This is a play-at-home game. I want you to take a moment first to answer the question, if only in your own heads. Better yet to post your response and then read the rest of my post.
I ran into a bicycle safety expert yesterday. Not literally, of course. I was printing some flyers for him. And just to make conversation (I’m also a bike enthusiast) I asked him what the top two or three practical safety tips he had that people probably most needed to hear.
This is where you stop reading and write down two or three top safety tips that either you think are logical or seem most likely to come out of the mouth of a bicycle safety expert.
Now for his answer, which I will summarize: Hog the road.. No, I’m not kidding. That’s what he said in so many words. He told me that each bicycle, as established by the Department of Transportation, had a 4-foot wide footprint. Granted, any vehicle needs a lane to drive in wider than itself. I get that. No dispute there.
His advice was that if there is not enough room on the side of the road to instead ride right in the middle of the road otherwise cars will try to pass you and perhaps create an accident.
However, it occurs to me that if you ride in the middle of the road, cars will need to pass you. By riding in the middle of the road you thus transfer the hazard from yourself to the car and to any oncoming vehicle that driver might meet as he attempts to pass you by driving in the oncoming lane.
This is the mindset of bicycle militancy. I’m not a bicycle militant. I appreciate the need for adequate bike lanes. I’m all for that. But the roads are for cars. Bicycles (being more fragile) are the ones who must give way. This is always how I’ve ridden. When necessary, I will slow way down and drive in the gravel while letting a car pass by. It depends on the conditions.
On a country road you can indeed take your life in your hands by driving on the very edge of the payment trusting to cars to see you and not run you over. Every rider is going to handle this differently. But I’ve never taken the attitude that I ought to be able to sit safely under a coconut tree because the laws of physics are unfair. I’ll either wear a good helmet or not sit underneath a coconut tree. It’s bicyclist who must give practical deference to automobiles and not the other way around….especially given how many inattentive drivers there are now because of cell phones.
Here’s are my three safety tips:
1) Make sure your bike is physically sound (the brakes work, the wheels secured, etc.). I got my bike back from the bike shop once and didn’t notice until well out on the road that they didn’t tighten down the front wheel. Gravity held it in place but it’s not a good plan overall. I’ve also lost my brakes going downhill because the were long past need of servicing. (I wasn’t going fast at the time.)
2) Watch where you’re going, particularly regarding cars and loose gravel. Car drivers can afford minor fender benders because of inattention. A bicyclist can’t.
3) Don’t go faster than road or trail conditions (or your skill) allow.
That’s just right off the top of my head. Yes, wear a helmet. Don’t over-inflate your tires. (You get terrible traction that way.) Wear bright clothing. (I don’t because I cycle mostly off-road.) But never would it occur to me to counsel people to hog the road as a safety tip.