Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
It was nice to see so many of your comments come in after last week’s staying safe on the road article. It’s clear that most of you recognize the dangers and take precautions when riding and use safety-enhancing accessories, too.
If you didn’t get to read the comments, they’re all below last week’s story here. If you’re considering getting a radar system that alerts you to approaching vehicles, be sure to dig in because several experienced roadies share tips on their setups. It’ll save you having to do the research and maybe some money, too.
This week, let’s look at a few of my favorite comments from last week and some of the additional safety tips.
Is it really getting more dangerous?
Let’s start with New Hampshire roadie (my home state!) Brian Nystrom, who disagrees about road riding getting more dangerous.
“I want to correct what seems to be a pretty serious misconception. The last statistics I saw for bicycle accidents indicated that being hit from behind accounted for only 5% of all bicycle accidents and that ~70% were self-inflicted, either from mistakes, inattention or doing something stupid.
As it is, I talk to quite a few people who are convinced that road riding is extremely dangerous and consequently don’t ride. Nothing could be further from the truth! If you choose your routes wisely and pay attention while you’re on the road, the likelihood of being involved in a crash or getting injured is really low. To paraphrase our state motto here in NH, “Live Free and Ride!”
MY COMMENT: I love how you tweaked NH’s motto, Brian – very clever! I put one of your sentences in the comment in bold because I am experiencing the same thing: people keep telling me they don’t feel safe and they’re either: turning to indoor riding (Spin classes and Zwift indoor trainer riding are common ways) or taking to the trails and staying off the road.
And, when I ask them why they feel this way, they start reciting the friends or friends of friends who they know that got hit or even killed. These days with social media, if a cyclist gets run over, anyone connected to that network hears about it. And the more connected you are to cycling social media, the more incidents you hear about.
From listening to the cyclists I run into around town I’ve known for decades, or asking riders how they feel at bike festivals and races, and from following social media and cycling industry feeds, my gut feeling is that it’s much more dangerous now than it was even 10 years ago.
I think the numbers show this, too. I didn’t have to Google much to find an article that contains these scary stats, “Across the nation, cyclists fatalities have increased by 25% since 2010 and pedestrian deaths have risen by a staggering 45%.”
Meanwhile, in one of their PDF reports, the Bike League says, “A much higher percentage of fatal crashes than expected were hit from behind incidents.”
Bike safety experts used to say that that was one of the least common accidents. But not any more it seems. A former teammate of mine was recently nearly killed in a hit-from-behind incident. It happened on a road we all ride, on a straightaway on a bright sunny day. The unlicensed and uninsured driver drove onto the shoulder and struck my friend square-on with his pickup truck. Luckily the following car saw the whole thing, stopped the driver before he could leave the scene and helped call in a helicopter saving my buddy’s life essentially.
I wish I still felt safe, and maybe I would on New Hampshire’s lovely roads (I was riding there in August). But, here in Northern California – and from the reports coming in from other cycling hotbeds, such as Boulder, Colorado, where former Bicycling Magazine editor Andrew Bernstein is still hospitalized after being struck from behind by a hit-and-runner – I worry more than ever before. Here’s the latest report I’ve seen on Andrew.
Interesting Observations and Safe Riding Advice
Here are some of your helpful safety tips. I thought Joe D’s comment was fascinating because I had considered this possibility with the legalization of marijuana, but hadn’t yet experienced anything like he has. He wrote,
“Recently I have noticed while being passed by cars the smell of marijuana. Surely driving while smoking weed does not improve one’s driving skills. One more reason to always cycle as you are invisible and don’t assume that the drivers in cars around will behave one way or another.
Many of today’s drivers are not driving at all, They happen to be behind the wheel of a 4-ton vehicle while doing many other things: texting, on the phone, eating, putting on make-up, reaching for something, reading the paper, disciplining their children, drinking and now smoking pot. Many drivers are not happy to share the road with anyone let alone a cyclist. My experience is that people in cars are not happy to be in their cars.”
A reader going by “Steve,” brought up another couple of excellent points I hadn’t thought of but that make total sense.
“Another is the use of tinted glass that makes it almost impossible to “make eye contact with the driver to be sure they see you before proceeding” as we were taught. Another is the proliferation of drivers who have schedules to meet and are often in a hurry driving aggressively, including package delivery services and gig economy drivers who feel pressure to meet their schedules.”
