Friday, September 15, 2006

Bicycle Safety Techniques

How do you stay safe in traffic? I can't really tell you that. I can only tell you how I stay safe (or try to stay safe) in traffic.

  1. Obey the traffic laws

    Everybody says you should obey the laws, all the laws, which apply to cyclists. Count me as everybody plus one. When I follow the highway traffic act, it makes me possible to predict. Drivers know where to look for me, they can make a good guess as to where I'll go (and more importantly, where I won't go) in the next second.

    In the A&E TV reality series "Airline", the camera crews hung out at airports and taped (usually distressed or unruly) passengers. Once, they taped customers griping because the airline had held up a flight when a part didn't fit. I felt like shouting at the screen: you want to fly seven miles up, going five hundred knots, in an aluminum tube stressed to thousands of pounds per square inch, with a part that doesn't fit? Sometimes, I feel like asking fellow cyclists the same question: you ride on a public road, surrounded by two-ton battering rams going fifty feet every single second, and you don't want the drivers to know what they can expect you to do next?

  2. Stay Attuned to the Road

    I use every sense I have. I have normal hearing; it gives me an enormous advantage. I listen for traffic around me, and particularly behind me. The sound of an engine gives me a very good rough guide to the size of the vehicle behind me, and the driver's intentions. If I hear a Cummins diesel, I get ready for a truck; if I hear a car engine revving up, I make sure I give the driver every chance to safely pass me.

  3. Cycle and Signal, in That Order

    I try to ride my bicycle first. I always make it my first priority to stay upright and in control; whatever the situation, I know I won't improve my situation by collapsing in a helpless tangle in the middle of the road. Second, I try to make sure I signal my intentions. Signals come second; a driver can't respond to what I intend to do if I don't control the bike.

  4. Stay Ahead of the Bike

    I try to keep my mind the appropriate range of distances ahead of my bicycle. In some cases, such as dense traffic on a straight street ride, that means keeping most of my attention on the cars right in front of me. Coming up on a turn or a lane change, I try to look out for the state of the traffic in the other lane or the intersection in mind. I try to stay aware of gaps in the traffic, and how long I can expect them to last.

  5. Behave in a Polite But Firm Manner

    I have the same right to use the road, according to the law, as transit vehicles, cars, trucks, and pedestrians. To the greatest extent possible, I ensure people notice me. I stay far enough from the curb to avoid hazards. I allow cars go by me when I can, and I take lanes when I need to. I have a right to operate my bicycle safely and according to law.

  6. Keep Your Bike Well Maintained

    When I take my bike into an intersection, I really want to know (not just hope) that my chain won't jam, that my gears won't slip and I won't go over the handlebars, and I can concentrate on the job at hand: negotiating the cars, pedestrians and streetcar tracks. I keep my bicycle maintained. If I ever balk at the cost of two professional tuneups a year, thinking about what an accident would cost cures me of that.

  7. Wear the Gear

    When I first contemplated a bicycle helmet, I asked myself whether I considered my brain worth $25. Right, a bicycle helmet won't protect you from everything. It certainly won't replace all the other safety techniques I try to practise. I still wear one anyway. Better a helmet than a head injury.

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