17 May, 2018

Happy Bike To Work Week! While many of you are taking on two wheels to get you to work, you're probably also wondering how to be safe while cycling. When I started cycling in cities like SF, LA, and NYC, I learned quickly that drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists tend to ignore the rules of the road. Every man is out for himself and there are too many distractions but too many hazards to ignore, so when statistics of hit and run deaths are spouted, it's hard to ignore who bears the brunt of it all, cyclists. 

Safety tends to be the number one reason women don't cycle to work. It's rough out there, still it helps to know the rules of the road, to stay safe and sane. Knowing your role as a cyclist in the grand scheme of it all can help prevent an accident for all around you when you are able to be as predictable as possible. If you're wondering how to make your commute more safe, knowing the rules of road can help you get from A to B without an anxious sweat. Here are just a few things to bear in mind and make a habit of when you're heading out on two wheels.
Obey The Rules
Cyclists are required to follow the same rules as vehicles. When riding on the road, cyclists are required to travel in the same direction as the flow of traffic. For those of us living in the United States, this means always riding on the right side as well as utilizing the right side of the lane as much as possible unless it is unsafe to do so. Rolling through stop signs, proceeding through a red light or entering a crosswalk when pedestrians are present are all traffic violations whether you’re in a car or on a bike. To be safe and follow the rules of the road, you should always obey all traffic signals and other signs on the roadway just as you would when operating any other vehicle. There are times when you will need to move to the left side of the lane to avoid an obstacle or to make a left-handed turn. When doing so, it’s important to always yield to approaching vehicles moving at a higher rate of travel to avoid a collision.

Hold your lane
As a cyclist, you have the same rights to the lane as someone driving a car but you also have to follow the same rules as a motor vehicle. If there’s a bike lane, get in it. If not, you have the exact same right to a full traffic lane as a car (although most people ride to the side). Hold a straight line and proceed to claim your space on the road once it is safe. I take advantage of this on narrow one-way streets where it’s hard to stay far enough away from parked cars or narrow curbs. In fact, most cities even allow you to ride side-by-side with another biker in one lane, but most people avoid this.
Where you can’t ride
As for sidewalks, if your bike is on one, your feet should be planted firmly on the ground, walking alongside it. And you also can’t ride on highways, so scratch those dreams of weaving in and out of traffic.

Is your bike up to code?
You’re required to have brakes, reflectors, lights, and a bell. If you ride between dusk and dawn, you also need a white headlight and a red taillight. Only children under 14 are required to wear helmets, but do it anyway. Here are some cute ones.

Texting while riding
You want to be as present as possible in the streets, not only as a matter of safety but as a matter of just enjoying the ride. Chatting on your cell or texting is really not a good idea, since it makes you unstable, distracted, and therefore vulnerable. Similarly, when it comes to headphones, one headphone is permitted, but most say better to let the city be your soundtrack.

Learn to communicate
There are basic principles to cycle safety made up of predictable signals. Whether you're turning, stopping, or pointing out a hazard, everyone has their own take on how to execute them. Once you get to know the basics, it makes riding with a group a lot easier once you know how to communicate verbally or with gestures affectively. Always assume someone is behind you and never rely on others to communicate for you. Check out these cycling hand signals that are pretty universal for most clubs, commuters, and group rides. If you're not comfortable taking your hands off the handle bars, calling "right turn" 'slowing" "stopping" "hole left" "on your wheel" "passing left" "car back" is helpful too. Being able to loudly communicate and control your movement will help everyone.

Overall, it’s important to follow the laws first and use common sense and etiquette to making commuting less dangerous and more pleasant for everyone. If you ever feel uncomfortable or see something that’s uncomfortable, get off the bike. You don’t have to gut it out. Get up on the sidewalk, walk the bike, get past the obstacle, and then get back on when you feel comfortable. Sounds simple, but it’s something that never actually occurred to me when fretting about construction zones or navigating through tunnel traffic. There are always going to be distractions and challenges while commuting but keeping vigilant and safe is your first priority when setting out on two wheels.

Images: The Wheel House

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