MY COMMENT: Now that you mention it, Steve, I realize tinted windows have definitely made it harder to know what drivers are about to do. And, regarding delivery types driving aggressively, only last week I was buzzed by our neighborhood mailman of all things. They always putt-putted around the neighborhood – now they are tearing up and down as if making up for lost time or misplaced mail?!
Mark Riordan’s stay safe strategy makes a lot of sense, too. His advice:
“When a motor vehicle is behind me, I will do anything REASONABLE to let them pass. When they’re behind me, they are a potential danger. The sooner they pass, the sooner they’re out of my life and the danger is gone. Also, I would rather create the opportunity for them passing under my terms, when I feel it is safe. The longer they sit behind me, their blood pressure is rising and they will potentially create the opportunity to pass at their own convenience, not for safety.”
Mirror and Taillight Recommendations
Lots of you like your rear view mirrors.
Readers “Bob” and Roy Bloomfield recommend, the
Bike Peddler Take A Look Cycling Eyeglass Mirror
“I feel naked without it – like not having a seat belt fastened. A quick flick of the eyes checks the traffic behind me without moving my head, while still looking down the road ahead. My wife uses the Take A Look on her helmet. To do that, requires this Bike Peddler adapter https://amzn.to/2ZazWVq. Learn more about the models: https://takealookactive.com/.
Walt Haltiwanger offered this mirror advice,
“After years of using a bar-end mirror I switched to a helmet mirror. It gives me a better view behind and one I can control by turning my head. I use it even off road because I like to know when there are bikes behind me, how close they are and so forth.”
My tip for helmet mirrors is to not give up if you mount them and find you don’t have a good rear view. Very small adjustments make the difference between seeing well and a view obstructed by your head, shoulder, ear or backpack – if you wear one. Keep trying and you should be able to find the perfect placement.
Greg Titus said, and a reader named “Neal” agreed, about the Hotshot taillights,
“Having a BRIGHT rear flashing taillight is probably the best thing you can do to avoid being hit from behind. Radar technology is nice, but if the motorist can’t see you very well, you’re really at greater risk.
I ride (solo) with three Cygolite Hotshot Pro taillights https://amzn.to/2NfrClc each one on the simple flash mode. Cars pass more safely since I’ve been doing this, and they can see me up to a mile away (literally) and have plenty of time to mentally prepare how they’re going to manage passing me.”
Three More Safety Tips
1. “Nervous” riding
The controversial tip goes against the advice you may have heard to ride predictably and always in a straight line.
I agree 100% to do those things when riding with other cyclists in a group. However, there’s some anecdotal “evidence” – and you can test the theory yourself – that NOT riding a straight line can be safer.
Obviously, you’re not going to swerve wildly and risk getting clipped. But, if you move left and right a little when you’re in a bike lane or on the shoulder with cars passing close by, I think you’ll find that more cars move over and slow down. Some will probably beep, too.
To me it’s all good because they see me.
2. The sun blinds drivers
The other tip has to do with the time of day and direction you choose to ride. The thing to try to avoid is being on the road when the drivers passing you have the sun in their eyes and can be blinded.
3. Stay away from oversize trucks!
I left this for last so that you’ll remember it. When riding in traffic watch for large trucks and don’t go anywhere near them if you can help it. The issue is that trucks like these often have blind spots so that the driver can’t see you. Many cyclists have been killed by trying to pass a truck that suddenly turned and ran them over. It’s happened multiple times here in Santa Cruz in fact (on Mission Street – see video).
You’d think a rider would be quick and nimble enough to escape. But it only takes a second to get hooked or pinned and become trapped beneath the truck. I will usually take evasive action when oversize trucks are passing, too – moving into the lane or further to the right depending on the situation; or even escaping up a driveway, side street or into a parking lot. I do that because I was sideswiped by a construction vehicle in 1980. The Mac truck missed me, but the trailer it was pulling was much wider and it took me down. The trucker just drove on not even realizing he’d almost killed someone.
Thanks again for sharing your safety tips and feedback. Be vigilant and stay safe out there!
Ride total: 9,375
I can’t help but wonder what the “Traffic Safety” people were thinking when they approved touch screens! That insures nearly every new vehicle sold comes equipped with one of the biggest driver distraction device ever conceived.
