Visibility, Location and Preparation Keys to a Safe Ride
Biking is big in America. According to the League of American Bicyclists, there are more than 57 million cyclists out there at any given time rolling across our nation’s roads and trails. Transportation studies also show that bike trips tripled in the U.S. between 1977 and 2009. And while deaths among bicyclists younger than 20 actually dropped by 87 percent during that time period, fatal accidents increased 167 percent for men 20 and older. “Adult cyclists are far more likely to ride on busy streets than children,” said James Green, a nationally known engineer who has reconstructed hundreds of adult bike accidents, “and bikers always lose in a collision with a motor vehicle.”
Lack of Visibility Puts Bikers at Serious Risk
I just didn’t see ’em! is the phrase Green hears most often when talking to drivers involved in an accident with a biker. The lesson: Always assume motorists can’t see you and try to be as visible as possible. Start by wearing bright neon or fluorescent clothing, and look for reflective materials you can add to jackets, wristbands and patches for your back, legs and arms, and helmet. Head and taillights are required for riding at night in many states, and make sure you have reflectors on both the front and back of your bike.
Avoid Heavy Traffic Whenever Possible
Yes, bicyclists in most instances have the same right to the road as vehicles. “But if semis are zipping by at arm’s length, it doesn’t make any sense to get hit just to make a point,” said Green. Take time to look for safe routes with designated bike lanes, trails or other lightly used roadways. And if you must share the road with motor vehicles, it may be safer to “take” the lane by riding in the middle rather than “sharing” the lane with a vehicle. “Riding close to the curb doesn’t give you any room to maneuver,” Green added, “and drivers aren’t used to looking there.”
Prepare for Safer Biking
Safe biking starts long before you hit the road. Whether a beginner or experienced rider, consider taking a Smart Cycling class and brush up on the latest in bike safety. Here are six Rules of the Road from the League of American Bicyclists that will help prepare you for a safe and fun biking experience:
1. Follow the Law – You have the same rights and duties as drivers. Obey traffic signals and stop signs. Always ride with traffic in the rightmost lane headed in the direction you are going.
2. Be Predictable – Make your intentions clear to motorists and other bikers. Use signals and check behind you before changing lanes.
3. Be Conspicuous – See above for tips on clothing and lighting. Make eye contact with drivers, and don’t ride on sidewalks where drivers don’t expect to see you.
4. Think Ahead – Bike defensively by anticipating what drivers, pedestrians and other bicyclists might do next. Be especially careful to ride outside the door zone of parked cars. And keep a sharp eye out for debris, potholes and other hazards in the road surface.
5. Ride Ready WITH a Helmet – “Think of dropping a melon on the floor from shoulder height. That’s what happens to your head in a bike accident if you are not wearing a helmet,” says Green. Also make sure your tires are fully inflated, your brakes are working, your chain is running smoothly and your quick release levers are closed.
6. Keep Your Cool – Road rage isn’t going to go well for a biker. Stay cool. For more details, visit the League’s Ride Better resource page here. Or download this guide to bicycle safety for adults from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.