Crash avoidance: 9 poor choices when cycling

EVERYONE MAKES POOR CHOICES IN LIFE from time-to-time. If we’re smart, when we see the err of our ways, we make corrections. For most things, the world is forgiving. We try not to worry too much about the past, and we move forward with little regret.

Cycling, or bike riding in any form is often less forgiving of poor choices. You can’t make poor choices on a bike for long before something life-changing happens, and you may never be able to recover from it or live-on without regret.

Here are just a few poor choices (that I’ve witnessed repeatedly) that you don’t want to make on a bike.

Stupid rider 1

Salmoning. Salmoning is when a cyclist rides against the flow of traffic. That’s dangerous, because motorists, semi-truck drivers, speeding ambulances and six-ton construction vehicles with large trailers loaded with a bunch of loose equipment… are not looking or expecting you to magically appear from the wrong direction.

Riding at night with no lights or reflective equipment. Visibility is your most important asset on a bike. If motorists can’t see you, you probably don’t exist.

Multi-tasking while riding. Riding with no hands or attempting to eat or drink on the bike while challenging rush hour traffic is just plain stupid. Put both hands on the handlebars and pay attention to your surroundings. Focus!

Deathwish1

Trying to navigate urban traffic using aero bars. If you’re on a busy road, you’re not racing, and you’re not testing your endurance capability. Sit up straight, master your maneuverability, ride tall and be seen.

Riding in the gutter. There’s no U.S. law that says you have to ride in the gutter. There’s trash, and glass, and rocks, and curbs, and grates, and uneven pavement in there. Ride in the bike lane, or if there is no bike lane, ride on the right-hand third of the traffic lane. You are traffic.

Riding on sidewalks. Sidewalks are made for walking and walking speeds. The only time sidewalk riding is acceptable is if you are accompanying a small child on a bike or a trike.

Riding too close to parked cars. Imagine cruising along at 16-mph, when the door on that Suburban parked just ahead flings open right into your path. You’ve just been doored! It hurts, or worse. It could push you into adjacent traffic. Don’t get doored.

Texting or yapping on the phone while you’re riding. Leave the smartphone in your pocket. Trying to fiddle with a phone while riding is just as dangerous as it is in a car.

Ignoring red lights and other rules of the road. As a cyclist on U.S. roadways you must “drive” your bicycle in much the same way as you drive your car--legally. Use signaling. Use courtesy. Drive defensively. If you drive your bicycle according to the rules of the road, motorists will be better able to anticipate your next move.

These are certainly not all of the poor choices that cyclists make, but they're common ones. Avoiding these nine will make it safer for everyone on the road. 


When you ride your bicycle, ride it big!

STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT THE MAJORITY OF ACCIDENTS between motorists and cyclists are caused because the motorist “didn’t see the cyclist”. As preoccupied as motorists are these days, with all the non-driving activites that take place behind the wheel -- texting, talking on the phone, eating, reading the newspaper, flossing the teeth, removing rollers from the hair, brushing the hair, drinking a beer and reprimanding the children -- it’s no wonder that cyclists get knocked down, banged up or killed everyday.

Yes, I’ve seen every one of the activities mentioned above being done while the driver is, by law, supposed to be in control of his or her motor vehicle. Yes, I know that cyclist are not always innocent. I’ve seen many cyclists who refuse to follow the rules of the road, and many more that have adopted some very careless riding practices.

SanjoseCommuter600

So, how do we stop “accidents”?

I don’t know.

It’s basically impossible to get all parties together and agree to do the right thing. But if you’re a cyclist and you want to remain as safe as you possibly can, RIDE BIG. And by that I mean to make yourself as visible as possible to motorists who are in your immediate area. Here are a few ways you can achieve this.

  • Never ride in the gutter of a lane. You’re out of view, in the shadows, and probably rolling through all kinds of dangerous debris, grating and broken pavement. Additionally, it’s a position that leaves you little room for emergency maneuvers. If you’re riding in a bike lane, try to ride as close to the motor vehicle lane as practical.

