How To Stay Safe on the Streets
Biking is a fun, cheap and healthy way to get around town (and if your traffic is as bad as mine, faster too!) but all of that goodness can be ruined by a run in with one of those other occupants of the roadway. Some people subscribe to the view that if you bike regularly in traffic, it is just a matter of time before you get hit, but I’m not one of them. While I do agree that some car-bike accidents are just really bad luck and timing, in my opinion, these are rare. More often than not, when I hear about car-bike encounters, I can identify things that the cyclist could have done to avoid the collision entirely or at the very least mitigate the severity. This isn’t to say that the cyclist was in the wrong in these instances, but right or wrong doesn’t really matter when you end up on your backside in the street. So what can you do?
First and foremost, safety gear. A helmet should be a given – the specific type doesn’t really matter. Get one that is comfortable, and that you will like wearing. Unless you are into wearing body armor while riding, there isn’t much else you can do to protect yourself, but there is a lot you can do to help you see and be seen. Lights are a necessity at night, but you can still use them during the day to increase your visibility. I also really like to use a rear view mirror in the city. It helps me stay aware of what’s behind me and means I don’t jump out of my shorts when a car buzzes past me at 45 mph honking their horn. There are both helmet and handlebar mounted versions available. Try them both out, and see what you like best.
Now that you are suitably equipped, when you get out on the road in traffic, your biggest concern should be knowing everything that is going on around you. Where are the cars near you, and what are they likely to do? Are there any intersections coming up, or driveways that a car could suddenly pull out of? Is your lane going to end, or merge? It is impossible to cover every possibility that you might face on the road – good situational awareness develops over time – but generally, you should be thinking about what is going to happen before it actually does.
People are Dumb
Even though you are constantly assessing the situation around you, the next step to staying safe in traffic is assuming that all the other people on the road with you are the exact opposite – completely clueless. Never assume that someone sees you, or is going to stop for you, or won’t change lanes because you are already there. If you start expecting people to do silly things, it won’t come as a surprise when they do. You can take this assumption to the next level by imagining yourself to be invisible! This mind game helps you to pick out the safest places to be and routes to take as you navigate the maze of obstacles on the road.
Exit This Way
All of the awareness and foresight in the world still sometimes isn’t enough to keep you out of a sticky situation. Your last line of defense is to try and keep a buffer space around you, and always have ‘escape’ routes available. Obviously, you can’t always have the space you want, but for an example, when cycling past a line of parked cars, I will always ride far enough away that if a door opens suddenly, I’m not going to hit it. In heavy traffic, you should always be thinking about where you can go if, say, a car moves into your lane suddenly, or starts to turn into you. Hopefully, you will rarely have to use your emergency escape tactics, but it is better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them!
If you are new to city cycling, take it slow. Don’t start off riding down main street at rush hour. Pick a quieter neighborhood, and work your way up. Make sure to always keep these tips in mind, and your city riding experience will be a safe, and perhaps even enjoyable one! Good luck!