Riding a Bike on the Road – 6 Tips to Maximize Safety

Seriously? “But I gotta gooooo, can’t stop at a red light like every other human!” Everyday I ride my bike; everyday I see people running red lights and I can’t appreciate why. Bike safety while riding on the road is the most important part of your ride. Make sure you get home safely.

Riding on the Road? Don’t Run Red Lights

There is this big standoff between cyclists and drivers, both groups dislike each other, a lot. But at the end of the day, we all have to share the road. Part of that sharing is understanding a common rule of law for everyone to follow. This isn’t my idea, this is the basis of a social contract. A philosophical theory that we must give up individual rights for the benefit of society. In this case, we’ve all agreed to not cross an intersection when there is a red light. The main benefit of this is to ensure a steady flow of cars through the intersection, avoiding the buildup of traffic.

There is also a safety concern. When a driver sees a green light, they have a guarantee that they can pass freely through an intersection. Think about your average driver, do you think they are checking all around the intersection for cyclists who may be illegally crossing? Or are they busy doing a myriad of other things from checking their mirrors, to day dreaming, to texting. It’s so dumb to run red lights because when you go into a fight against a two ton car you don’t win. 

A couple of cowboys taking their life into their own hands. It’s not like they slipped through an intersection when there were no cars, these cars were actively turning into the same space as them.

Riding a Bike Safely Requires Maturity

It’s always less experienced riders who do it too. All of the old veterans of the sport have heard enough stories of cyclists get clobbered by cars that they choose to follow the rule of law. In the endless void of the internet, there is one video of a cyclist riding through New York City and a person in a taxi opens their door right in front of him and he ends up on the ground.

If you just clip those few seconds, the taxi seems out of place and at fault. If you watch the entire 15 minute video, the cyclist is riding like a jerk the whole time! Running red lights, passing cars on their sides, accelerating aggressively, he was asking for trouble and he got it. There are inherent risks associated with the sport, but some people choose to amplify the risk by making unsafe decisions. The biggest of these decisions is running red lights and playing Frogger with your life.

6 Tips for Riding Your Bike Safely

My recommendations for maximizing safety on the bike:

Assume Drivers on the Road Are Idiots

Some of you may already think drivers are idiots, but hear me out on this. Assume the driver will run the stop sign. Assume the driver won’t see you turning right. Assume that they are going to chop you off. You can only control yourself and preparing for the car in front of you to do something stupid is the biggest recommendation I can make. Please realize that the driver may not understand how fast you are riding or may not appreciate that they almost killed you. The best you can do in that situation is assume they are trying to get in your way and prepare yourself for the worst.

Go Bike to the Middle of Nowhere

Nobody likes riding around cars anyway. Pick a route that takes you away from the cars and into the countryside. A lot of cyclists in my area will even drive to the edge of the scenic roads just to avoid the urban and suburban fights with cars.

Be Willing to Ditch an Interval or Group Ride

Be willing to ditch an interval or group ride. Always slow down for stop signs and always stop at red lights, especially in the middle of intervals. You’re probably tired and the last thing you are ready to do is evaluate the safety of an intersection. I was in a large group ride one day where the leaders started running red lights. I dropped out of the back right away. A two ton cars still wins even if there are 20 cyclists. 

Always Try Riding Towards the Shoulder

But be assertive and preemptive when necessary. Keep to the side of the road and make it easy for cars to pass. If you give them space, they just go around you and you never see them again. At the same time, if you can see in the distance there is an obstacle or pot-hole, put your arm out and slowly drift into the lane. Be assertive and say “this is my lane now.” You have the legal right to assume the lane when necessary, at least in the US. Bicycles are seen as vehicles by the federal government. When you pass the obstacle, get back out of their way and let them pass. 

Don’t Take Risks on the Road

My old coach used to say: you should never crash in training. Yeah yeah, we all want a good training stimulus and to complete all of our intervals, but if you hit the deck and get a TBI or a broken collar bone, you’re gonna be missing a lot more intervals than the second half of your third VO2max interval. So just cool your jets and err on the side of caution every time. Risks are for races.

Always Wave on Your Bike

Waving is one of the most human gestures a cyclist can make. It reminds drivers that we are humans too, just out here to enjoy the road or to get to work/friends. It tells people that you aren’t a villain and brightens up the world. On top of that, waves don’t cost anything, just don’t crash because you lose your balance or something…

Riding a Bike Safely Requires Patience

So please, for the love of God, just wait at the red light like the rest of us. Your brains being smeared on the asphalt is not worth saving 3 minutes on your ride and of course nobody thinks their going to be the ones in the accident until they wake up in the emergency room. Let’s just chill out and get home safely. This article was written by the inspiration of a tweet that read something along the lines of “But why should cyclists have to stop at red lights??” Dude. Just wait 45 seconds and you can be on your way without increasing your chances of dying. Or get a good life insurance policy, although they’ll probably figure out a way to not payout to your family because you committed a crime.

Try Your Best While Riding

I get it though, I was on a narrow neighborhood road, you know, one of those that doesn’t even have a yellow line, preparing to pass another cyclists when a BMW honked at me from behind and the passenger shouted expletives in my ear. The car then sped up the road at 40mph. It’s such a shallow interaction. You don’t get to defend yourself or give your side of the story or say anything mean back at them. At the same time, just get on with your ride. Some people need something to be mad at and you are right there, an easy target. Don’t sweat the small stuff and have fun riding your bike. It’s tough to find the right balance here, but I’d encourage you to focus on what you can control. Go enjoy your bike, be safe, wave.

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