products books and linksHow To and DIY guides and articles

Bicycle Safety: Road Hazards, Accident Prevention and Risk Mitigation
(part 6)

Previous: Part 5 | Next: Part 7

2. Safe Riding Tips and Techniques When You're On the Road:

Do Not Ride in Bad Weather: If you get caught in a storm, pull off the road and seek shelter.

Going Uphill and Downhill:

Uphill: Commuting and touring bikes are heavier, especially with payload. Long up-grade ascents can be exhausting so it may be necessary to walk the bike for a period of time. Get off the road and onto the sidewalk or as far right as possible on the shoulder (if you're walking with your bike on the shoulder, walk with the bike on the left side to keep yourself as far from moving traffic as possible). Turn on your rear safety lights and use pulse mode. Remember: Other than designated highways, freeways and other high-speed roads, pedestrians have the same rights on streets and roads as bikes, cars, farm equipment and horse-and-buggy. Just make sure you're visible.

Downhill: Go slow, especially with a heavy, payload-carrying commuter or touring bike. "Ride the brakes" (i.e. use them continuously -- don't worry if they start to squeak). Look at your speedometer and hold a constant, slow speed -- do not accelerate. top of page

Look Ahead: While riding, look out ahead at least 20 to 30 feet, and plan. Also scan the road surface immediately ahead of you and be aware of potholes and debris. If you're riding at night, use your headlight.

Stop Safely: Learn to "gauge" safe stopping distances for your bike. Remember: safe stopping distances will vary based on several factors. See Brakes above.

Ride Defensively: Although each motor vehicle driver has supposedly studied the State handbook and passed an exam which clearly mandates that bicycles and motor vehicles must share the road, don't expect him/her to remember (or oblige) this fact. The tolerance for bicyclists on the road varies from one place to another. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about traveling through a particular location, choose an alternate route.

Don't Get Doored! If the road you're traveling on allows street-side parking, look for people getting out of their automobiles.

Watch Your Back: Look in your rear-view mirror regularly, especially during heavy traffic.

Be Discernible/Conspicuous : Wear contrasting articles of clothing when out on the road. Use your lights when it's dark, cloudy, or when you will be going in and out of shadows (such as on mountain roads, downtown streets or under bridges and overpasses).

If you are riding in hilly or mountainous areas and come upon a sharp right-hand bend (turn), look behind you (use your rear-view mirror) and make sure the traffic in the back can see you. Do not "hug the shoulder" in this situation because your are moving into a potential blind spot. If possible, move into the center of the lane, even if it's a single-lane road.

Be Informative: Use of hand signals when turning or stopping. Establish eye contact. If a motorist, biker or pedestrian yields to you, thank him/her with a friendly nod or wave.

Be Predictable: Don't allow others to second-guess your intentions: Ride straight and steady using the right-hand lane. Don't weave, and don't dodge or squeeze through traffic, even if you have clearance (or there is a traffic jam). If you are about to make a turn, make sure you are clear on all sides before changing direction -- the rear-view mirror is especially useful here.

Keep Your Cool: If a motorist cuts you off raise your arm to let them know what they did. Or (my strategy) shake your head in disapproval to let the other motorists know how you feel. Chances are, they will catch up with him/her and -- perhaps -- throw a few dirty looks. Never swear or use the middle finger. You may just push a potential road-rager over the edge.

Be Courteous (or: "Do onto others as you would wish them do onto you"): Once in while, yield to others, even if you it's your turn to go. If a motorist, biker or pedestrian yields to you, thank him/her with a friendly nod or wave.

Be Realistic: Bicycles are prohibited on most highways and freeways as well as interstates and toll roads. Before going on long trips or tours, do some research and make sure all roads you are planning to take allow bikes. State Motor Vehicle web sites are excellent resources for this information.

Although you have the same rights on most streets and roads as motorists, sometimes (or under certain conditions), you must get off the road for your own safety. Fog, rain, snow coupled with extremely busy and/or fast-moving traffic is an example. Get off the road and onto the sidewalk and walk with your bike until the situation improves.