Laneuse500

  • When on a narrow road, don’t be afraid to take the lane. Riding in the car lane,where a car’s right tire would go, is one of the best ways to be seen. You become the traffic and have lane control. It forces cars and trucks to pass you when it’s safe, and with a wide margin instead of trying to squeeze by in the same lane. You might get some negative comments from drivers, but at least they will know you’re there. (In the right lane in the U.S., or in the left lane in many European countries.)
  • Take advantage of Sharrows by riding in the area designated by the Sharrows. I like Sharrows because they are immediately visible to both motor vehicle drivers and cyclists. There should be no confusion regarding the cyclist’s right to the road space. (Presumably they been placed correctly.)
  • Wear bright or fluorescent or day-glo clothing. Bright yellows, oranges, reds and greens can be seen easier that most other colors. When I’m commuting in the early morning hours I often where a yellow jersey that is impregnated with reflective strands that shine brightly when headlights hit it.
  • Be predictable. Behave like a car--one with a responsible driver behind the wheel! Ride with the traffic, not against it. Motor vehicle drivers don’t expect you to be coming from the wrong direction, or flying out of side streets or driveways without stopping. Ride in a straight line. No weaving or erratic riding.
  • Reflectors on your bike, front and rear are very visible when lights are shown on them. Reflectors are often more easily visible, and can be seen from farther away than many electric lights. At night I also wear reflective ankle straps and reflective tape on the back of my helmet.
  • A white headlight on the front and a red tail light on the rear of your bike are a must for night riding and even make you more visible in daylight. I use a bright red flashing tail light on every ride, day or night.
  • Riding in a group makes you more visible to motor vehicle drivers. But get with a group that follows the rules of the road.
  • When you’re in heavy traffic sit up tall in the saddle--RIDE BIG! You’ll be much more visible than if you’re in the drops or using aero bars.

Don’t be afraid of traffic or cower in the presence of motor vehicles. Ride big and ride proud, because you have every right to be using the roadway. These simple techniques will help to keep you visible to motorists when riding your bike. Obey the standard rules of the road, as any vehicle should, and you’ll have your best chance for finishing your ride without an accident.


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.

JaxSharrows

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.)


A few crash avoidance tips for new road cyclists

A FRIEND OF MINE JUST BOUGHT A NEW ROAD BIKE. He’s been riding a hybrid for a few years, with its fatter tires, straight handlebars and upright riding posture, but he test rode one of my road bikes a few months ago and liked it. So on Black Friday, he was able to get a screaming deal on a beautiful carbon fiber Trek.

Girl on hybrid 700

It occurred to me that the difference between casually riding a hybrid around the neighborhood, compared to mounting a faster, sleeker road bike and cranking it up on the highway, could be problematic at first. I thought I would point out a few differences that the average rider might not be immediately aware of.

Road bikes can be a little fussy

If you’re new to skinny tires and the more forward posture used on road bikes, here are few tips to keep in mind that will help you keep the rubber side down.

  • Road bikes handle much differently than bikes with fat tires and straight handle bars. For example, steering is tighter and less forgiving. Take a few days of slow easy riding in a variety of settings to get used to this new feel before trying to negotiate traffic during rush hour.
  • If there’s rain or dampness on the road surface, avoid the painted lines as much as possible. They are slippery when wet. If you do need to cross them, do so in a vertical position, preferably seated and either coasting or soft pedaling.

