Riding safely in traffic is not just a concern for bike commuters and road cyclists, mountain bikers also need to heed the rules of the road en route to their trails. Staying safe is a concern for all of us, and, just as riding hills as fast as we can involves many aspects including nutrition, technique and fitness, the skill of riding in traffic is best considered from several angles.
Many reports and studies on cycling road safety cite incidents where cyclists were on the wrong side of the road, on the sidewalk or when they are entering an intersection. Reviewing the common places where accidents happen can be instructive on where you need to be focused and situations to avoid. When approaching intersections, assess which cars and cross streets hold risk and be cautious to check that your path is clear.
This defensive approach may seem extreme, but you may actually find this focused approach to the commute, free of other distractions (no phones, music) results in a feeling of ‘flow’ or complete engagement with the process. This is a strategy we use in mountain bike racing (planning the next line, going around riders, etc.) that can work very well to bring awareness and safety to your on-road cycling.
Being aware of high-risk situations is one component, avoiding the possibility of high risks in the first place is even more effective. You may be limited to certain routes due to time or simply because there aren’t other roads, but if you can do some exploring, there are often longer routes that allow you to use paths, bike lanes and low-traffic areas to make your ride safer, more enjoyable and even add a bit of a fitness boost.
To access more routes and surfaces you might also think about riding your mountain bike instead of a road bike to put yourself in a more stable position and also to access other route options.
While other road users cause many statistical injuries and accidents, the crashes that occur due to hitting potholes and sliding out during a corner are often overlooked. Further, if your ability to perform evasive maneuvers such as react with high-speed controlled-braking, a last-minute turn or bunny-hops over potholes and avoid swerving into traffic, you can help yourself stay safe on the roads.
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Helmets, lights and reflective clothing can contribute to your safety and help other road users see you during those high-risk situations, like entering an intersection or any riding at dusk or at night. Here are a few common areas to explore:
- The latest helmet tech in a reflective finish: MIPS is a newer technology available on many helmets that is meant to reduce concussion severity.
- Lights for day and night: New versions are very bright and flash to alert drivers ahead and behind the rider.
- Reflective cycling clothing:Reflective tights, bags, gloves and shoes can all help add to your presence.
Influencing other road users is hard and best left to road safety groups and cycling clubs who can drive changes to infrastructure and increase the number of cyclists on the road (and can always use more support).
For your daily cycling safety, your best defense is to control your focus, your route, your equipment and your skills. These four aspects will help you be ready for safe and enjoyable cycling.