Getting there safely

Before the seventeen year old inside of all of you collectively roll your eyes, just give me a chance. I want to talk about bike safety. More specifically commuting safety. Unlike mountain biking, commuting is mostly on the road, and unlike road biking it is mostly in densely populated areas. Roads are not always in the best shape, there is a lot going on, lots of cars, pedestrians, lights, corners, and the line (the path you intend to ride down) is not always clear. So I want to go through some suggestions on commuting safety, and hopefully get you to work or school in one piece.

First one is obvious and I need to get it out of the way. Wear a helmet. Here come the eye rolls. Wearing a helmet can reduce serious head injury by 70%. You never know what’s going to happen on the road, and sometimes when you crash, you didn’t even see it coming. So be prepared and wear the helmet just in case. If you do crash and you are wearing a helmet, they are only good for one whack. The foam that makes up a helmet is designed to crack and absorb the impact, so your skull doesn’t have to. If you have taken a spill on a bike, and think you might have hit your head, go to a bike shop, have them inspect the helmet and they will let you know if it’s still safe to use. Now that we got the big one out of the way, let’s go into some obscure bike safety tips.

The second one you might have heard before, and I’m just going to put some logic to it. Ride with traffic. I know that having a two ton metal machine sneak up on you can be terrifying, but trust me, it’s safer than the alternative. We will start with the math: Let’s say a cyclist is going north on some road at around 15mph (22 feet per second), and the car behind them is going 30 mph (44 feet per second) which is a bit fast for back roads, but sometimes people speed. If the car starts 100 feet behind the cyclist, it will take the car 4.5 seconds to reach the cyclist. That’s four and a half seconds to see the cyclist and react appropriately and if there was a collision, it would be at 15mph. However, if the cyclist is going against traffic, there is only 1.5 seconds before the car reaches the cyclist, and they are moving towards each other at 45mph, which would be devastating. Reaction time would be low, and consequences would be much higher, not to mention, most drivers while turning right and pulling out of a stop sign will be looking left, and not at any possible incoming cyclist, meaning if you are riding against traffic every single intersection becomes incredibly dangerous. If after all that you are still concerned about riding with traffic there are a few things you can do to put your mind at ease. A mirror can help. I find being able to see the car behind me allows me to gauge how close a car is and how fast it is approaching. Lights also help. Get a taillight, I recommend 80 lumens or higher; rule of thumb here is brighter is better. A headlight is also very helpful and also often overlooked. It allows cars at intersections to see you coming towards them, and 85% of bicycle accidents involving cars happen at intersections, and again; brighter is better, and most lights have a blink mode. Use it.

Now that we have established that we should be riding with traffic, let’s talk about how to ride with cars. If you are moving at the speed of the cars in traffic position yourself to the right side of the car with your front wheel overlapping the rear bumper just enough to see their tail lights. Being right next to the car is dangerous, because they can make a right turn (colloquially known as a right hook) into you. Occupying the space between cars is dangerous as well, sometimes cars coming from the other direction will turn left, and think the space between the cars where the cyclist is just empty space and a t-bone situation can occur. If you are behind a car and they turn on their right blinker, do not pass them on the right, even if they wave you on. If they come to a complete stop and they even make eye contact and waves you on, go around to the left or just dismount and wait for them to move. First the safe assumption is that none of the cars on the road see you, even if it seems like they do, and second, doing this promotes bad habits for drivers. The person who puts on their blinker to turn right, stops, and waves on a cyclist to pass them on the right thinks they are being courteous but they are putting cyclists everywhere in danger by promoting bad habits for cyclists. It's a vicious cycle best to nip it in the bud. Finally, passing an intersection, where you, the cyclist, has the right of way, if a car pulls up on the right to a stop sign, make eye contact, then look at their hub caps. Humans, like most animals, determine movement by lateral motion, much like a deer galloping, and because cars glide, it can sometimes make it difficult to judge movement or speed. Looking at the hubcap gives you a reference point to judge the stopped cars movement and allow you to anticipate the driver's next move. If you see the wheels move, slow down, or move out into the lane (if it is safe to do so) because that means they are pulling out into you.

This is obviously not a complete comprehensive study of bicycle commuting safety but hopefully it gives you some food for thought. If you have any questions about bicycle safety, commuting or otherwise, about helmet integrity, or what lights to put on your bike swing by the shop. Most of us commute on bike so you might say we’re experts on the subject. 

MICHAEL KERRMARCH 31, 2019


Bill Kerr