Group sanjose 700

  • When riding on the side of a lane, avoid that expansion joint or crack in the pavement where two slabs of pavement come together. They can make your skinny tires flinch from side to side, or if wide enough you can get the front tire jammed in the crack. Either occurrence could lead to a crash.
  • Also, avoid riding over grates in the road. Your front wheel will likely slip right through a parallel grate, and going cross-ways over a grate can be slippery. About six months ago my back tire slipped off of a steel grate. I maintained control of my bike, but the rim and tire were both damaged when they hit the jagged edge of the concrete surround.
  • Hold your line. In other words don’t weave back and forth over the width of your lane. A car or even another cyclist approaching from the rear will expect you to ride steady and in a straight line. Even minor swerving left or right could lead to disaster, or at least make others on the road very nervous about your intentions.
  • When overtaking a bike or a runner or a walker, call out, “on you left!” before you reach them. The warning could keep them from absentmindedly turning into you as you ride by.
  • When riding over speed bumps, lift your butt off the seat, bend your knees, and shift your weight to the rear of the bike. Your center of gravity is more forward on a road bike. The first time I road skinny tires, I tried to ride over a large speed bump in a casual position and was thrown over the handle bars when the front wheel came to an abrupt stop in front of the bump. You’ll want to avoid that embarrassment.
  • Ride your road bike as you drive your car. In other words ride WITH traffic, not against it. Obey road signs and traffic lights. Make no unnecessary or radical moves. Signal your turns and intentions. You’ll want others in your vicinity to be able to anticipate your movements.
  • When you ride your bike you are essentially “driving a vehicle”—you must yield to pedestrians.

These are a few tips to get the new roadie started safely, I be back next week to cover sharrows, bike lanes, listening to music and more.

Be safe out there, and enjoy the ride!

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


10 Tips for Safely Riding the MS 150

Ms150 RIDING FOR A CAUSE is a noble thing, and there are many charity rides to choose from. It can also be a lot of fun. You’ll meet lots of new people, some of whom may become life-long ride buddies. Charity rides seem to draw a lot of first-timers. This is both encouraging for the charity, and potentially troublesome for the riders.

The MS 150 is a great ride for a wonderful cause, and the one I am most familiar with.  For all cyclists seeking a personal challenge and a world free of MS, Bike MS is the premier cycling series in the nation. With more than 100 extraordinary rides.

If you’ve never ridden the MS 150 (or any other charity ride) these tips may help to make your ride safer and more enjoyable.   

  • Ride a decent bike. (The one in the photo probably wouldn’t make it.) You don’t need a top of the Pinkbike600 line race bike, but you do need a bike that is in good working order with good tires. Although many have been successful on a single speed bike, most riders will admit that a multi-speed bike makes the ride more comfortable.
  • Dress properly for the weather. It may rain, it could be hot and humid, or it may be windy. Be sure you have your helmet, sunscreen, and adequate clothing to remain comfortable during several hours of bike riding.
  • Take advantage of the training rides offered. These will help you prepare for the big day. You’ll Tandem+2 700get a feel for the caliber of the riders you’ll be with, and you may find someone with a riding ability similar to your own, who can be your ride buddy on the two-day event.
  • Don’t start off like a rocket ship. You’ll burn yourself out too early. Work your way into a sustainable pace. The more experienced cyclists will be hitting speeds upwards of 20 MPH. The bulk of the riders will be at speeds between 15 and 17 MPH. One hundred and fifty miles is a long way on a bike, especially if you’ve never done it before. (My last MS 150 turned out to be just over 170 miles.) It’s split into two days of riding, but if it’s really hot and humid it’ll seem even longer. You can always pour on the coals once you're half way into it if you’re feeling strong.
  • Take ample food and hydration with you. Sometimes the food at the rest stops may not suit you; or if you’re delayed because of a mechanical issue you may get hungry or thirsty before you reach the next rest stop.
  • Carry tools with you. Be sure you have at minimum a multi-tool, an extra tube, a flat repair kit, and some way to inflate a tire—either a pump or a CO2 kit. Hopefully, you know how to fix a flat tire, but even if you don’t, with the proper tools someone else is likely to help you out.
  • Most road cycling is done single-file. Don’t hog the lane riding 2 or 3 or more abreast, and END OF LINE 2 remember to hold your line. Weaving in and out in a group of bikes is a good way to get yelled at or cause a crash.
  • On your left! Know the hand signals and the rules of road cycling before you begin the ride. You can get a lot of information here.
  • Watch out for riders with little experience. There are often younger riders on the road with you. They may not have much experience and may be inclined to do unsafe things.
  • Ride earnestly, but don’t push yourself into cardiac arrest. SAG vehicles are there to serve riders with unfixable mechanical issues or health concerns. If you use a SAG just because you don’t like to sweat, you may be taking it away from someone who really needs it.

