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
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 streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.