A Dude hasn’t biked as far as he has, mostly here in Austin, Texas, and remained above ground without taking safe cycling seriously. Some people don’t do that, so they pay the price with injury or worse. Others do play by all the rules but drivers of cars don’t. The smart money is on doing everything you can to be “oh, oh, oh stayin’ alive” so you can “live to ride another day,” as Sam says. I know what I’m talking about because I am currently still alive after almost 30,000 verified Strava miles. I also took the League Cycling Instructors course (I’m short a few exercises of being a full-fledged LCI). Here are 10 tips off the top of my — what word for brain starts with t.
- Follow the law*. Most of the time, it’s there for a good reason. If you’re on a bicycle, you’re traffic. So behave as such. Stay as far right as possible that is safe. (It’s perfectly legal to take the lane when it doesn’t feel safe.) Don’t run red lights, but do signal when turning and yield when you don’t have the right of way. *Now, as for the asterisk. Sometimes there will be situations when it is not safe to follow the law. Like maybe you’re in downtown Austin where it’s illegal to bike on just a few sidewalks. But what do you do if the bike lane is blocked, there’s crazy rush hour traffic, and the safest option is the sidewalk? Well, duh. I don’t know about you, but I’ll break the law every time to stay alive. I’m not advocating you break it, though. You do you. (Note: Always yield to pedestrians.)
- Eliminate distractions. If you’re using headphones, a cell phone, a wireless music player that’s really loud, or simply not paying attention, you’re inviting disaster. Just don’t do it. All your attention should be on the task at hand.
- Bike defensively. Assuming you’ve had drivers education in high school, you should remember drive defensively. Biking is no different, in fact, it requires much more of this. Because you don’t have two tons of steel protecting you, you have to anticipate what car, truck, and bus drivers are going to do, but also what they MIGHT do. From crossing an intersection when it’s not their turn, to getting the sun in their eyes and not seeing you, it’s incumbent upon you, the cyclist, to be ready if things goes sideways. And believe me, they will.
- ABC: Always Be Checking. If you don’t have a rear-view mirror (I used to and may again), it makes you even more attentive. Master the skill of biking in a straight line while you look over your shoulder. Double and triple check all directions for potential incoming hazards. Use your ears to listen. If you can’t see a car, they probably can’t see you. I think of it like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator. He’s constantly scanning for Sarah Connor. (I’m always on the lookout for Linda Hamilton myself.) By the way, he (the actor) bikes.
- Watch out for weather and road hazards. Cold, heat, rain, wind — dress accordingly. The hourly weather forecast may save your life. Loose dogs, bike lanes with cracks or that disappear, potholes, glass and other debris — it’s all out there waiting to get you. Water and yelling usually work on dogs. If you see cracks, move over. Have good tires if you can and carry a reserve, pump and tools.
- Communicate with drivers. Hand signals, eye contact, pointing, waving, smiling, and sometimes yelling should all be tools in your metaphorical biking tool box. Use them all, generously. Why be stingy when you can make life easier?
- Be visible — especially at night. High-viz gear like reflective triangle I have on my backpack, light or brightly colored clothes and helmet, and a jacket with glow in the dark piping all increase your chances of survival. If you ride at night with no or poor lights, you’re either poo or an idiot, and in neither case can I help you. If you can, get some really bright whites for the front and red or blue for the back.
- Make sure you and your bike are in working order. If you’re too tired to pay attention, dehydrated, your chain keeps slipping off in the middle of intersections, or your brakes don’t work, you’re a-cruisin’ for a-bruisin’. Take a nap and get your gear tightened up. ABC Quick Check means Air, Brakes, Chain-Crank-Cassette, Quick Release, and Check your bike.
- Never, EVER ride against traffic. Just don’t do it. Cars aren’t expecting it, it’s illegal, and it’s the number one way to get deaded while bicycling, according to the League of American Bicyclists.
- When you are in a potential crash, know what to do. For a right hook, that’s a quick stop. For a left hook, that’s a quick turn. If you are following the above steps, you should be able to see it coming and slow down, get on a sidewalk, take evasive action, etc. For more, see videos, tips and diagrams on the LAB Smart Cycling page.
Well, that’s what I’ve got for now. What did I leave off? What else do you do? Chime in in the comments. Please be kind to cyclists. Thanks, y’all. And stay frosty out there.
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