Ride Safely in Traffic

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cycling traffic sign
Cycling sign
cycling traffic sign
Cycling sign

When it comes to sports like cycling, I’ve heard two types of opinions on safety.

  • From my family: “Get out and ride, you’ll be fine! Go have fun and do what you love!”
  • From my husband’s family: “Are you wearing a bright enough color? Shouldn’t you be more worried about riding in the street? You should really just sit in the closet with a helmet on.”

Needless to say, before I got married I was fearless, but after hanging with the scaredy-cats for a while, I swung over to panic at the thought of pedaling my bike through traffic. While it’s a great thing to be careful, it’s not good to give up what you love doing because of fear. It took me a while to work through the anxiety, but I now ride happily and safely. That means obeying traffic laws and stopping at all red lights and stop signs, but also being brave enough to ride properly in a lane so an impatient driver doesn’t sideswipe me in an attempt to pass illegally.

The best way to ride with cars, or drive with cyclists, is to imagine the bicycle as a car. Crazy, right? Bikes on the road must follow (with a few variances depending on your state) the same rules of the road as cars. Which actually makes it easier to understand how to drive with one on the same road.

Meaning, if you go over a double yellow line because a bike is to your right going slower than you, you’re making an illegal pass. Or, if you ride straight through a stop light and dodge the oncoming traffic, you’re breaking the law (in most states). Cyclists, respect drivers because they have lots more metal around them. Drivers, respect cyclists because they have just as much right to the road as you do, only they’re working way harder to use it.

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Key Tips for Bike Riding:

Get on the Road: If you’re on a bike, and you’re not 6, get off the sidewalk. I broke this rule a few weeks ago to get through an intersection that didn’t recognize me, and a car nearly turned into me–because she didn’t see me, and because I was being stupid. Do what drivers expect from other cars, they won’t like you on the sidewalk.

Ride Right: Last week, some folks on beach combers were happily cruising (helmet-less) against traffic. I had to swerve out of their way. They just kept blissfully going and probably thought I was the idiot. Why go with traffic? Because cars making right turns aren’t necessarily looking for vehicles coming from their right side. Plus, if you ride on the left, you’ll have to do everything backward, and turning across traffic will be weird.

Let Your Light Shine: If it’s dark, or nearing dusk, use a light. It’s the law, and a really, really, really good idea.

Be Predictable: Ride so that cars can predict where you’re going–for instance, don’t swerve in and around parked cars along the side of the road. Stay in a straight line about three feet away from the cars (if possible) to avoid getting doored. Stick to the bike lane, if provided, or ride as far to the right of the road as is safe. If it’s safer to take the lane, take the lane. You’re not required to ride over glass, debris, or storm grates. But whatever you do, be sure that cars know you are there, and where you’re heading.

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Put a Lid on It: Perhaps the most obvious tip is to wear your helmet. Buy a style you like, so you’ll buckle it on it every time you set out. Over 90% of cycling deaths could have been prevented had the rider been wearing a helmet. Seriously, it’s important. But do check out the proper fit info–tighten the straps correctly, and make sure it’s sitting at the right level along your forehead.

ID Yourself: Lastly, if you’re riding, running, or swimming, you should definitely carry a from of ID. I prefer the Road ID Elite, which sports contact numbers and allergy information right on my wrist in case of an accident. It’s an excellent and necessary accessory to your bike kit, and it doesn’t cost much at the same time. Check out all their options at RoadId.com.

 

Take a look at a few of the ideas I’ve been discussing here in the following video from traffic certified cyclists. These throwback guys do a great job of explaining many of the rules and techniques you’ll need to hit the road safely. Plus, enjoy the rockin’ 80s-style music while you watch:

 

Road ID and Bob Mionske have created some excellent videos describing the rules of the road, and they offer great tips for keeping you safe on the bike.

Intersections and Ramps

Signal On the Bike

Avoiding Hazards

Bike Handling Techniques

About Bek 301 Articles
SLO Cyclist's former chief editor and recovering road snob, Bek made sure everything ran smoothly around here. She was also the one who reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously--unless it involves black socks. Black socks are always serious.

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