Share the Road: Tips to Stay Safe on Two Wheels
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein
I love to ride my bike. I remember loving the freedom my first 10-speed gave me as a kid. I’d find a tall hill, struggle up it, then turn around and feel like I was flying on the way down. In fact, cycling is one of my favorite activities. And I love to see others out riding on the road or one of our local paths. I applaud the bike commuters for their dedication, particularly in the summer or in the rain. Cycling is a great way to stay in shape, commute to work, or just get out and enjoy the city. But a certain level of responsibility comes with riding a bike — especially when we ride on the road. We’ve all heard stories of cyclists injured (or worse) on the road, and I often see cyclists riding their bikes in unsafe ways. Perhaps they just don’t know the laws and rules of the road, or perhaps they believe bike accidents only happen to other people. I also frequently see motorists not obeying the laws when it comes to cyclists on the road. I have even experienced motorists who truly seem to dislike the fact that there are cyclists sharing the road with them. I have been run off the road and had cars come within inches of me while I was riding. I have been yelled at by drivers to “get off the road” while I was obeying every law and riding in a safe manner. So let’s talk about the responsibilities of both the cyclist and the motorist so we can all share the road and help to avoid future accidents. If, as cyclists and as drivers, we all know and follow the laws and treat each other with respect as vehicles on the same road, many accidents can be avoided and lives can be saved. This responsibility lies with both the cyclist and the motorist.
First let’s talk about the laws. In nearly every state, a bicycle is a vehicle. This means that a cyclist riding on a road must obey all traffic laws and follow the rules of the road. Cyclists are required to ride in the same direction as the traffic, stop at all red lights and stop signs, signal when turning, and obey all other traffic patterns and laws. For the motorist, the law in Louisiana states that motorists must give cyclists no less than three feet of clearance when passing, whether the bicycle is in the bike lane or not. If your vehicle does not have enough space to pass the cyclist with at least three feet of clearance, slow down and wait until you have enough space to pass safely and legally. Now that we know the responsibilities of both cyclists and motorists, here are a few tips for cyclists to stay safe on the road and keep it rolling.
- Wear a properly fitted helmet. Helmets can prevent many head injuries and save lives. But simply wearing a helmet does not make it safe. The helmet must be snug, stable, and level. It should not move when you shake your head. Additionally, helmets must be replaced after a crash. Inspect your helmet regularly to ensure that it is not cracked, worn, or needs to be replaced.
- Obey all traffic laws. Ride in the direction of traffic. Come to a complete stop at all red lights and all stop signs. Do not pass cars on the right when approaching an intersection or a stoplight — they may not see you. Ride in the bike lane if it exists. Generally, it is unsafe (and illegal in many states) to ride on the sidewalk, and cyclists should never ride on the wrong side of the road or against traffic.
- Signal when turning. I remember learning bike safety and the proper hand signals when I was young. These days, I’m not certain everyone understands what those signals mean. Use the simplest and most obvious hand signals you can to alert motorists to your actions. If you are turning right, hold out your right arm. Turning left? Hold out your left arm. It is still important to look before turning, and make eye contact with the motorist if possible to ensure they see you and are aware of your intentions.
- Make your presence known. Wear bright colors and reflective gear. Have a white light on the front of your bike (a flashing light grabs the most attention) and a red light for the rear. There are several options these days for rear lights that include a camera, have “rearview radar” to sense oncoming cars from behind, have multiple flashing options, and/or respond to your braking action. One example I personally use is Cycliq’s Fly6 rear light camera.
- Be aware at all times. Do not get distracted by using your phone, texting, or listening to headphones. Be aware of moving cars around you, parked cars (from doors opening or backing out), potholes, sewer grates, gravel, etc. Be prepared in advance to react calmly and predictably to such obstacles without rapidly swerving into traffic.
- No swerving or weaving! Always ride predictably and consistently. Motorists cannot predict your actions if you weave through traffic, swerve in and out of the bike lane, or operate your bicycle in an erratic manner. Keep on a predictable and straight pattern, and signal when you need to make a change to your location or path.
- Join in the lane of traffic when it is necessary or when safety calls for making your presence known. Before approaching an intersection, it is a good idea to enter the middle of the lane to alert motorists of your presence and your intentions. Right-turning vehicles may not see you otherwise. Many accidents have occurred this way. Join the traffic and wait for the light in the line of cars. Cyclists have the right to use the full lane at any time. However, be courteous and ride to the right when space allows for a safe clearance.
- Check your “ABCs.” Before heading out on your bicycle, check your tires for (A)ir and fix or repair any issues with them. Check your (B)rakes to ensure they are in proper working condition. Next, check your (C)hain, (C)rank, and (C)assette for signs of wear, improperly working parts, or necessary repairs. Finally, ensure your quick-release levers on your wheels are securely closed.
Above all, be polite and share the road. Be courteous and pull over to let cars pass, if you are slowing the flow of traffic. Motorists will be much more willing to accept cyclists’ rightful place on the road if cyclists act lawfully and respectfully. And it may seem obvious, but avoid busy streets when possible. We can all help to prevent accidents by taking a few simple precautions and acting responsibly as we share the road.
Jennifer Novak is a Fitness and Nutrition Consultant, USA Triathlon Certified Coach, a USA Track and Field Coach, a USA Triathlon Certified Youth and Junior Coach, a Certified Performance Enhancement Specialist and Owner and Head Coach at Novak Sports Systems and Nth Degree Racing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504-723-2928.