5 Helpful Safety Reminders for Cyclists who Ride in the City
While there are plenty of traffic laws that cyclists are expected to obey when sharing the city streets with cars, buses, and pedestrians, there are a number of unspoken rules to follow that can keep you safe when you’re riding in the city.
Even if you’ve been riding for a long time, a refresher every once in a while can be handy for keeping you on your toes and prepared for the many hazards that city riding can present.
Over on bicycling.com, Neil Bezdek has shared his top 5 tips for keeping yourself moving safely forward while on two wheels in an urban environment, which we’ll share with you here to keep these safety tips at front of mind.
1. Avoid the door zone
“Car doors are the most insidious hazard facing the city rider,” Bezdek writes. “Opening doors swing directly into the space that bikes occupy, and they’re difficult to anticipate. The only way to avoid getting doored is to assume that every single door in your path will open.
Always leave a door-sized space when passing any stopped car—not just parked ones. If you’re forced to squeeze through the door zone, slow down to walking speed and look for warning signs: brake lights, taxi cab vacancy lights, and the side-to-side rocking of passengers getting ready to scoot out.”
As with most things when you’re on your bike, it’s better to always be on the lookout and proactive about seeing problems before they arise. While it would be nice if more drivers checked to see if a cyclist was coming before they swing open their door, the fact is that most drivers simply don’t think of it and it’s up to you to keep yourself safe.
A dooring accident can be notoriously hard to avoid, but if you have any time at all to react, the best thing to do is try to quickly slow down as much as possible to reduce the impact. Avoid swerving unless you know the lane is absolutely empty (you don’t want to make a bad situation worse); instead, if you lean into the car whose door is opening, you can also attempt to slow yourself down before you make impact with the door.
2. Beware of the right hook
“This is when a car passes a cyclist traveling the same direction, then immediately turns off the road and across the rider’s path.”
This extremely common accident occurs when a car forgets about, or doesn’t know how to navigate, a bike lane when they are making a right turn. As a result, the car turns right — into the bike lane — where a cyclist is riding along legally, and hits the cyclist.
This is another situation where it would be nice if drivers remembered to check for cyclists, but you have to be your own best advocate to keep yourself safe. If you see a driver about to turn into your lane, slow down to stay out of their way, or make eye contact and gesture to them to help them see you (and not hit you).
More helpful tips from bicycling.com: “Make a habit of glancing over your left shoulder (if you’re on the right side of the road) in the approach to every intersection, exit ramp, or driveway. Merge early to straddle the line between turn lanes and through traffic. If cars ahead slow to make a turn, slide by on their outside, instead of ducking between them and the corner.”
3. Pass behind pedestrians—not in front of them.
“A pedestrian’s natural instinct is to jump forward and away from trouble, rather than stopping and retreating. Riding your bike through the space behind pedestrians leaves no question as to who is yielding, whereas a risky game of chicken ensues if you try to shoot by ahead of them.”
While it can be scary to be a cyclist on a road full of cars, don’t forget that to a pedestrian, a bicycle is a fast-moving and sometimes dangerous vehicle that they have to share space with. Whenever possible, give space to pedestrians and be communicative when necessary to help keep everyone safe and on the right path.
4. Exaggerate body language and eye contact
Bezdek writes: “Hand signals are a minor form of communication with other street users.
For example, when planning a lane change or turn, I’ll signal with my entire body—looking over my shoulder, stopping the pedals, and starting my drift in the direction of cars approaching from behind. If and how they react indicates whether they’ll make room, and I’ll put out a hand to signal only after I’ve decided it’s a safe time to move over.
Likewise, when I see oncoming traffic preparing to turn in front of me, I’ll stand up and mock sprint in toward the intersection. Though I might not change speed, this flurry of motion attracts attention, and signals that I’m serious about going straight though. Avoid glasses with dark lenses: It’s easier to communicate your intentions to motorists and pedestrians through eye contact.”
5. When in doubt, take the lane
“City streets appear dangerous compared to quiet rural roads, but the chaos ensures that everyone moves slowly and pays attention. Bikes mix better with cars in this environment, and the safest place on the road is often the middle of it.
Where the street is narrow, ride in the center to deter aggressive drivers from trying to squeeze past where they shouldn’t. Also, remember that cars from behind pose less of a threat than opening car doors or pedestrians jumping out from the side of the street.”
While it can be intimidating to share the road with cars, this is sometimes the best way to keep yourself safe. You have to stand up for yourself and claim your space; being unclear about where you’re going or what you’re doing only creates confusion, and confusion causes accidents.
Stay safe on the city streets
If you’re a regular rider on city streets, it pays to know the unspoken rules of urban cycling. With these rules fresh in your mind, you’ll be able to make smart choices about where to ride, how to ride, and how to keep yourself safe every day in the big city.