Traffic is a fact of city life. If you are lucky you might live in an area with a lot of cycling or pedestrian-only trails, but for most of us, we ride with cars. Most roads were simply not designed with the bicyclist in mind. In fact, when the United States Secretary of the Interior suggested that future transportation plans should include consideration of cycling, a national transportation organization publicly criticized even thinking about cycling as a transportation option.
This is in contrast to other areas of the world, where cycling is a vital aspect of transportation. In addition to cities famous for cycling, such as Taipei, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen, Trondheim in Norway has gone to extra lengths to promote cycling. The hill Brubakken is notoriously steep, so this university town installed a very simple bicycle elevator, which operates like a ski lift, letting a cyclist place her foot in a stirrup and get pulled uphill.
Learning to safely and effectively ride your bike in traffic involves learning to share the road that wasn't designed for cycling with other users like car drivers, motorcyclists and pedestrians who often are unaware that you have a legal right to share the common resource with them.
Stay off the sidewalk. While you might be tempted to ride on the sidewalk, the proper place to ride a bike is in the street. Sidewalks are filled with pedestrians, dogs, children, and other obstacles that dart about unpredictably and are seldom on the lookout for a vehicle as heavy and fast as a bicycle. It is a danger to everyone for you to ride on the sidewalk. While it's common to ride the last 15 feet of your trip on the sidewalk from the road to your door, or wherever you might lock your bike, I have had enough near misses with toddlers in my neighborhood that I generally walk my bike to the street.
Use signals when turning. Be sure to signal to drivers when you go to make a right or left turn, especially when you need to cross in front of a tailing car. Hand signals are very easy to do, either stick your left arm out to signal for a left turn, or stick your right arm out to signal to go right.
Be seen. Wear bright, reflective clothing and buy some front and rear flashing lights for your bike. The last thing you want to happen is to be rear ended or side-swiped by a car driver who simply didn't see you. The best way to alleviate this is to get some really bright lights for your bike, and the other way to ensure they see you even in the day time is to wear bright reflective clothing when you ride. When you do both, you greatly decrease your chances of getting into an accident.
Wear your helmet. You should always be wearing your helmet when you ride your bike. In the streets its just all that much more important. When you are riding fast, and have vehicles that are 10 times your body weight or more going right next to you, you have a very high risk of getting into an accident. A helmet could mean the difference between permanent brain damage, death, or surviving an accident with your cranium intact.
Look ahead. Being aware of what's going on around you at all times is essential to safe road bike riding. Be sure to always check your peripherals for unseen cars, and other people. Tucking your head to quickly glance behind you is a smart way to do a rear check because it's easier to reorient yourself when you look back forward.
Stay safe out there. Just because you're a lucky person and haven't gotten into a bike accident yet, doesn't mean it will never happen. Take the proper precautions, be prepared and be safe. Most important of all is make sure to have fun and enjoy riding your bicycle. See you in the streets!
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