A few crash avoidance tips for new road cyclists
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Seven more crash avoidance tips for new road cyclists

IN MY PREVIOUS POST, I WROTE ABOUT A FEW WAYS to avoid crashes as a new roadie. This post continues that theme. If you’re new to riding a road bike, these tips will help you to keep the rubber side down.

Don’t trust bike lanes. Lots of new bike riders think bike lanes are the solution to safe cycling. That’s seldom true. It’s obvious to me that the people who designed bike lanes probably don’t ride much. In my town we have bike lanes that conflict with adjacent traffic lanes, and bike lanes that end without warning, dumping the unsuspecting cyclist amid three lanes of fast moving traffic.

Bike lane use 500

Use bike lanes with caution. Watch out for surprise endings, excessive trash like stones, sticks, glass, broken concrete, lane-wide grates and motorists who completely disregard the lanes.

Don’t ride with headphones or earbuds. When you’re riding on the road, it’s safer if you can hear what’s going on around you. Plugging both ears with loud music, or media of any kind is dangerous, and illegal in many states. If you want to listen to music use just one earbud so your other ear is available for ambient warning signals.

Know what sharrows mean. I like sharrows better than bike lanes, because they are intended to communicate with both cyclists and motorists.


Sharrows position bike riders in the lane and alert motorists that cyclists may use the full lane. Sharrows are intended to help cyclists and motorists when they must share a narrow lane, and it should help prevent getting doored from parked cars. But be aware of your surroundings and don’t let sharrows give you a false sense of safety.

Don’t get doored. New cyclists are most fearful of fast moving traffic. But parked cars can be hazardous to your health too. With today’s tinted windows it’s hard to tell if a vehicle has a driver behind the wheel.

Getting doored 500

A parked car can move suddenly into your lane when you’re least expecting it causing a crash, or pushing you into the next lane of traffic. Another scenario is when the driver in a parked car opens her door into your lane just as you’re riding by. If you’re too close you’ll crash into her door. Make sure you leave enough space to avoid the door zone.

Railroad crossings can take you down if you do it wrong.  The metal rails are slippery, and the deep, wide gaps in the road’s surface are rough and can bounce you around. I’ve read that you should approach rail crossings at a 90 degree angle. Well, that might be the ideal scenario, but it’s not always practical. When tracks cross the road at an angle, it could take some radical maneuvering combined with bike handling acrobatics to put you at a 90 degree angle. Those types of movements will rattle motorists who can’t figure out what you’re up to. Here’s how I do it: I approach rail crossings straight on. I get a firm grip on my handlebars and tense my arm muscles so the bumps don’t jerk my steering. I raise my butt slightly off the saddle; my bent knees will act as shock absorbers as the bike bounces over the tracks. I use enough speed so that momentum will carry me across. I don’t lean. I don’t pedal, and I don’t brake. I have not fallen yet.

It’s fun to ride in a paceline. Plus, it conserves your energy when you ride in someone else’s slipstream—aka drafting. But please, gain experience on your road bike for several hours before attempting to ride with a group, and learn paceline etiquette. Pacelines operate as an integrated unit, like birds flying in formation. When a group is riding at high-speed and drafting one another there is little room for error. One false move and you could be responsible for taking out all the riders behind you in a sprawling crash. And you won’t like how that makes you feel. So get confident on your bike, learn paceline rules first, and then start out at the back of the line. You should also tell the other riders that you’re a newbie.

Avoid loose surfaces. In my previous post I mentioned the slipperiness of the painted lines when roads get wet. There are a number of other things that can make the road surface unstable, i.e., wet leaves, loose sand that may have washed across the surface during yesterday’s rain, or even the loose pebble-like residue that appears when blacktop is old and has been ground down. This often occurs in intersections and on corners. Any of these surfaces can make you fall if you’re not expecting them. If you notice the danger, but it’s too late to avoid it, don’t panic. Simply stop pedaling, stay seated to keep your center of gravity low, and coast through it. Try to keep the bike as vertical as possible. Avoid any sharp steering or hard braking.

There you have it. Seven more crash avoidance tips for new road cyclists. I hope you enjoy your new road bike, and ride according to the rules of the road. Check with your state transportation authority for a bicycle law enforcement guide. Most states publish one and give them away for free. It will give you the specific rules for your roads.

Be safe out there!

(Excerpted from my new book in progress: Riding for Our Lives.)


Lloyd Lemons

The cycling infrastructure in my city, Jacksonville, FL is improving, but at a painfully slow rate. I do like the separated bike lanes, but they don't always fit on legacy roadways. Thanks so much for your comments!

Raymond Parker

More good tips. Some cities do a better job than others ... in fact, some cities don't do any job on cycling infrastructure at all!

I'm lucky to live in a city where such things are taken relatively seriously. Still we have a few painted "bike lanes" that end abruptly.

Nearby Vancouver (BC) has recently (to the horror of the usual suspects) undertaken a comprehensive program of separated bike lanes that any city would be smart to emulate.

Lloyd Lemons

Thanks! And good point. Anyone riding on the road shouldn't automatically trust road markings. Engineers make mistakes. Painters make mistakes. Be wary. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.


Good stuff.

Perhaps worth mentioning that sharrows can sometimes be placed incorrectly in the gutter zone, depending on jurisdiction.

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