By Michael Bluejay
Real bicycle safety is about more than wearing a helmet and following the “rules of the road.” A helmet will do absolutely nothing to prevent you from getting hit by a car, although it may certainly help save your life if you do get hit. Following the law is not enough to keep you safe.
Here’s an example: The law tells you to ride as far to the right as is practical. If you ride too far to the right, someone exiting a parked car could open their door right in front of you, you’ll be less visible to motorists pulling out of driveways and parking lots, and motorists coming from behind may pass you way too closely in the same lane because you didn’t make them change lanes. In each of these cases, you were following the law, but you made it easier for yourself to get hit. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — so let’s talk about how not to get hit.
Avoid busy streets
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they start biking is to take the same routes they used when they were driving. It’s usually better to take less busy streets and only cross the busiest streets rather than traveling on them. Sure, cyclists have a right to the road, but that’s a small consolation when you’re dead.
Too obvious? Well, if it’s so obvious, then why do so many cyclists ride without lights? Bike shops have rear red blinkies for $15 or less.
Headlights are just as important as rear lights. Modern headlights use LEDs, so the batteries last ten times longer than old-school headlights.
Take the whole lane when appropriate
It’s often safer to take the whole lane, or at least ride a little bit to the left, rather than hug the right curb. Here’s why: cars at intersections ahead of you can see you better if you’re squarely in the road rather than on the edge, and taking the lane prevents cars from passing you too closely on narrow roadways.
You might worry about slowing down the traffic behind you if you take the lane. If you’re on the kind of street where you’ve got cars blocked up behind you or constantly changing lanes to get around you, you should probably try to find a less busy street.
It’s perfectly legal for you to take the lane when appropriate. Illinois law says to ride as far to the right as is “practical.” Here are some things that make it impractical to ride to the extreme right:
- You’re in a heavy traffic area with lots of side streets, parking lots, or driveways ahead and to your right. Cars turning left won’t see you because they’re looking for traffic in the middle of the road, not on the extreme edge of the road.
- Cars are passing you too closely. If the lane is too narrow for cars to pass you safely, then move left and take the whole lane. Getting buzzed by cars is dangerous.
- Cars are parked on the right-hand side of the road. If you ride too close to these you’re likely to get doored when someone gets out of their car.
- There are risks to both riding to the extreme right as well as taking the lane. Whether you ride to the right or take the lane depends on the conditions of the roadway you’re on. On wide roadways with few intersections or driveways, right further right. On narrow roads with lots of intersections, ride farther to the left.
Signal your turns
You’re less likely to get hit when your movement doesn’t take motorists by surprise. Let them know you’re about to turn or move left or right by signaling with your arm. Point your left arm out to move left and point your right arm out to move right (you might have learned an old way of signaling a right turn with your left arm, but drivers have no idea what that means, so it’s useless. Signal a right turn with your right arm).
Re-think music players and cell phones
It’s more important to hear what’s around you when you’re biking than when you’re driving. Riding with headphones is your choice, but doing so increases your risk. Similarly, texting or talking with a mobile phone raises the risk level. When you’re mixing with car traffic, the fewer distractions the better. Also, you’ll want both hands free in case you have to brake suddenly.
Ride as if you were invisible
It’s often helpful to ride in such a way that motorists won’t hit you even if they don’t see you. You’re not trying to be invisible, you’re trying to make it irrelevant whether cars see you or not. If you ride in such a way that a car has to see you to take action to avoid hitting you (e.g., by their slowing down or changing lanes), then that means they will definitely hit you if they don’t see you. If you stay out of their way, then you won’t get hit even if they didn’t notice you were there.
On very fast roads, cars have less time to see you because they’re approaching so fast. Of course, you should avoid fast roads in the first place if at all possible, unless there’s plenty of room for a car and a bike side by side. If there is such room, then on fast roadways, you can practice invisibility by riding to the extreme right. If you’re far enough right that you’re not in the part of the lane the cars are in, then they’ll zoom by and won’t hit you, even if they never saw you.
Here’s another example: it’s a good idea to signal a left turn, but it’s a better idea to make your left turn at a time or place where there aren’t cars behind you that could hit you while you’re stopped. You can hang out in the middle of the street, stopped, with your left arm out, waiting to make your turn, but you’re counting on cars behind you to see you and stop. If they don’t see you, you’re in trouble.
Remember, you’re not trying to be invisible, you’re just riding with the assumption that cars can’t see you. You certainly want them to see you, and you should help them with that. That’s why you’ll wave to motorists whom you think might be about to pull out in front of you, and why you’ll be lit up like a Christmas tree at night.
For more information about bicycle safety and using a bicycle for everyday transportation, visit BikeBloNo.org or facebook.com/bikeblono. Bike BloNo is dedicated to growing a strong bike-friendly community and educating drivers, bike riders, and pedestrians about the rules of the road and responsible road commuting.
Article source: BicycleSafe.com