IN MY PREVIOUS POST, I WROTE ABOUT A FEW WAYS to avoid crashes
as a new roadie. This post continues that theme. If you’re new to riding a road
bike, these tips will help you to keep the rubber side down.
Don’t trust bike lanes. Lots of new bike riders think bike
lanes are the solution to safe cycling. That’s seldom true. It’s obvious to me
that the people who designed bike lanes probably don’t ride much. In my town we
have bike lanes that conflict with adjacent traffic lanes, and bike lanes that
end without warning, dumping the unsuspecting cyclist amid three lanes of fast
Use bike lanes with caution. Watch out for surprise endings,
excessive trash like stones, sticks, glass, broken concrete, lane-wide grates
and motorists who completely disregard the lanes.
Don’t ride with headphones or earbuds. When you’re riding on
the road, it’s safer if you can hear what’s going on around you. Plugging both
ears with loud music, or media of any kind is dangerous, and illegal in many
states. If you want to listen to music use just one earbud so your other ear is
available for ambient warning signals.
Know what sharrows mean. I like sharrows better than bike
lanes, because they are intended to communicate with both cyclists and
Sharrows position bike riders in the lane and alert motorists that cyclists
may use the full lane. Sharrows are intended to help cyclists and motorists
when they must share a narrow lane, and it should help prevent getting doored
from parked cars. But be aware of your
surroundings and don’t let sharrows give you a false sense of safety.
Don’t get doored. New cyclists are most fearful of fast
moving traffic. But parked cars can be hazardous to your health too. With
today’s tinted windows it’s hard to tell if a vehicle has a driver behind the
A parked car can move suddenly into your lane when you’re least
expecting it causing a crash, or pushing you into the next lane of traffic.
Another scenario is when the driver in a parked car opens her door into your
lane just as you’re riding by. If you’re too close you’ll crash into her door. Make
sure you leave enough space to avoid the door zone.
Railroad crossings can take you down if you do it
wrong. The metal rails are slippery, and
the deep, wide gaps in the road’s surface are rough and can bounce you around.
I’ve read that you should approach rail crossings at a 90 degree angle. Well,
that might be the ideal scenario, but it’s not always practical. When tracks
cross the road at an angle, it could take some radical maneuvering combined
with bike handling acrobatics to put you at a 90 degree angle. Those types of
movements will rattle motorists who can’t figure out what you’re up to. Here’s how
I do it: I approach rail crossings straight on. I get a firm grip on my
handlebars and tense my arm muscles so the bumps don’t jerk my steering. I
raise my butt slightly off the saddle; my bent knees will act as shock
absorbers as the bike bounces over the tracks. I use enough speed so that
momentum will carry me across. I don’t lean. I don’t pedal, and I don’t brake.
I have not fallen yet.
It’s fun to ride in a paceline. Plus, it conserves your
energy when you ride in someone else’s slipstream—aka drafting. But please, gain
experience on your road bike for several hours before attempting to ride with a
group, and learn paceline etiquette. Pacelines operate as an integrated unit,
like birds flying in formation. When a group is riding at high-speed and
drafting one another there is little room for error. One false move and you
could be responsible for taking out all the riders behind you in a sprawling
crash. And you won’t like how that makes you feel. So get confident on your
bike, learn paceline rules first, and then start out at the back of the line. You
should also tell the other riders that you’re a newbie.
Avoid loose surfaces. In my previous post I mentioned the
slipperiness of the painted lines when roads get wet. There are a number of
other things that can make the road surface unstable, i.e., wet leaves, loose
sand that may have washed across the surface during yesterday’s rain, or even
the loose pebble-like residue that appears when blacktop is old and has been
ground down. This often occurs in intersections and on corners. Any of these
surfaces can make you fall if you’re not expecting them. If you notice the
danger, but it’s too late to avoid it, don’t panic. Simply stop pedaling, stay
seated to keep your center of gravity low, and coast through it. Try to keep
the bike as vertical as possible. Avoid any sharp steering or hard braking.
There you have it. Seven more crash avoidance tips for new
road cyclists. I hope you enjoy your new road bike, and ride according to the
rules of the road. Check with your state transportation authority for a bicycle
law enforcement guide. Most states publish one and give them away for free. It
will give you the specific rules for your roads.
Be safe out there!
(Excerpted from my new book in progress: Riding for Our Lives.)