Many of you made very helpful comments on Part 1 last week — I’m super pleased at the interest in rider safety!
Fellow roadies comments:
It’s no good that I am right if I am also dead — Monica: I am the most defensive rider out there. My philosophy is never ever ride in front of a stopped vehicle until I make eye contact with the driver. Never trust stop signs to stop cross traffic. I will do a right turn, then cross back rather than doing a dangerous left. Check my rear view mirror as often as I do in my car (very often!).
Coach Hughes: “do a right turn, then cross back rather than doing a dangerous left.” This is potentially also dangerous. If you turn right then drivers expect you to keep going in that direction. If a left turn is too dangerous then I go straight through the intersection, stop, get off my bike, turn it 90 degrees to the left, remount, and then when it’s clear go straight through the intersection in my intended direction.
Always make eye contact. — Tony M: I always try to make eye contact with drivers at intersections. If they look me in the eye, it’s a pretty safe bet that they see me and will yield appropriately. If they don’t look me in the eye, I make extra sure I’m ready in case they pull out in front of me.
Say “rolling” not “clear” at intersections — Tony M: My bike club stopped saying “clear” at intersections in agreement with League of American Bicyclists. We now say, “rolling” and have trained the members that “rolling” actually means “I am proceeding through this intersection but it’s up to you to determine if it’s safe for you to proceed”. It sounds a little redundant, but everyone gets so complacent when they hear “clear” that we decided to change up the dynamic.
Take away the driver’s decision and make it for them. — David S: When riding in the bike lane and approaching a car at an intersection waiting to pull out. Move into the middle of the road so they can see you. The driver now knows it will take time to clear you. You’ve decided how you want to negotiate the intersection. Drivers are looking for cars so be where the car would normally be. Getting a driver’s attention with eye contact is hit and miss.
Be alert for car doors — Dennis O
Coach Hughes: This is excellent advice. On a street with parked cars if possible ride far enough into the street so a door won’t open into you. If you’re too close to the cars and someone opens a door you’ll have to dart into traffic. Of course, be very careful riding in street!
Signal intention and look back — Ron: Before moving to the left lane for any reason I always signal my intention to move to the left lane by extending my left arm out and then look back to see if any vehicles are there. I’m asking that driver if I can merge to the left in front of him. After I begin to initiate my merge into the left lane I profusely wave THANKS! and give them a thumbs up after they pass me. Some are still grumpy, but most smile or nod “you’re welcome.” I think I’m helping to create a better driver-cyclist relationship, and that I don’t have an in your face attitude.
Say thanks! — Ron: Imagine if all of us asked and then thanked drivers.
Don’t use any ear buds — Edward F: I am surprised to read the suggestion to use only one ear bud for music rather than decry the use of anything that can distract one’s attention. Most crashes occur due to distracted cyclists and listening to music is a primary distraction whether the audio source is monaural or binaural.
Coach Hughes: I agree with Edward. I should have written, “Don’t use ear buds. If you must only use one in the left ear.”
Better alternative to ear buds —Tony M: I switched to jawbone conducting headphones (e.g., Trekz Air). You can still listen to music, but you can also hear everything going on around you. Sound quality is just OK, but you’re not wearing these for concert hall-like sound!!
Always look for other hazards — Mark: Even after you have identified a potential source of conflict (e.g. oncoming driver signaling a left turn) don’t focus exclusively on it – there may be other hazards as well (e.g. driver about to pull out from parking spot) in front of you.
Make an obvious hand signal — Chris: One of my pet peeves: Too many people riding bikes, particularly racer-types, give a tiny, arm bent, finger wiggle-waggle to signal a turn. What motorist, even if they see it, has any idea what that means? When you use a hand signal, do it like you mean it! Arm out! Point! Wave fingers (motion catches attention!)
Clarify “Ride on the road, not a path” — John K. This advice needs expansion and clarification:
Coach Hughes: I had written “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.”
A parallel, bike-only lane that is part of the road is a good place to ride. My concern is a separate bike route that is adjacent to the road. In Boulder, CO, we have many bike lanes, which are well-signed and good places to ride. We also have extra-wide sidewalks that are designated for both pedestrians and for bikes riding both directions. IMHO these are hazardous. A driver is less likely to see you on the physically separate bike route than on the shoulder, especially if you are riding against traffic.
Bike trails — John K. continues: Bike trails are usually independent of roads. Bike trails can be used in accordance with following the speed limit and being aware of all other trails users. Many riders can’t ride 20 miles per hour [on the road], and bike trails offer another safe place to ride as well connections within a ride.
Coach Hughes: I agree and I often use bike trails to run errands. Bike trails can be safer if:
- The trails aren’t too crowded.
- Riders obey the speed limits on trails as John K. points out.
- All users – not just riders – are aware of other riders.
- All users stay toward the right.
- Cyclists call out before passing to alert pedestrians. I usually slow way down and call out a friendly greeting like, “what a beautiful day”.
Depending on how heavily used a multi-use trail is, taking a route on roads may be better.
