Today we live in an age of automobiles. Our cities are designed to be driven in, not biked in. There are some bike paths, but for the most part, to get from one place to another, we need to take the same streets people take with their cars. So if we don't have much of a choice with the routes we take, then we should definitely be very smart when it comes to riding in the streets. Here are some tips I came up with from my experiences with riding my road bike in the streets of Los Angeles, CA.
- Always wear your helmet. I am somewhat of a hipocrite when I tell you this because I wear my helmet about 50% of the time when I ride my road bike. I ride very cautiously, and always do the safe and smart thing when I meet a car in the streets. In any situation, however, a helmet could defintely save your life. Get a solid bicycle helmet at your local bike shop or from us online, and sinch it down really well. In the worst case scenario, it will be your helmet that breaks, and not your head.
- Be cautious. People in cars often don't look to their right when they come up to an intersection. They look to their left. When you come up to any intersection, first attempt to get the drivers attention by looking at their eyes. If they aren't looking directly at you, then they don't see you. When you ride, act like you are invisible. If you aren't sure if a driver can see you, or not, then wave your arms, yell, shine a light in their eyes, or whatever it takes to make sure you have their attention before you cross in front of them. I've seen too many times when cyclists are riding on the left sidewalk, and go to cross a street when a car drives up to make a right. Without thinking, the driver does a rolling stop, looking left for oncoming traffic, and hits the cyclist who crossed the street assuming the driver would stop for them. Don't let that be you!
- Use lights and reflectors at night. Its well known that drivers aren't really looking for cyclists in the first place, so what makes you think that they'll see you at all in the night time. In California, and other states, its even illegal to ride at night without a front and rear flashing light. This is for your safety! So go to your local shop to get a pair of front and rear flashers, or get them from us online. The best place to wear a light is on your head or helmet. This way when crossing in front of a car you can shine the light right at their face to make sure they notice you. Another tip is to wear bright clothing at night. Sometimes you may want to ride in dark, or semi-dark clothing, and thats fine, but in that case make sure you have ankle reflectors, back reflectors and put some reflectors on your helmet. You can never be too safe when riding at night.
- Use the bike lane. There are enough cyclists these days to warranty the city to paint small lanes in the streets specifically for cyclists to use. These bike lanes are wonderful ways to gain a little buffer between the cars driving, the cars parked, and the wonderful day you're having riding your bicycle. Be sure to use these lanes! Ride on the sidewalk only if you have to, or if there are no lanes and you don't feel safe riding in the street. Otherwise, a bike lane, or separated bike path are the best options for cyclists to use because it minimizes the possibility of a collision with a car. Also, never ride on the wrong side of the street. If you have to ride on the sidewalk, be extra careful of the cars that are pulling out of streets, driveways or other unmarked intersections.
- Have confidence. The law states that when riding in the streets, cyclists should always stay to the very right of the road. This is great advice, most of the time. The only problem with this is parked cars. You cant stay all of the way to the right of a street with a bunch of parked cars on them or you would simply run into them. So cyclists have two choices, ride in the street with cars, or ride on the sidewalk. Most people will decide to ride on the sidewalk because its separated from the street and much safer. Unfortunately, the sidewalk isn't always the best option. There could be lots of people walking on any given sidewalk, or it could be completely messed up making it very difficult and uncomfortable to bike on, or there could simply be no sidewalk at all. So what should you do when the best option seems to ride in the same lane as cars drive in? Stay to the far right of that lane in the perfect position so that you would avoid anybody who opened their car door right away and didn't notice you riding. You have a much greater chance of getting hit by somebody who opens their car door and doesn't see you than getting hit by somebody who is driving and sees you from a far distance before they attempt to pass you safely. To do this you need confidence. You also need to be riding fairly quickly, faster than 15mph.
Depending on who you are, you will do whatever you want to do. My advice is to always air on the safe side, or else be smart and be confident. It's when you are in between safe and confident that you get in trouble. Don't be afraid to take the lane, but be nice and only take your portion of it. Cars should give you at least 3 feet of space when they pass, and 90% of cars will. There are rude drivers out there that will not hesitate to cut you off and whizz by you inches away from your handlebars, and thats why you must remain calm and stay confident. Good luck out there, and remember all the good you're doing for yourself, your community and the world when you ride your road bike.
If you can spare 20 minutes, watch this great informative video created by the league for american bicyclists about how to ride safe, smart and confident.
If you'd like to see our selection of safety accessories for your bike, you can click here.