I have friends that ride with radar and I think they get overconfident and ride way out in the middle, talking and not paying attention. Groups and lots of talking is too much of a distraction I think..
Steve Gaydos says
I live near the Burlington (VT) Bikepath, which is heavily used by walkers, joggers, roller bladers, dog walkers, children and parents on bikes, strollers, etc. A bell works well, “on your left” is bad because sometimes they move to the left, but sometimes people are talking and just don’t pay attention to an interuption unless it’s loud and rude. So I use a little Bluetooth speaker on my handlebar, blasting Purple Haze or Brown Sugar, and they hear it very early and are curious and aware. In the Mood also works, as does Hound Dog and Here Comes the Sun. Make it decently loud. If it’s a dog walker, the dog will usually hear it first and look back, prompting the dog owner. This also works with single track mountain biking. The animals freeze, the dogs (often not on a leash), stop and listen, and hunters notice me.