Roads not to ride — John K: There are also a lot of roads that should never see a bike: such roads have no shoulder and high-speed traffic with lots of trucks and cars. It may be your legal right to use almost any road, but that will not help you overcome the laws of physics when a wayward motorist, ineptly driven RV, or inattentive trucker knocks you from your perch.
Beware of RVs — Coach Hughes: A friend was killed when an RV mirror struck her. The driver had just rented the RV and didn’t realize how wide it was. RVs are usually rentals, with which drivers are unfamiliar. If I see an RV in my mirror I get as far to the right as I can, including getting off the road if necessary.
Yield — Deb: I listen to traffic coming from behind and keep an eye on my mirror. If it’s a loaded semi coming up I pull over far as I can, stop, lean my bike over to the right, hold the guardrail is there is one.
Be aware of turbulence from large vehicles — Coach Hughes: Another friend was killed when turbulence from a passing truck sucked him into the truck. This is particularly a problem when it’s windy on a highway and vehicles are passing at highway speeds.
Resources to learn safety — Pete P: As one of the Certified Instructors for the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), we emphasize all of these tips and more in a 9 hour (3 hour classroom and 6 hour road session) Smart Cycling course. Readers of this newsletter could benefit from taking this course as road markings such as Sharrows, and traffic calming streetscape such as roundabouts are now being installed in many areas. LAB Smart Cycling Resources.
The American Bicycle Education Association (ABEA) offers Cycling Savvy, which also teaches cyclists how to ride legally, visibly, and safely by becoming relevant as part of traffic. Much of their material is on-line with excellent animation to demonstrate proper road positions and more. ABEA Cycling Savvy.
Apart from those classes, there are excellent videos on line. One of my favorites is this one that teaches groups of riders how to merge left from back to front without impeding following motorists.
Be visible — Deb: I wear really bright shirts, neon orange, rear lights on the bike and a light strip around my left ankle.
Watch for gravel on the shoulder — The gravel used in Oregon is volcanic and extremely hard to get started on an uphill.
Coach Hughes: Sand on the road in the winter can also be a problem. I also mountain bike and have learned the best way to ride gravel / sand is to keep your momentum. If possible practice riding on dirt roads.
Coach Hughes Additional Thoughts
Only ride side by side if you’re not impeding traffic — John E. and I ride socially every week. We ride side by side and are very attentive to traffic. If one of us sees a vehicle (car, faster cyclist) coming from the rear he yells, “car back” or “rider back”. Whoever is on the traffic side starts to pull ahead while the other slows down so it’s easier for the outside rider to get safely to the right.
Don’t hug the white line — If the shoulder isn’t wide enough to ride safely on it, don’t hug the white line. Drivers may try to pass you when it isn’t safe. IMHO it’s safer to ride a couple of feet into the roadway while keeping an eagle eye on your mirror. Then move out of the way ASAP to allow vehicles to pass. But use good judgment.
Take the road descending (sometimes) — This is a corollary to not hugging the white line. If you’re descending quickly it may be safer to take the road so cars don’t pass when it’s safe and then pull over ASAP. But use good judgment.
Don’t wave cars around unless 100% safe.
Stop clear off the roadway — Don’t stop on the shoulder / bike lane so you force other riders into traffic.
Don’t talk on your cell phone while riding— I occasionally actually see guys (always guys) riding and talking on their phones! My wife has a distinctive ring on my phone. If I hear that ring I pull off the road and answer. Otherwise the call can wait.
Don’t ride no-hands — While putting on lip balm a buddy crashed and broke his collarbone.
Grab a bottle or snack without looking — You always should look at the road so learn to get your bottle or food out of a pocket without looking. You could practice this in an empty parking lot.
Watch out for dangerous cyclists — Be alert for riders on the phone, riding no hands, not riding straight line, inattentively grabbing bottles, etc.
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.
Be aware of your direction of travel and the time of day you are riding. Examples are leaving in the morning as the sun is coming up and you are riding east into the sun. When the sun is at a low angle you will be in the “bright” blind spot to someone approaching you from behind. This blind spot time doesn’t last that long as the earth keeps turning. Same for the setting sun.
Dave Minden says
Cars are notorious for passing too close then cutting in too close after. I’m taking the lane whenever the shoulder is too narrow or unridable. Yes, more irritated drivers but less close passes.
Chris the LCI says
“Don’t hug the white line — If the shoulder isn’t wide enough to ride safely on it, don’t hug the white line. “Drivers may try to pass you when it isn’t safe. IMHO it’s safer to ride a couple of feet into the roadway while keeping an eagle eye on your mirror. Then move out of the way ASAP to allow vehicles to pass. But use good judgment.”
When I teach (I’m an LCI), I explain this that someone once taught me: All motorists think that the center line is a pane of glass and one should never, ever break that pane of glass. So, if the motorist thinks they can pass a bicycle while not breaking that pane of glass, then that is exactly what the motorist will do, avoid crossing the center line even if it means coming within 3 inches of the rider. On the other hand, if I, by riding a couple feet off the fog line, can convince a motorist that they have no choice but to break that pane of glass, then they pass wide. Also, that couple feet gives me an escape option.
