Safety By The Numbers

Life changes, and sometimes you find out you’re just along for the ride. Three years ago, just as I was turning my life around, I ended up in the hospital with a shattered femur. I had been the victim of a red light runner, and let’s just say mid-sized cars aren’t very forgiving when they plow into you at 35MPH. Even though it wasn’t my fault, it still might have been avoided.

But I’m not telling you this to scare you away from riding your bike. There’s a lot of lessons I learned, and I still 100% believe that cycling is the key to a happy life for a lot of people. If nothing else, I want people to understand what I learned from it, and how I can still ride.

What did I learn from this radical change in my life? I’ve boiled it down to a few nuggets of wisdom… consider them learned the hard way. These rules have served me well over the years of thousands of highway commuting miles, and the more you practice them, the safer you’ll be.

  1. Be predictable – If you’re riding your bike, you’re doing more for your future than most people, and you’re probably having fun doing it. Don’t be afraid to ride. If you’re obeying the traffic rules, you’re not doing anything wrong. But don’t make sudden moves! You want to make it easy for drivers to avoid you.
  2. Be courteous – I always motion to cars when it’s safe to pass me. Most people are very thankful that you acknowledge them. It also fosters good will towards other cyclists. Every bit helps! Just smile and wave.
  3. Be visible – If you are sharing roads with cars, then there’s absolutely no question: do whatever you can to be visible. If something happens to you, the first thing they will ask the driver is “did you see them” and if you’re lit up like a UFO, then the only thing they can conclude is if they didn’t see you, they weren’t looking. It does help!
    (Bonus tip: The single visibility item I’ve gotten comments on more than anything else is reflective ankle bands! Something about that circular motions screams “bicycle” to a driver’s brain.)
  4. Be alert – This means always look twice. It means assume they don’t see you. It means pay attention to traffic around you, and the route you’re on. It means get enough rest so your judgement isn’t impaired. It means get a rear view mirror and use it. It seems like a lot, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not difficult at all.
  5. Handle Your Bike – If you ride big miles, you eventually learn bike handling skills, and this helps a lot. But if you’re a beginner, you may want to check out a Traffic Skills 101 class from the League of American Bicyclists. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and practice!

With all that being said, neglecting #4 is what got me in trouble. Even though I had a green light, I didn’t double-check the intersection to make sure nothing was coming. I was focused on getting to work on time, not watching for cars. I wasn’t rested enough, and I made a bad judgement call to go through an intersection without double-checking.

As cyclists, we condemn drivers for being inattentive (and rightfully so!) but we are just as capable of making the same mistakes. Take your time, spread some goodwill, use your brain, and keep on cycling! We should demand better infrastructure, yes, but as long as we share the roads with drivers, we must also work on making ourselves less of a target. Every bit helps!

About Jeff Hendricks

Jeff Hendricks is a professing geek, tech whiz, musician, father, and
bike commuter. He's currently a technical writer. A proponent of the
bike lifestyle. Prefers cheap and functional over new and shiny.

Comments

  1. Brendan Casey says:

    #4 – that crossed my mind just this very morning. The majority of my commute is on an old railway line but it splits to cross a busy road. Even at 7.50am it’s busy. Most mornings I get to the crossing and I have to wait, but this morning I had right of way, with pedestrians, etc. Not once did I check if anything was coming right or left as, stupidly after a long weekend of wine and nuts (!), I went straight across. Luckily, no muppets decided to break the law so I was OK, but I did shake my head to myself and make a mental note to NEVER do that again, as I rejoined the track.

    Great post, by the way.

    BC