May is National Bike Month, which means you’re likely to see a sharp uptick in the number of cyclists on the road. If you’re planning to take part in the festivities, it’s essential that you brush up on your best practices for city cycling safety. This is especially true if you aren’t an experienced rider, or if you’re planning to hit the road on two wheels for the first time in a while.
First, and most importantly, make sure you have the right safety gear. A sturdy helmet designed specifically for cycling is a must-have. If you’re going to be riding during the pre-dawn or post-dusk hours, you should also wear a brightly colored, reflective safety vest over your clothing. Yellow and orange are highly visible colors, and are recommended.
Cars are legally obligated to pass you at a safe distance, often at least 3 feet, but the unfortunate reality is that drivers don’t always adhere to that requirement. To make things safer for you, follow these tips:
- Be assertive without putting yourself at risk; don’t ride too close to the curb or parked cars, but don’t “boss your lane” unless it’s necessary for safety reasons
- Actively scan the road in all directions, and anticipate unfolding traffic situations before they happen
- Always ride defensively; motorists have tons of steel to protect them in the event of an accident, but you don’t
- Avoid boxing yourself in, and if you don’t have a clear escape route in a particular road situation, reduce your speed dramatically
- Be especially cautious around large vehicles – these drivers might have a more difficult time seeing you
City cycling safety experts also stress the importance of pre-planning your route. Take as many streets with dedicated or protected bike lanes as possible, and avoid major traffic corridors with high vehicle volumes to the greatest possible degree. If it’s possible to take a side street instead of a main road, do it.
Finally, always try to make eye contact with the drivers of turning vehicles as you approach them. This is the only way you can be sure that drivers have seen you. Also, to that end, don’t gamble on yellow lights. Turning drivers will be looking to clear the intersection before the light turns red, and you want to avoid entering the intersection after they’ve already committed to completing their turn.
Learn more about how to get the most out of National Bike Month!