It seems every time I turn on the computer I am reading another article about a pro triathlete recovering from a bicycle accident or crash. To all of those still forging a recovery from this setback, best of luck! To all of you who haven’t had a near-death experience on the bike, I am here to say that it’s only a matter of time until Miss Fortune sends trouble your way.
Here are some macro level tips on how to make riding a bit safer as you train for your next event. Note: Part Two of this series will look at specific actionable things you can do to improve your safety.
Everyone For Themselves
It’s true, everyone on the road whether they be on bike, foot, or traveling by car, has an agenda. They are trying to go some where to get something done. In today’s cell phone society, chances are they are multitasking along the way: talking on the phone (in the car), texting on the phone (while walking) or even listening to podcasts (riding).
The more we do, the less we are able to actually focus on the actual task we are doing.
As a rider, you must understand that you are on your own. No one left their house today, got in their car, and said: I am really going to respect those cyclists today! Whether they do or don’t respect you, you can’t count on it. The car that yielded for you at the last intersection might be about to cut you off. There is no “mini-vans are worst than station wagon” type rules; any massive metal object sharing the road with you is not a friend; it is an opponent to be respected.
The Proximity Factor
Most accidents happen within a few miles of home, either on your way out or on the way back. This goes for all accidents, not just those on the bicycle. It could be because you are returning to a more urban area, or you are fatigued from / preoccupied with a workout.
Note that this maxim applies to your season as well: most bicycle accidents happen just before the next race. Maybe you are visualizing the event or maybe you are mentally rehearsing for the battle with the airlines about your bike. Whatever the reason, your guard is down and suddenly BAM you are on your back on the pavement.
Be aware of this potential and up your awareness game at these times. You aren’t safe until you are back at home, off the bike, recovery drink in hand.
Know Your Limits
Many accidents happen because you as a cyclist are out of your comfort zone. This doesn’t mean you are riding 65 mph, but that whatever the situation you are doing something you are either not good at or just doing like doing.
This means you are more jumpy and more likely to over-react. Instead of touching the brakes, you might slam them on and catapult yourself off the bike. Instead of being constantly vigilant re traffic, you might beat from a long ride and have your head down just trying to make it home.
In order to fix this problem, you need to address your limiters. Whenever possible this should be done in a safe place (i.e. not at rush hour or on the side of the biggest mountain you can find) and incremental stages.
Please note this limitations piece also applies to your equipment. Some bicycles weren’t meant to descend well (tri bikes) while others were never intended to be time trial machines. Maybe you have really old tires on your bike or some worn brake pads; regardless of your situation, having the right equipment in place, and up to spec, is a critical part of your cycling game.
Avoid Basic Dangers
Regardless of where you live, there will be dangers associated with riding your bicycle. These could range from traffic to weather, from daylight to specific routes, from road quality to specific times of day. The list is quite long, and the best way to deal with these problems is simply to avoid them in the first place.
If you know a particular road is bad, go elsewhere. If you know rush hour is a disaster on Rte 16, avoid that road at that time. If the weather is wet and cold, avoid riding outside opting instead for the trainer or postponing the workout until later in the week. Fitness aside, safety is our top priority as a safe, consistent athlete can beat a fitter yet less consistent trainer in almost every situation.
The Karma Factor
Perhaps most importantly, do your best to leave no riding “footprint” behind. This could range from something as simple as not littering to making sure you thank every driver who yields for you with a little wave. The more positive you can be, the more positivity will spread and ultimately come full circle to you. The negative alternative can easily transform something you love into a job and will suck all the fun our of your world of riding. Easy examples of road karma include:
- No littering
- Obeying traffic laws
- Yielding to cars when required
- A wave or kind word to passing cyclists
Note the converse of this karma law is also true: a large scale negative act can have significant downstream negative affects as well. In other words, the more positive and supportive you can be, the better the likelihood that your future interactions will also be positive.
All it takes is one simple generous act instead of picking the easier, perhaps negative alternative, and you can set an example for other riders and motorists alike.
Stay Tuned for Part Two of this series…