Have you ever ridden a bike in the road? If your answer is no, chances are you’re a little bit scared of it. If your answer is yes, chances are you’re a little bit scared of it as well! Who could blame someone for being scared of road cycling? Cars are big and dangerous, and the chance of running into a dangerous driver is constantly on any cyclist’s mind. That said, roads open up a plethora of new opportunities for riding. If you live in an area with bike paths, road riding may be the only way you can possible avoid sidewalk traffic. While traversing roads can certainly be dangerous, we’ve compiled a list of tips to keep you safe and happy on your next adventure in the road, whether it's your first or your 100th!
1. Learn your hand signals
The majority of accidents stem from confusion and fear, things that can easily be prevented with communication between drivers and cyclists. What better way is there to communicate with drivers than showing them your next move? The League of American Bicyclists has an excellent video guide to basic hand signals. They’re not hard to memorize, though it’s always a good idea to practice them a bit on your bike before getting out on the road, especially if you’re uncomfortable riding with one hand.
2. Learn and follow the rules
Bicycles are not, by any means, exempt from any rules of the road. In fact, many states in the USA have specific sets of regulations for cyclists who ride in the road. Once again, the League of American Bicyclists has a handy directory to the law in your specific state (international readers will have to look elsewhere). Additionally, they have compiled a summary of traffic laws, especially considering how they apply to cyclists. Following the rules of the road is important not only for safety reasons, but also to show mutual respect to drivers other cyclists.
An important regulation to watch out for is an area’s rules on riding with traffic, often called “occupying the lane.” While riding directly in the road (as opposed to in the shoulder or a bike lane) is nearly always legal, it is very common for states to pass legislation restricting the ways that cyclists merge into traffic or how close to the center of the road they may ride.
3. Anticipate your movement
Despite the differences in regulation, in almost any given situation on the the road, a cyclist will be located on the right. Depending on the road, the rightmost edge can sometimes be chopped up or damaged in places. Additionally, the edge of the road is often used for short-term parking, legal or otherwise. Besides these two examples, a multitude of obstacles can make it undesirable or impossible to stick as closely to the road’s edge as possible. Due to all of these issues, pulling out into the traffic lane in a non-abrupt manner is legal, but it is extremely important to be careful when doing so. The first step in this process is being prepared to move out into traffic. Always keep your eyes on the road ahead of you, and when you spot something in your path, look over your shoulder before merging. Also be sure to indicate your movement with a hand signal. While a fully outstretched arm may not be appropriate (easily misinterpreted as a turn signal), an arm reached out diagonally downward in the direction you intend to merge often does the trick perfectly.
4. Grow a thick skin
While many drivers are courteous and respectful, the minority that are not can be loud, obnoxious, and very dangerous. One of the scariest experiences a road cyclist can have is being screamed at from a large, fast-moving vehicle. In such a frightening situation, it’s very easy to respond with a similar level of aggression. This is almost never a good idea. It’s important to remember when out on the bike that you are on a bike, and drivers are in cars (or trucks). In a fight between the two, a bike will never, ever, ever win. If you are the target of aggression while riding on the road, the best course of action is to get away from the aggressor as quickly as possible. This often means slowing down and pulling over as soon as you find a safe location to do so, even if it’s just a grassy strip on the side of the road. If you get the chance, you can write down the license plate of the offending car and report the incident to local law enforcement, but remember that your safety always comes first.
5. Don’t get distracted with directions
When you’re out on the road, it’s important to be paying attention, and when there’s less for you to think about it’s easier to stay alert. Far too often cyclists pause halfway into intersections, unsure of where they’re supposed to turn, and in the process put themselves in extreme danger. Looking around for a road can lead to you missing a stop or yield sign, putting yourself in very unsafe situations. If you have to look at a map or double-check your phone, be sure to pull completely off the road before doing so. If you don’t know a route well and need directions constantly, most mapping applications include a voice guide that works perfectly. Turning up the volume and placing your phone in a pocket can easily give you a guide that won’t tear your attention from the road.