Some great safety tips in this article. I’ve been riding quality bikes long distances since 1974 and I have learned a few things about bike safety. One thing not mentioned in this article and the previous article is the situation when you have a car behind you that will not pass even though you signal for it to come around. I guess this is one of those little old lady driver issues where they are concerned about hitting the cyclist. That’s great to have that concern but behind that car may be several other cars and the drivers of those cars will soon become very irritated being delayed. I’ve seen those drivers accelerate around the slow car to pass and that is a very dangerous situation. When a car refuses to pass me, after a few minutes I simply find a safe place to pull off the road to allow them to pass. My stress level immediately goes down.
Also, I feel that the Garmin Varia is a must have safety device along with a helmet mirror. I noticed that the See.Sense company has a updated version of their Icon rear light coming out soon. Puts out 300 lumens and starts to flash rapidly when the bike is coming to a stop. About $85 and can be controlled by a smart phone.
John nagy says
Wow! I thought I invented the technique.. tightly weaving back and forth over the fog line.. I called it my “weebly-wobbly” defense and shared it with my club. A couple of members said they found it very effective too. It seems to freak out drivers worrying about the “bicycle rider” falling in front of them. I don’t do it every ride just when I sense traffic is not respecting the bike.
Road Bike Rider says
When I was in college in the 80s, I chose bicycling as my required PE class because I was already a cyclist and it seemed like a really easy way to get my credit.
Dr. Gilchrest was our professor and was in his 60s back then. He told us all about how he used the “Wobble” because it made cars give him more room passing because they thought he wasn’t in control of his bike.
Great minds think alike, I guess, and multiple people have individually come up with this strategy on their own because it really works.
I have used this technique a few times myself, and it has definitely worked for me.
Graydon Patterson says
great article, and all information is useful.
I teach cycling safety, in Canada, under the Can-Bike programme, with Cycle Canada. (an offshoot of the US Effective Cycling by John Forester).
I’m a retired police officer, worked in collisions investigation, and taught police and other professionals, and interested cyclists, cycling safety over the past 25 years.
I see this all the time in uneducated cyclists, including many professionals, is they are very hesitant to ride in a SAFE position on the road.
We all seem to start off cycling with a ‘cycling inferiority’ complex, trying our best to ‘get out of the way’ of traffic. And that, will get you hurt or killed! No driver of another vehicle will want to hit you on purpose. They go out of they way to avoid coffee cups, rabbits, pot holes and even sewer grates, hitting a cyclist will cause them major damage and headaches.
But, cyclists continually try their best to ride too far right, near the curb, thus communicating to other road users that they’re trying their best to let them pass. DON’T DO THAT! First, most drivers have no idea how wide their vehicles are, just look at how some park. They will try and pass, and hit you. You are also limited on how far you can move right, when you’re too far right, to avoid road hazards. ALWAYS ride at least 1 meter (1 yard) from a curb edge. We refer to this as MVPC.
Ride out, well into the lane, provides you with room to Manoeuvre. It makes you Visible to other road users (this is the most important reason). It makes you Predictable, as you’re holding a straight line, not swerving around sewers and debris, and it Communicates your intention that you’re in the proper place, and intent on travel straight through like other vehicles.
Vehicle drivers tend to have tunnel vision, and if you ride too far right, outside of the view of the hood of their vehicle, you’re invisible. Right well into the lane, make sure they see you. Have your lights on, flashing is better as people are accustomed to seeing pedestrians, joggers and cyclists with flashing lights on them.
If your travelling 1 meter from the curb, and vehicle are changing lanes, or partially changing lanes to pass you, then that is a clue that lane is too narrow to share, therefore, TAKE THE WHIOLE LANE. Force vehicles to pass you by changing lanes. DO NOT move closer to the curb, as I promise you, some vehicles will try to pass you in that narrow space, and you will get hit. Never leave your safety in the hands of another driver, YOU need to take (assert) the proper road position to ensure your safety. Stop at intersections with your left foot down, still 1 meter from the curb, again communicating your proper position and intentions.
Having said all that, there are two issues that, it will not matter what you do, or where you ride to be 100% safe.
Impaired drivers, they will hit you on a sidewalk, field, pathway of even on your own property. (Avoid riding on roads with bars at closing hour)
Distracted drivers (ie. texting while driving), this is a huge issue right now, and is getting worse, and more and more people are getting killed. Again, ride down the middle of the road if necessary, that’s the best place for even a distracted driver to have a chance to see you.
Other options include route selection. No one fines it pleasant riding long distances in heavy, fast traffic. It is sometimes necessary, and requires a rider to be more alert and ‘assertive’ of their road position, till they can get back on a nicer road.
