It’s Bike to Work Day or, depending on where you live, it will be soon. And yes, you, too, can ride to work safely if you follow this bit of advice.
1) Don’t ride too close to the curb.
Sounds a little counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Your plastic helmet may not seem like enough protection against the tons of steel that whiz past every few minutes. But consider: when you are walking in a crosswalk, you have even less protection. Even when you’re in a car on a freeway, a fellow driver can kill you in an instant by swerving into your lane.
In other words, the only thing that keeps you from getting hurt in traffic — on foot, on a bike, or in a car — is being seen by other motorists.
Take a look at this drawing from bicylesafe.com.
You’re probably used to riding in the “A” line in the picture, very close to the curb, because you’re worried about being hit from behind. But take a look at the car. When that driver is looking down the road for traffic, he’s not looking in the bike lane or the area closest to the curb; he’s looking in the middle of the lane, for other cars. The farther left you are (such as in “B”), the more likely the driver will see you.
Intersections are where most bike accidents happen. If you are next to the curb, a motorist turning left may cut in front of you as well.
And there are other reasons for riding away from the curb, as I learned recently in an excellent class by Bike East Bay (formerly the East Bay Bicycle Coalition).
If you are riding close to a line of parked cars, and someone opens a door into the lane, you could go flying. Motorists rarely think to look for a cyclist before opening a door, so it happens a lot.
If you hug the curb, motorists are also more likely to try to pass you on the left while staying in the same lane. Cyclists don’t actually get hit very often this way, but it is a risk.
This doesn’t mean you should always ride right down the middle of a lane. If the road is wide enough, you may still be well advised to keep to the right. But in most cases, you are best off riding the length of a car door from the cars on your right — even if it forces you out of a painted bike lane.
2. Be visible.
Put lights on your bike, back and front. Use them at dusk, not just at night. Put reflectors everywhere. Wear a reflective vest.
3. Signal your turns.
Better yet, catch the eye of any motorist who is crossing your path.
4. Maintain your bike and helmet.
Loose brakes, tires with low tread and other maintenance problems can make your bike difficult to control. Keeping your inner tubes inflated toward the upper range printed on the tire will reduce damage to the wheel and slow wear. But on rainy days, reduce the pressure to increase the tire’s grip on the road. Replace your old helmet (and wear the new one).
5. Don’t ride on the sidewalk.
The laws on this vary from one jurisdiction to another, but even where it’s legal, being on the sidewalk puts you into conflict with pedestrians — as well as vehicles when you cross driveways and intersections.
6. Avoid distraction.
Don’t listen to music players or phones or try to text while biking.
7. Avoid roads where vehicles are traveling very fast.
8. Obey traffic laws.
In most cases, the same laws apply to bicycles as to automobiles. As tempting as it may be to zip through a stop sign, you could lose something much more important than your momentum.