Bodywork

Q:

How Can I Protect Myself When Cycling in Traffic?

Is it just me, or have there been a lot of bike accidents in the news lately? I know it’s impossible to steer clear of all possible dangers, but what are some ways I can stay safe while sharing the road with cars?

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    Photo: Abweber/Shutterstock

A:Earlier this month we shared the sad news that pro cyclist Burry Sanders was killed when his bike was hit by a taxi during a training ride in South Africa. Just a few days later, a commuter died in New York City when she and her bike were run over by a garbage truck. But while it may seem like cycling accidents are on the rise, they’ve actually fallen in recent years, says Carolyn Szczepanski, spokesperson for the League of American Bicyclists—even as cycling, as a whole, is on the rise. (In fact, a recent study from the U.K. found that cycling is as safe, and in some cases safer, than driving a car.)

It’s true, however, that accidents still happen. And although motorists play a large role in keeping the roads safe, there’s also a lot that cyclists can do to protect themselves, says Szczepanski. Before you take to the streets, make sure you’re following this basic advice.

1. BE PREDICTABLE: The most important thing you can do is to be fully aware of how your bike is going to function on the street. “Think of yourself as any other vehicle,” says Szczepanski. “Before you ride, make sure it’s in peak condition: your brakes work, your tires are aired up, everything is aligned properly.” Once you’re on the road, obey traffic laws: “People think that using hand signals or stopping at red lights aren't important, but it lets motorists know where you are and where you plan to go, and that you’re following the rules just like everyone else.”

2. BE VISIBLE: Wearing bright clothes and having light on the front and back of your bike are important, especially in darker conditions. So is being in the right position on the roadway. “If there’s no bike lane, you should be about where the right tire of a car would be,” says Szczepanski. “A lot of people get way over to the side of the road and rest their foot on the curb at intersections, but that makes cars less likely to see you—and could be dangerous if you’re going straight and they’re turning right.”

And it may sound obvious, but ride on the right (that’s the right) side of the road. “There’s this bizarre notion that riding against the flow of traffic is safer, but research shows that if a motorist is not expecting to see something (like a biker going the wrong way), he or she is actually much less likely to see it.”

3. BE CAUTIOUS: Don’t assume you’re automatically in the clear just because you’re following all the rules. Wear a helmet to protect your head from potential crashes. Keep a few feet of space between yourself and parked cars on the right (even in a bike lane) to avoid getting doored by drivers exiting their cars. Make eye contact with drivers when you’re turning or changing lanes, so you know they understand your intentions. And choose roads or lanes with less traffic whenever possible. 

Check out more safety tips from the League of American Bicyclists.

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