This is crucial advice. I’m 70 and I’ve been training with a serious cycling group with a coach for four years now. I was also a motorcycle driver in my youth and that taught me a lot about controlling my lane and how to ride safely in traffic. Same thing now with the bike. Nobody will confuse me with anything but a legitimate user of the roadway. I stop at all lights, stay off sidewalks and multi-use paths and maintain lane control staying as far to the right as safely possible but I won’t hesitate to hold my lane where necessary. I don’t use a mirror as I’ve trained myself to do a proper shoulder check when changing lanes. I’m also riding so fast on commuter roadways that there wouldn’t be time to avoid someone who was passing too closely and thus the importance of lane control. I also ride with flashing red lights to the rear and flashing white in front day and night but even all this didn’t stop the teenage girl from doing a U-turn on one of our most heavily used commuter routes right in front of me this week. Ah she won’t likely make this mistake again 🙂
Brian Nystrom says
I’ve been practicing and promoting this form of “active safety” for decades and it definitely works. Safety depends on making drivers consciously maneuver around you, rather than ignoring you like a piece of debris on the road shoulder. Remember, if you’re not in their line of vision, you don’t exist!
Graham Read says
If you don’t feel safe riding on public roads don’t do it, everyone will be better off. Also Many accidents are caused by cyclist not drivers of motor vehicles. It would be interesting and helpful to run an article or two with comments from drivers about their concerns when cyclists are present on the road.
Granted there is a lot more traffic than, say, 10 years ago. There are also a lot more bikes on the road. I live just west of Boston and we ride on a plethora of quiet back roads avoiding numbered routes as much as possible. Flashing tail lights and bright clothing help being visible from behind. however, I have found the best piece of safety equipment I have ever owned (other than a helmet) is a bright flashing headlight – flashing, not steady. Drivers coming out of side streets and driveways look to the left and right but are not looking for bicycles. The flashing headlight gets their attention. I have seen drivers about to enter from a side street without coming to a full stop. When they see the flashing light the jam the brakes on. I have seen drivers stop way short of the white stop line signaling they know we are there. I have also seen many drivers back up slightly also signaling they see us. I have seen commuters with 2 head lights – one flashing and one steady so they can see the road.
Steve M says
Here’s some rules that my wife have been following for decades:
1. Don’t be a “Gutter Bunny” hugging the curb. Assume your rightful position in the travel lane, A good rule of thumb is to position your bike where the car’s right front tire would be. 2. As mentioned above, a cyclist has all the legal rights to be on the road as a motorist, but also all the legal responsibilities to follow the same laws applicable to motorists, i.e., obey traffic lights, don’t ride on sidewalks, etc. I always wonder how cyclists expect the respect of motorists when they run red lights and stop signs. Remember the person in the car behind you usually sees you as an irritation to their driving and will be quick to form a negative opinion of you as a cyclist if you exhibit behavior that implies cyclist don’t have to view the same laws as motorists. Be an ambassador for the sport. Curiously, there is a bicycle club in a Phoenix, Arizona that believes they can blow through red lights if they are traveling straight at a three way intersection. Wrong.
3. Be visible. Use bright clothing, flashing front and rear lights, etc. It baffles me to see serious cyclists wearing all dark clothing. I’m not quite sure the rationale for that. Maybe they think wearing all black makes them more aerodynamic.
4. Act like you have a right to be on the road with cars, because you do. If the road narrows, you have the right to take the lane until the road resumes a safe width. You are generally required to ride to the side of the travel lane unless something on the side of the road provides a hazard to you.
5. Choose lightly travelled roads when you can, or minimize your time on those roads with heavy traffic.
6. Be proactive by using a rear view mirror. It doesn’t seem like much, but if it gives you an opportunity to react to an overcoming vehicle veering towards you it is definitely worth it.
All black is a fashion statement. it’s fine in a large group when everyone is wearing black but as a solo rider it is just plain dumb. Our club jersey has a lot of yellow and orange at the bottom of the back so when a rider is bent over the bright colors still stand out.
Robert Rocklin says
(1) The comment about tinted windows on cars is right on. I’ve noticed a much higher percentage of vehicles with tinted windows in recent years. It drives me nuts that, at an intersection, I have no way of making eye contact with the driver to determine whether he or she sees me. All states have limits on the degree of window tinting on front side windows, varying from no tinting to up to 70%. I don’t think legislators consider the effect of tinted windows on the safety of bicyclists. We should educate them.
