How to be a Safer Cyclist
I am constantly asked why I ride on the road. My smart alec answer is usually something like "Because it is there," and there is something to this. We have a huge network of roads and precious few trails and bike lanes. The obvious solution to me is to figure out the best way to use what we have, because I want to ride now, not wait until the government gives us another infrastructure.
With this said, I see a lot of cyclists on the roads who could do a better job of riding safely and who could have a much better time as well. I also talk to many people who state their biggest fear is traffic and the possibility of getting hit from behind. I continue to lobby for cycling advocacy and tell anybody who will listen (and some that won't!) that cycling is a lot safer than we think, but we need to really look at the situation to demystify things.
I liken cycling to flying in airplanes for a couple of reasons. First, both are quite safe if done properly. Second, when bad things happen, they are really bad. All of us know someone or know of someone who has been hit by a car. We may know someone who has been in a plane crash. I don't want to lessen the tragedy of these events but do want to put them in perspective. There is risk in anything we do, even doing nothing! A sedentary lifestyle, without exercise, whereby the heaviest thing we lift is the TV remote is certainly not risk free and the riding of a bike, a running lifestyle, or even driving in a car is not risk free either.
That said, I want to get to the heart of the issue. We can minimize risk on riding our bikes and accept the risk that while living life to the fullest; we can still have bad things happen to good people. I ask people to Claim Your Lane!
How do you do this? The first thing I like to tell people is to think about themselves as a vehicle, not someone outside on a bike in their underwear. We all see the looks of amazement from sedentary people in cars as we are out biking and sweating our way to health and fitness. We have also been in cars looking at other riders from the car and have a perspective of how we perceive them if we are in a hurry, cranky, not paying attention, etc.
Here are some things to think about:
- A vehicle can operate on the road. If a bike is a vehicle, it can be ridden on the road. Simple.
- The road is not the shoulder. No kidding. A car can't drive on the shoulder, we can, but we don't have to! If the shoulder is full of glass and trash, the road is wide enough to handle riding on it, guess what? I ride on the road.
- Vehicles need to obey the law. This is a biggie. There are ways to interpret the law to keep you out of trouble and I will go into that later, but for now, just consider, if we get to ride on the road, we have to obey the law.
- There are good places and bad places to ride on the same road. To me, a good place is one where I have maneuvering room to the right, where I can be seen from behind, and one that is free of glass and obstructions.
- You need to be as far to the right (or left, more on that later) as "practicable." What's practicable? Well, for me it is defined in the bullet point above. I like to ride in the path of the right hand tires of cars on a road. This is about 2-3 feet from the side of the road. I will explain more about this in future segments.
You need to pay attention! I have had so many people tell me they don't want to ride on the road because they have to pay attention. I strongly suggest that they consider paying attention while driving their cars. If you are watching ahead and to the sides, while listening behind, you will avoid the highest percentages of problems.