Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#10weeksto100- Week 9 - Be Visible, Be Predictable, Be Aware

I will admit that safety was not a topic in my original outline for #10weeksto100.  Rather than an oversight, my safety habits are so in grained that I do, to some extent, take them for granted.  As I reviewed this series, I realized that the novice riders this series is intended for is going to have many concerns and questions about safety as they begin to ride more and expand their riding territory.

Let me start by saying, this is not intended to be a comprehensive, all-you-need-to-know safety article.  What I have tried to put words is what I believe to be is a bicycle safety framework.  Just like your training miles, use these practices to build your foundation of safe riding practices.

With friends on the Wabash River Ride - Lafayette, IN
There will always be safety risks in cycling. On a bicycle, you are relying on the combined interactions of your balance, the road and other environmental factors; as a result, the vast majority of cycling accidents and injuries are from falls, with no other vehicles involved.  At the same time, social media tends to magnify the horrific incidents, while overlooking the year-over-year trend of fewer accidents per miles ridden (with participation also increasing) over the last 10 years.   Any fatality is one too many, yet cycling remains an inherently safe activity, with many health benefits, for over 100 million Americans every year. For cycling, as in life, your best outcomes result from knowing the risks, and doing what you can to mitigate them.

Searching web, you can find hundreds of articles and with dozens of rules for safe riding.  But how do you distill them down to what is important? As with successful training, safety works best when it becomes a habit, something done as second nature.  After years of riding, training as a safety instructor and talking about bicycle safety in hundreds of different settings, I believe Be Predictable, Be Visible, Be Aware are three best habits for riding safety.

These should be a framework for every interaction you have on the road.  Each relates to the many rules and best practices you will read about for safe cycling, and distills them down to basics you can remember and make second nature

There is no better illustration of these habits in practice than riding through an intersection, where your predictability, visibility and awareness are all brought into play.
Predictable: Am I positioned where a driver would expect to see me?
Visible: Am I going to be visible to a driver?
Aware: Have I looked everywhere a vehicle might be?

Here are some more insights on how you can put them into practice.

Be Predictable.  Following the rules of the road is a critical safety practice for a cyclist; not only because of the implied protection, but because it will place you where another motorist is expecting to see you.  The illusion of safety by “cheating” in traffic is that when you are behaving unexpectedly, other drivers may not see you, or be able to anticipate what your next move is going to be so they can react accordingly.

Another aspect of being predictable is to signal your intentions.  This starts with the use of hand signals to indicate you are turning or changing lanes.  You are also predictable by where you position yourself in the road, for example, using the indicated turn lane at an intersection.  Again, being where other vehicles expect a vehicle to be is half the visibility challenge.  Finally, obeying traffic signal and signage is another way to being predictable, in that motorists will see you has a vehicle behaving correctly in traffic.

Be Visible. Research indicates that cyclists are safest when motorist are aware of them at 400 yards (roughly a ¼ mile) or more. At typical driving and riding speeds, that would give the motorist at least 25 seconds to notice a cyclist and react appropriately.  The risks to all road users from Distracted Driving makes the steps you take to insure your visibility that much more important.  For road cyclists, being visible has both active and passive components.

Riding with a few friends - RAIN 2016 
For active visibility, bicyclists have always been required to use a headlight and taillight when riding between dusk and dawn.  Now, through recent developments in batteries and electronics, reliable and inexpensive Daylight Running Lights are available for cycling.  Used on the front (white) and rear (red or red/while strobe), these lights are typically visible up to a ½ mile or more in daylight.  Safety studies have already shown that daylight running lights reduce accidents for motorcycles and automobiles.  My personal observation, since I began to use daytime lights in 2016 (and the anecdotal evidence of dozens of cyclists I have spoken with) indicates these lights make a difference driver behavior.  Daylight running lights start about $50 for the taillight, and twice that or less for a complete set.  I have covered them in more detail in this blog, Time to Light Up.

The passive components of visibility are clothing and road position.  Bright, contrasting colors, especially on your legs and arms, helps motorists to recognize a bicyclist.   Most cycling clothing today, especially if intended for cool or foul weather, includes reflective panels or piping.  Just remember that you cannot rely on reflective materials (and reflectors) alone for riding at dusk, dawn and in between.

Road position goes together with predictability and is also a part of insuring your visibility. Riding too close to the edge of the road moves you out of a driver’s line of sight, and has a result, you can be lost in the road side clutter of signs and mail boxes.  If you are new to cycling, or have not had any safety training, moving into and with the flow of traffic can feel quite intimidating.  These are riding skills acquired through time and experience, and you can find some very good resources on road position from the League of American Bicyclists, including their informative Ride Smart videos.

Be Aware.  When on your bike, your awareness of what is going on around you is just as important as your visibility and predictability.  This starts with the surface beneath your wheels, because defects and debris in the road can result in an embarrassing spill or even serious injury.  Next, you need to be aware of the other road users, not just motor vehicles, but other riders and pedestrians.  It is also important to be alert for the unexpected, be it a loose dog coming out a yard, or low hanging branch over a trail. Awareness also includes how you interact with drivers, and what else you bring along for the ride; music,  “ride” technology and that "other stuff" that might be on your mind.

Riding in traffic, it is important to trust, but verify that you have been seen. While I ride with a helmet mirror, I rely on glancing back to make eye contact with a driver before making any move in traffic. This is especially important for a left turn or other lane change.  Making eye contact is also important at 4-way intersections and in roundabouts.  If I am not certain I have made eye contact, I will wait before committing to my next move.  Making eye contact with a motorist is one of the best ways to be sure you have been seen.

Awareness also requires you avoid too many distractions.  While working out to your favorite music is great in the confines of a gym, riding with headphones can isolate you from sounds and warnings from vehicles, and more importantly, other riders when riding in groups.  You also want to avoid information overload on your handlebars. Speed, distance and elapsed time are the basics most people ride with, yet the latest bicycle computers and phone apps can provide up to a dozen bits of information.  While riding, avoid studying the tech on your handlebars to the point you are not paying attention to the road and traffic.  Configure the displays for a few basics, and use download tools to study results after the ride.  It is also important to use common sense when dealing with calls and texts.   Distracted cycling can be just as dangerous for you (and other riders) as a distracted driver.

Your safety in riding on the road also requires that you be mentally fully engaged in riding.  You must be careful about zoning out and concentrating on your workout (or a life/work problem) to the point that you ignore what is going around you.   Stay focused on the complete riding experience, and give your mind a break from that other stuff in your life.

One last bit of awareness is to know where you plan to ride.  While you have a right to bike every road, not every road is right for riding.  Reach out to your local cycling community for good training routes, and the “outlet” routes to bypass higher traffic roads.  These exist in almost every community.  If you are new to cycling, you will soon be amazed about all the alternative routes you never considered during your routine driving for work and errands.

My hope is that you find Be Visible, Be Predictable and Be Aware as helpful tools for your cycling safety.  I believe incorporating these as habits into your riding every day can tie together the skills and knowledge you gain through you own experience and research.  The most important thing for you to remember is you are responsible for your safety, and you should never rely solely on the actions and intentions of others.

Please be safe out there, and please feel free to contact me if you have questions on this topic.

Week 9 of the #10weeksto100. 

Continue to Week 10: Ten Tips from Experience

The series is intended as mentoring, rather than athlete specific coaching. The being the case, these are broad, general guidelines of a riding style and philosophy. You can find the series intro here - Preparing for Your First Long Ride or Century

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