Charities rides are the most fun if you complete them safely. They’re not a race, just a fun social ride to support a good cause. When you finish, you’ll be tired and sore, but you’ll feel like you really accomplished something—because you did.

Keep the rubber side down, and have fun!


Bike lanes or Sharrows?

RIDING IN URBAN AREAS IS OFTEN A TENSE situation for even the most seasoned cyclists. Traffic of every description screeching and revving and honking around you can be distracting and dangerous.
Bikelane1

And if you’re not paying attention, or if you lack road skills or are unknowledgeable about the rules of the road, city riding can be a death trap. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to ride safer in high traffic areas.

  • First, become a good bike handler. Find a safe place to practice evasive maneuvers and emergency braking.
  • Know the rules of the road. At a minimum I recommend taking this course.
  • Dress for safety. Wear a helmet and bright colors so motorists can easily see you.
  • Think of yourself as a vehicle, and “drive” your bike as if you were a slow-moving vehicle—because you are.

The League of American Bicyclists says: “In all 50 states, cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists and/or are considered a vehicle.”

Bike lanes
In many cities there are also bike lanes, that special lane marked with a pictogram and designated for bikes. In the US, it’s typically off to the right of the traffic lanes. Bike lanes are nice to have, but don’t ever get complacent and believe that by riding in a bike lane you are somehow safe. I’m ambivalent about official bike lanes. Here’s why.

  • First, they are seldom continuous. They often start and stop again and again. For example, you might ride along for a mile in a bike lane, and then go through a traffic signal, and on the other side the bike lane disappears, forcing you to blend into moving traffic.
  • Too many bike lanes are poorly designed and seldom maintained. In my town, I know of a bike lane that has the potential for motorists to make a right turn in front of an oncoming cyclist. And I know of another that abruptly ends with the cyclist being stranded between two lanes of fast moving traffic.
  • Bike lanes collect road trash; broken glass, sharp metal objects, rocks and other refuse. It may have potholes, and the far edge may be broken off, creating a real hazard for a bike’s narrow tires.
  • Motorists seldom recognize bike lanes for what they are. They often don’t see them or their pictogram. I’ve experienced riding in a bike lane and having a motorist yell at me to get out of the road. What they don’t see, they don’t acknowledge.
  • Cyclists in bike lanes are often out of view of motorists. Riding to the far right of a driver’s peripheral vision often puts a cyclist is the shadows, or “among the trees”.

Sharrows!
Now the sharrow is different. As you can see by the pictogram, the sharrow is larger and more “in your face” than a bike lane marking located way off to the side of the road. It’s in the same lane as the motor vehicle. If a driver can’t see a sharrow, I suspect his vision is so bad he shouldn’t be a licensed driver. In my opinion, sharrows are better than bike lanes in most cases. Why?

  • It’s too big and obtrusive to deny.
  • It’s an obvious statement to drivers, by the Federal Highway Administration, that motorists and cyclists are expected to share the road. Motorists are legally obligated to share the road, but they often aren’t aware of this law or in many cases like to play ignorant of the law.
  • Sharrows are placed in the lane (where vehicles are expected to be), not in the gutter where trash and drainage grates reside.
  • Sharrows are positioned to keep cyclists away from the opening doors of parked cars while promoting awareness of their right to use the road.
  • Sharrows are used to show motorists that cyclists have the right to “take the lane”, and it helps show cyclists good lane positioning, especially where lanes are too narrow to share safely.  Sharrows were shown to improve lane positioning of cyclists and improved passing distance by motorists. Sharrows also cut down on the number of sidewalk cyclists and wrong-way cyclists.

Many cities have adopted sharrows, and many more are currently experimenting with them. I think they are a great idea, and a safer alternative to bike lanes. If you are riding with bright colored clothing and over the sharrows you are in plain sight, visible to anyone who is paying attention. I’m hoping we get them in Jacksonville, Florida. I think they would make a powerful statement to drivers who ignore the rules, or drivers who like to harass cyclists.

What do you think?

This post represents the opinion of Lloyd Lemons regarding the safety of sharrows. Every cyclist must make his or her own decisions regarding safe riding practices.

More info on Sharrows here and here.