Recently, the NYTimes.com published an article on a young woman who lost her life bicycling in Seattle. Being a cycling advocate, that quickly piqued my interest – according to the article, 726 cyclists lost their lives in the States in 2012. That article also stated that flying was much safer than cycling. In fact, there were no commercial airplane accidents in the U.S. in 2012.
That got me thinking, if my nephew or niece asked me about my 40 years of bicycling experience or how I would protect myself, what would I say? Would suggestions or insight might I provide them that may help protect them as they bicycle either in the urban jungle or on rural roads. Is it possible that my experience as a cyclist may actually help improve their safety as younger riders? To that end, I decided to list some key things that may not only improve bicycling safety but overall improve transportation.
My advice to those who bicycle is as follows:
1. Assume that you are basically invisible to motorists and you need to always be aware of the environment around you.
2. When cars pass you, assume you have disappeared in their mind. This means, anticipate those motorists who immediately turn in front of you once they’ve passed you. Your speed can determine whether or not you can stop in time.
3. Never wear head phones or do any audio listening as your ears are a key sensory protection while on the bike.
4. Always wear yellow, it is the brightest color and makes you more visible.
5. Look around a lot, pay attention to motorists and pedestrians as they may not be paying attention to you. Additionally, that movement, especially in dark conditions makes you more visible.
6. Equip your bicycle with front and blinking lights. Blinking lights make you more visible, the blinking makes it clear that you are a bicycle. For your safety, equip the bike with a strong headlight to help you see the road and its surroundings.
7. Look for people in parked cars (as they are not looking for you) to avoid being doored (especially on a busy street).
8. Be courteous and a defensive cyclist at all times. Don’t make this political if you are wronged. You’ll never win a battle against a heavy steel contraption barreling down the road.
9. Don’t get competitive about “beating your best time” home. Safety is always more important than competitive games you may conjure up in your mind to get home quickly.
10. Don’t put your guard down when using bike lanes in the city. You still need to watch for trucks, cars and pedestrians.
11. Respect traffic lights as much (if not more) than motorists. Ignoring stop signs or traffic lights is a dangerous precedent and sets a poor example for cycling.
12. Learn your roads so you can watch out for potholes, park cars (where drivers frequently come and go), knowing where pedestrians typically cross. Become more familiar with your environment helps you anticipate potential issues.
13. Use hand signals on a bicycle, regardless of what motorists do or don’t do with their directionals. You’re setting a good example and also conveying to motorists that you are a confident and competent cyclist.
14. Never daydream while cycling. Focus on transporting yourself safely from Point A to Point B.
15. Wear a reflective helmet and reflective clothing whenever possible.
16. Be careful about toeclips or click-on bike shoes. Yes, they improve the amount of energy being transferred from each pedal revolution to the distance traveled but you can’t “tie yourself up,” especially during urban cycling which can potentially cause you to lose control of your bike.
17. Making eye contact with motorists conveys you notice them and are paying attention to their moves.
18. Regularly test your brakes to ensure they are functioning correctly. This safeguard can certainly make a difference in city traffic or on wet roads.
19. Regardless of all these tips and safeguards, you’ll still need good luck and fortune while traversing the urban jungle and rural roads. Safe traveling indeed!