Obey the Law: This includes most traffic signs and and all traffic lights. If you hear and see an emergency-vehicle coming, slowly pull over to the right hand curb and wait for it to pass. Also, remember: Unless there is a specific "No Ped Xing" sign at an intersection, pedestrians almost always rule (i.e. have the right of way) even if you have the green light.

Fix It! If you notice loose hardware or have other mechanical problems affecting the safe operation of your bike, pull off the road and fix it immediately if possible. If you can't fix it, consider walking the bike to a place where you can get the right parts and/or tools -- or look for a bike mechanic qualified to make the repair.

The best strategy for making emergency repairs (or any repairs, for that matter) is to...

  • Educate yourself in basic repair techniques, then practice them (see the References and Resources page for book and online resources)
  • Acquire some basic "tools of the trade" (see below)

You should carry at least the following repair tools with you whenever you take your bike on the road:

  • Tube Patch Kit
  • Tire Levers
  • Mini Air Pump
  • Mini-MultiTool, specially made for bikes
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Flashlight (preferably, one you can mount to your head so you can work with both hands)

Bicycle Emergency Toolkit
Above: A basic on-the-road tool kit for bicycle emergencies. Clockwise from left, it contains: Mini air pump, head-mountable LED flashlight, Swiss Army knife, tube patch kit, tire levers (in red holder) and a dedicated bike Mini-MultiTool (the one in this picture is a Topeak Alien II sitting next to its black pouch).

3. Safe Riding Techniques On a Dedicated Bike Lane or Recreation Path

Our communities needs more bike lanes and recreation paths. If your city or community has them, tell your City Council or Public Works department how much you appreciate them...and that you want to see more! If your community does not have bike lanes or paths, be sure to voice your opinion to City Council.

Street-side bike lanes are very useful. Please remember that many cities, such as Los Angeles, may allow vehicles to be parked in bike lanes in certain areas. Also note that an automobile may enter a bike lane in order to make a turn. In Los Angeles, the motorist must give bicyclists at least 200 feet of clearance before entering a bike lane.

On dedicated bike or recreation paths look out for children, pets and stopped "traffic". If you need to pass a fellow bicyclist or warn a pedestrian, be vocal or use a bike bell. On Southern California paths, a biker who wants to pass often states "On Your Left!" top of page

4. Some Personal Observations

After having ridden in busy LA traffic for over six months, I have noticed something very encouraging: the respect of virtually 99% of motorists in my company. In fact, I will even say that California motorists respect me and my bicycle more than they do each other: they will impatiently honk at a fellow motorist in front of them who is not moving "fast enough" yet, almost invariably, they will give me clearance, or wait behind me until they can use the passing lane.

Perhaps it's the "non-aggressive" and totally-serious appearance of a commuter bike. Perhaps it's the riding technique: non-aggressive, not darting/weaving and strictly complying to all traffic signals -- and most importantly -- respecting other motorists. Perhaps it's all the safety gear I use: If you demonstrate a respect for your own personal safety, others will respect you.

As a serious commuter, don't be surprised if people start approaching you with questions. "Serious bikes" are not that common, especially in the US, so people are naturally inquisitive. This is an opportunity to promote bicycling as a realistic, alternative form of transportation. Do not speak negatively (such as about other motorists); do not sound rebellious. Do point out how much money and time you're saving by not having to gas up. Do mention the environmental benefits of bike commuting. ( A biker once made the following comment: "I have children. And I want them inherit a world with less pollution and less traffic congestion. Bicycling is one step towards that goal.") Do point out the fitness aspects of biking. Do tell of all the gorgeous bike paths you've been on. And, of course, don't forget to mention all the fun you're having!

Finally, this encouraging note: Not only will people ask you a lot of questions, many will go out of their way to thank or compliment you for using a bike with safety gear -- and riding it safely. top of page

Guide to Bicycle Safety: [Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7]

Top of Page Prev: Part 5 Next:

Part 7