David Stihler says
Always use daylight “be seen” running lights front and rear. Take extra care to aim the lights to get the most effective use. I use Garmin Radar on the bike at all times along with a mirror and turn my head before making a move. The beep of the radar telling me there is a car approaching has alerted me many times on long smooth country roads where I was just zoned out and having fun.
Coach Hughes, In reference to Monica’s comment, I would suggest “3 rights to make a left” at dangerous/sketchy intersections. This is a technique taught in AARP’s Smart Driver Course, and in many other safe driving programs. For the un-initiated, it means go a block past where you want to turn left, then make a series of right turns to get back to the original intersection where you can go straight through.
Jackie Weires says
Oh wow, thanks!
Take 100% responsibility for your ride! You have no control over anything but yourself. Before you start on a ride, take a minute and clear your mind of everything but the ride. When you’re mind drifts and it will, bring it back to the ride… basically meditation practice while moving with your life and perhaps the lives of others at stake. Of course, do all the other stuff but keep a relaxed awareness as much as you can. You will also enjoy the ride more if you’re fully in it. Oh yeah, set your own risk tolerance based on a realistic assessment of your ability to judge it. Everything ain’t for everybody.
Y. Goumas says
In daylight I’ve been using a rear light for almost 3 yrs, and the Garmin radar for 2 yrs. In my opinion the radar is very helpful in monitoring the traffic coming up from behind. I’ll always look behind before I pull out or make a left turn, and don’t rely only on the radar even though I have never experienced a false negative (that the radar did not register an upcoming vehicle).
A year ago I started using a front flashing white light, and it has made a large difference in that less cars will make a left turn in front of me coming from opposing traffic, and less cars will pull out in front of me from the right. It seems to attract much more attention than a cyclist without a front light.
If a route seems dangerous I’ll avoid, and choose another route even though it might be inconvenient thus reducing the chances of running into trouble.
Eye contact is good, but I’ve run into cases where even with eye contact the impatient drive will pull out.
Ride as defensively as possible, and don’t assume the driver will honor yr “right of way”.
Doug Kirk says
1)ALWAYS KNOW YOUR ESCAPE ROUTE.
2) RIDE AS THOUGH IF YOU HIT ANYTHING IN FRONT OF YOU, IT IS YOUR FAULT.
For Urban trails, I have a small cowbell (2” or so) that is suspended from my handle bars and is always emitting a soft “ding” that lets people know that I am approaching. My hearing is such that I hardly hear it, but I have seen people in front of me pick up the sound 15-20 yards ahead and turn their heads or move to the side. If there is a large group strung out across the trail, I can jingle the bell with my fingers to alert them that I am coming. It is attached with a small stretchy and I can change the bell’s position to mute the sound if needed. Our local Credit unions and banks have been giving them out with other swag at biking and running events.
John Mulvihill says
Watch out for recreational cyclists!
Here in Oakland CA, a narrow, hilly two-lane ridgeline road called Skyline straddles the East Bay’s surrounding hills. To get up to the ridgeline you must first climb Grizzly Peak, a 3.7 mile warm-up stretch, 5-7% grade, around 800 vertical feet (using the Tunnel Road approach). Because the riding here is tough and technical, Skyline has long been the domain of racers and very fit sport riders. But the lockdown changed all that.
On my training ride the day before yesterday I encountered dozens of “recreational” riders, wearing running shoes, without helmets, riding Wall Mart mountain bikes, an unaware of the dangers they were presenting by their erratic behavios. They were often riding three abreast (to avoid getting the virus LOL), taking up the entire lane, and oblivious to anything behind them. Twice I had to ask riders to move over so I could get around them without going into the opposing lane. Families were out — the parents riding faster than their kids could, thus getting well in front of them, while the kids would wander all over the lane, sitting ducks for any inattentive car driver coming from behind. It’s hard to imagine such ignorance.
No doubt this recreational cyclist phenomenon is playing out on training routes near urban areas all over the warm part of the country. My recommendation to my fellow “serious” cyclists is to be extra careful in their presence. They are as unpredictable as they are oblivious and are therefore a safety hazard, both to themselves and to us.
Although I agree with your general premise, John, (of course we should all watch out for all other cyclists – as well as pedestrians, cars, etc), I find the tone of your comments very condescending. Families and recreational riders “wearing running shoes” and riding ” Walmart bikes ” have as much right to ride as you and other “serious riders.” While novice riders should definitely be encouraged to improve their skills and knowledge of safety rules, there are much kinder and more constructive ways to accomplish this than looking down your nose at them and complaining.
Jackie Weires says
I agree; with both of these comments regarding the family of cyclists. So we all have our own goals when on the bike. What I do is give a shout out or a thumbs up to the kids who are a distance up ahead of the parents and give that positive reinforcement; their faces light up when I pass and I hear the parents congratulating them in the background!
Most people ,cyclist and pedestrian don’t realize that if you are on a cycle path or sidewalk you are required to stop and look before you cross a street or drive way .