There are at least six important things you can do on your bike to decrease the chances, however small, of having a collision. The first of these is making visibility a top priority. Vehicle drivers are cruising down the road, thinking about a dozen different things besides watching for you. They’re tapping in time to their headphone or radio music, eating their take-out food, texting or calling someone, talking to fellow passengers, or deciding whether or not to swing by their favorite store. All those things mean that cyclists need to stand out to be seen by drivers.
1. Wear Cycling Gear and Equipment that Make You More Visible
How do we make that happen? By wearing high visibility clothing from head to toe. From helmets to jerseys to leg and ankle gear, the color needs to be very bright—preferably fluorescent, which is two to three times more visible than regular colors. I ride with a fluorescent yellow helmet and jersey, equipment I find to be essential. But that isn’t enough. We also need high visibility on our legs and ankles. When a driver sees the motion of your turning pedals it’s called “bio motion” and triples the chances of a driver realizing that an adult or a kid is riding a bike in the immediate area and making sure not to get too close.
The other component of visibility is lights. We all know that at night we need to use a bright white flashing light on the front of the bike and a red flashing light at the back. It’s the law. But these lights are also strongly recommended during daytime riding because they increase the odds of being seen by drivers. There’s a wide variety of visibility products out there, including bike flags. Some of them are better than others. So be conscious about increasing your safety factor by using lights as part of your standard equipment. Make sure the light you use is bright!
2. Choose the Safest Lane Position
The second tip about avoiding a collision is lane position. If there’s a bike lane, we’re obligated in Florida to ride in that lane. But I preface that by saying every cyclist has the responsibility of making the decision about his or her place on the road, the one that’s safest at the time and under current conditions. Since the majority of our state’s roads are substandard (less than fourteen feet wide), cyclists have the right to “take the lane” and ride either in the position of a vehicle’s right or left tire position.
I tend to ride toward the right but closer to the center of such roads. The website CyclingSavvy.com has some great informational videos on this subject. When you take the lane, you’re alerting vehicles that they need to go around you, not squeeze by in some potentially dangerous maneuver involving oncoming traffic. So the closer you move into the center and even to the left, you’re actually giving drivers the opportunity of seeing you more quickly and moving into the adjacent lane or slowing down until it’s safe to pass you.
Even on a busy boulevard here in Pinellas County, I ride in the bike lane but make a point of riding close to the outer edge of the bike lane where it intersects the vehicle lane. That way, cars give me much greater width and often move into the opposite lane. If I ride in the center of the bike lane, cars will come alongside me all the time. So by moving out, even within the confines of a bike lane, it creates more of a signal that I need space.
3. Use Hand Signals
My third recommendation about cycling safety is to signal every move. This practice is mandatory when group riding but needs to be done when riding alone or with a partner. I’m very demonstrative when I ride and will point to the position where I’m going and let the driver know I’m heading there. The key thing is to be predictable, clear, and timely in your signaling.
4. Avoid Arterial Roads
A fourth thing to keep in mind, whenever possible, is to avoid arterial roads that move a high volume of traffic generally through commercial areas. They tend to be multi-lane and have higher speed limits as well (above 35 and up to 45 mph). And we all know that speed raises the chance of serious injury in a collision. Arterial roads may even have a bike lane, but there’s still the potential danger of increased contact points between you and a driver because these routes are lined with commercial centers and places for cars to turn in or drivers to pull out. Better to take alternative, safer roads to where you’re going.
5. Never Assume Drivers See You
Here’s a fifth piece of advice: never assume that a driver sees you when you’re on your bike. We encounter examples all the time of riders thinking a car is stopping for him or her but the driver doesn’t follow through. When I ride and a car pulls up to a side street, I make sure the driver sees me and knows to stop. If they’re not slowing down, I am slowing down as a kind of signal. When they do stop, I watch the hubcap of the front wheel because it’s easier to see it moving than to see if the entire car is accelerating. Always assume you need to communicate clearly what you’re doing vis-à-vis drivers near you. I’ve even been known to point at them to ask: do you see me?
6. Use a Bicycle Mirror
The sixth and last item to heighten riding safety is the use of a mirror on your bike. Even though, statistically speaking, being hit from behind is the least likely way of getting hurt, it’s still important to know what’s coming at you from the rear. You don’t need to look at the mirror constantly, only frequently. A mirror also helps in the situation where a motor home, bus, or commercial vehicle passes you suddenly on the left without a lot of space in between. That situation can be really disconcerting and possibly make you lose control of your bike. Avoid it by having and using a mirror as part of your standard equipment.
So there you have it: six preventive steps to minimize the chance of a bike collision and maximize your cycling enjoyment.