(2) I absolutely feel more visible with a flashing white light in front and a flashing red light in back at all times of day. I notice it especially on a bright, sunlit day when I ride into a shadowy part of the a road. Drivers whose eyes have adjusted to the sunlight are nearly blind when they enter the shadows; flashing lights on your bicycle make you much more visible in that situation.
I agree with Mark Riordan about doing anything reasonable to let traffic pass. After all, we would like drivers to be courteous to us; can’t we ve courteous to them? I will pull off the road to let a vehicle (the larger the more likely) pass when it’s been a while and that driver hasn’t had a chance to get on down the road. If it keeps me safe, I’m fine with it.
Bruce Miller says
This summer 10 of us (all experienced road bike riders) rode across Michigan and Ontario. The first day our sweep was concerned that vehicle traffic was heavy and close. He bought a pink $3 “pool noodle” (styrofoam tube for swimming pool) and bungee corded it on his rear rack, so it stuck out 3 feet into traffic. We were surprised what a difference it made! Cars and trucks gave us a wider berth, and were more cautious about passing. Our riding was in rural areas and towns for the most part, so am unsure how effective pool noodle would be in urban settings. The pool noodle became our ride mascot, and even got its own Facebook page, to the delight of friends and family.
Carl A Dixon says
I am 72 and have been riding bikes for 20 years. I have been hit by a car that turned right immediately in front of me when i was plus 20 MPH – i went over the top of the car – (good news) my bike was ok!!! But i was injured and at Doctors and off the bike for 2 weeks. Now i assume every driver will immediately turn right on me and have come close but never hit again. When i see a car on the right with dark glass i turn right before the car and never take chances and it has saved me several possible devastating accidents. I was a Motorcycle Cop in a large city for 3 years and learned that cars do not see bicycles or motorcycles with POLICE on the windshield! You are on your own and need to recognize this. The best advice of all is to never keep a straight line but keep moving right to left and more aggressively when in lots of traffic. I also have Garmin Radar which is great because i always know how many cars are behind me and can tell how fast they are going from my experience with the radar. I have flashing lights on the front – the rear radar light changes flash patterns as cars come near me. And finally pay attention to all the traffic laws a car must obey or you will get a driver angry at you and other cyclists. If you are making a right turn onto a street when a light turns red so you don’t have to stop make sure you get out of sight of the traffic that stopped before turning back and heading onto the road again.
Brian Nystrom says
Hey Jim, I didn’t realize that you were a fellow “Granite Stater”!
I can really only speak with any authority about conditions on the roads here, so perhaps it’s worse in other parts of the country, though I haven’t seen it when I’ve ridden elsewhere, either. I really haven’t seen an increase in danger overall or driver aggression over the decades. Frankly, I think it was more dangerous 40 years ago when we were frequently chased by dogs, which almost never happens these days. I’m also convinced that the biggest reason that road riders have become so paranoid is that social media and the 24-hour news cycle are constantly blasting us with reports of doom, gloom and death, without any context. In many ways, our lives are actually safer than they used to be, but you’d never know it from the news reports.
Every time I hear a rider tell me that they’re leaving road riding and switching to mountain biking because it’s safer, I just shake my head and roll my eyes. Really, are you serious?! Rock, roots, ruts, downed trees, loose surfaces and overhanging limbs are safer than riding on the road??? Don’t get me wrong, I like bouncing around in the woods, too, but I’m under no illusion that it safer in any way.
That said, these days I find myself doing a lot more “gravel” riding and spending somewhat less time on pavement. I don’t consider dirt roads to be any safer – as the nature of the surface adds at least as much danger as the lack of traffic removes – but I really enjoy it. That’s really the bottom line, do whatever makes you happy!
John Coyle says
I disagree with the posts recommending riding “wobbly.” Motorists have unease, fear, and loathing around cyclists largely because of predictability. The best way to stay safe on the road is to use bright, blinking lights front and back, obey the laws, signal your intentions, and establish eye contact with drivers. A bumper sticker seen in Oregon reads, “I’ll share the road when you obey the laws.”
William Wightman says
The implicit intent of that bumper sticker is “I would be willing to inadvertently kill you because you do not obey the law” It suggests that manslaughter is a viable option for this (deranged) driver. You cannot blame all riders for individual violations (even if violations occur in whole groups of riders).