Real Advice: How To Ride Defensively
One of the largest hurdles people face when they are deciding whether or not to ride their bike to work is a lack of safety. Riding your 20-pound bicycle in a world of 2-ton SUV’s can indeed be dangerous. While a helmet is always a good idea, your most important safety device is hidden underneath it – your brain. Here are a couple of good things to think about while riding in traffic.
Choose A Safe Path
Most states have a law that states that when possible, a cyclist should stay to the farthest right side of the road. This does tend to be the safest place to be, especially when there’s a good shoulder on the road, but don’t be afraid to take over the lane if it’s unsafe for a car to pass. It may slow them down and make them angry, but it’s your life on the line, not theirs.
Whenever possible, choose a route that has fewer cars. When you’re deciding to commute for the first time, try driving the route with a mind to cycling. Does it seem like there is an adequate shoulder? Are there bike lanes available? Try riding the route on the weekend first when there may be less traffic just to make sure that you’re comfortable. Check out online forums or sites like mapmyride.com to see which roads are frequented by cyclists already. The road will probably be safer and motorists who frequent those road will be more used to seeing cyclists. (see our guide on bicycle commuting)
If you need to wear headphones to stave off the boredom of a repetitive commute, make sure you choose headphones that let in some peripheral noise, or try using just one ear bud so the other ear can listen for traffic. Choose an audiobook or something a little quieter to listen to and don’t turn the volume up too high. Being aware of cars as they come up on you can be one of your best defenses. Soon you’ll recognize the sound of a car that’s passing you but also slowing down (which could be a potential “right hook”) before you even see the car.
Don’t Ride Close To Parked Cars
Passengers don’t tend to look behind them before opening their doors into traffic. The best brakes in the world won’t save you from being “doored” but keeping your distance from parked cars can guarantee it.
If you’re riding anywhere near dusk, in fog, or in rainy conditions, use lights. The more the merrier and if you’re wondering if you should have lights or not, then you should have them. Consider mounting lights at multiple heights. If you have a blinky tail light on your seatpost, how about mounting one on your backpack or on the back of your helmet. Same goes for the headlight. Having a handlebar mounted light is very convenient, but having one on your helmet as well allows you to direct the light towards any drivers that may not be paying close attention. Consider a light with good head-on and peripheral visibility-- it's one of the best investments in your continued safe riding. (see our guide on choosing the right lights)
At the end of the day just remember that you’re the vulnerable one. Even if you know that you have the legal right of way, yield to motorists. If they’re driving erratically, get out of the way. They’re risking a dented bumper but you’re risking your life. Ride defensively and you can enjoy years of trouble-free bicycle riding near motorists.