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Keep Yourself and Others Safe: Bike Safety Tips You Need to Know

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Anyone who has ever cycled with any amount of mileage will recall the close calls they had with motorists. I can recall many close encounters with motorists over the years. Two more were added last summer to my list.

Recently, I was stopped at the stoplight along with several other cars. The light for me turned green and the cars in front of me (in the same direction) started to move. I began to clip-in, and then roll. Then I heard the horns. I heard horns as a car came from my left to my side, and through the intersection. It blew its red light for about 4-5 seconds. Not even close.

All the cars driving in the same direction had slammed their brakes. There is a good possibility that I would have been there when the inattentive driver drove through the intersection if it wasn’t for the horn. It was likely going 25 mph so it would have been an accident with injury or worse.

It made me think about what a cyclist can do in order to avoid an accident, especially when riding a roadbike. There are three to four “rules” that can be followed to avoid a lot of bike-car accidents. All this assumes you already know the basics: wearing a helmet, obeying traffic laws, riding safely on roads and being visible.

Rule 1: Avoid being aggressive at intersections

HTML5_ Most collisions between cars and bikes occur at intersections

Many websites offer diagrams of bike accidents and statistics about bike-car collisions. One thing is clear when you look at the 10-12 most frequent types of accidents: Intersections are dangerous. Even if you are allowed to fly through them, treat them as danger zones.

If the cars are unable to see you, they will stop at red lights or stop signs.

If a motorist approaches an intersection and signals that they intend to turn left, assume they will cut you off.

Statistics show that bike-car collisions are more common at intersections in urban areas. A cyclist who is trying to improve their ride’s favorite section by setting a PR will increase the chances of a collision.

A cyclist should take a moment to stop at every major intersection and give themselves a break. You can slow down or even stop completely and unclip. After taking a sip of water, take a look around at the situation. Choose a calm moment before you proceed to a busy intersection.

Give it a few seconds before the light changes from red to green. This will ensure that every red-light runner has had an opportunity to clear.

It is very dangerous to cross intersections. Many drivers feel pressured to turn on a light or thread the needle between two moving vehicles. This makes them a sitting duck. Slow down, relax, and don’t worry about your average speed. Each intersection should be treated as if it is a situation where you’ll need to apply the brakes at any moment.

Rule 2: Don’t ride in the evening rush or at night.

It is evident that accidents occur between 4 and 9 p.m. It is clear that accidents are most common between 4 and 9 pm.

Bike commuters might find it difficult to avoid traffic jams in the afternoon. If that is the case, you might need to look for trails, bike lanes or safe shoulders to spend your commute. You are at greater risk due to the increased number of cars on the roads and the rush of many drivers.

You can also choose to bike commute if you don’t have the time. Consider using an indoor trainer if you have to do your workout after 8pm or later, or riding on trails with a headlamp instead of riding on the road or shoulder.

Remember that your ride will end later in the day than it was when you started it. You might be able to squeeze in a 30-miler at 7pm but it will not finish until 8:45pm when it is officially dark, making it less safe.

Rule #3: Use Cycling Safety Lights

In recent years, daytime running lights have become more popular for bicycles. Although there is much debate within the cycling community about whether these lights are legal or necessary, they do seem to be of safety benefit. I know that I notice flashing lights on my shoulder as a driver more than I do on the road.

Although I’d love to see more research on the subject, Complete Tri might commission one. There have been promising studies. A Danish study showed that bright flashing running lights could reduce daytime bike accidents by up to 20% to 30%.

Clemson University also found that flashing tail lights were more visible from 200 metres away than always-on tail lights.

We wrote an entire article on bicycle safety lights, with a list of our favorite.

What’s the debate within the cycling community? Some argue that the lights make it more difficult for cars to gauge your speed and distance. They send a confusing motion signal to the car driver. This may be true, but flashing lights can create an abrupt, strobe-like image.

Trails are a particular nuisance. While you are enjoying the peace and beauty of nature, you can see 1,600 lumens from another cyclist for 45 seconds.

We think that the lights are still a good idea for road riders. Turn them off while on the trails.

Rule #4: Lighten the shoes

This is a fascinating finding that I find more logical the more I think about.

The visibility of florescent colours on the legs and feet of cyclists was three times greater than that of those wearing florescent jersey . This is according to Rick Tyrrell’s research at Clemson University.

They are implying that, while you can have the bright, loud, neon jersey or helmet or the in-your face reflective cycling gloves, your footwear or legwear is the most visible. Why? Because your feet are always in motion.

The pedaling motion is a natural and visible attention graber. You only need something that is a little more likely than the others to grab the attention of passing motorists. A small change can make all the differences. A great option is an ankle light, but some cyclists might prefer florescent yellow leggings. It’s a small price for being 3x more visible.

We like these products:

  • Garneau Conti Socks with the bright florescent Yellow option.
  • LED ankle lamp and arm band light for added safety, if required.
    Available on Amazon.

You can do more than just these four things. Be gentle on downhills and be aware of unexpected, poor road surfaces. Keep your group in control when riding together. The list could go on.

However, I prefer to stratify — use the 80/20 rule in everything I do. Based on my research over the past two years, I believe that riding at night or in darkness can make it more likely for you to get into an accident. Wear bright leggings and flashing lights on the roads. While you can’t eliminate the possibility of it happening (my disclaimer), why not try to minimize that risk?