Cycling In The Bay Area? Safety First!
Bicycling is an excellent environmentally responsible travel alternative, a great form of low-impact exercise, a fantastic social activity or just a great way to spend time touring your city, your state or even your country.
But it does have inherent risks. Bad pavement, mechanical failures, negligent drivers, mistakes on the part of cyclists and bad weather all add to the risks associated with riding a bicycle. Each year, thousands of cyclists – of all ages – are injured in the U.S., and hundreds lose their lives.
While it’s impossible to eliminate all risks in cycling, a smart cyclist can take several steps toward reducing the risk of accidents, serious injury or worse.
Always wear a helmet
Above all else, take this step to protect your most valuable yet vulnerable asset – your brain. Today’s bicycling helmets are available in a dizzying array of colors and styles, and are lightweight, cool and affordable. Certainly, a weight-obsessed competitive cyclist may be happy to spend $500 on a professional level lightweight helmet, but much more affordable options are readily available for prices well under $100.
While an inexpensive helmet may way a few more ounces and have less effective ventilation than a pro-level racing helmet, all bicycling helmets sold in the U.S. meet or exceed the same safety standards and can greatly reduce the potential for injury or death. Protect your head.
Keep up with bike maintenance
A bicycle is a vehicle, not unlike a car. A bike’s tires, wheels, brakes, gear shifters, handlebars, saddle and other components must be in good working order to avoid a potential failure that could result in a fall or other type of crash. Keep in mind that if you’re riding on the streets, even a minor mechanical failure that results in a fall can put you in the path of a vehicle.
If you’re unsure as to how to inspect your bicycle, take it to a bicycle shop, or to a cycling club or advocacy organization such as Biketopia, where a bike mechanic or experienced cyclist can inspect it.
Being seen is a key safety and survival element in urban cycling. Motorists often experience sensory overload in city driving. Traffic lights, pedestrians, street repairs, delivery vehicles parked on the street, drivers running red lights, emergency vehicles, and of course texting and driving all contribute to dangerously distracted driving.
As a cyclist in a busy urban environment, you compete for the attention of drivers. Wearing bright clothing and equipping your bike with a flashing light or lights can greatly increase your visibility and safety.
Watch the weather
The Bay Area is well-known for its foggy conditions. The fog may part of the area’s charm, but it also equals lower visibility, and that can create a safety danger for cyclists. Rain can also reduce a rider’s visibility, make a bicycle’s brakes less effective and create slippery – and dangerous – road conditions.
Be especially careful when riding over any type of metal road surfaces such as manhole covers, expansion joints, bridge roadway components or metal plates temporarily installed in road construction projects, as wet metal surfaces can be extremely slick for bicycles.
ALWAYS obey traffic laws
Remember, in the eyes of the law, cyclists are required to follow nearly all the same rules of the road as drivers of motor vehicles. And in the eyes of motorists, a cyclist who fails to obey these laws can be erratic, unpredictable and nearly invisible.
Don’t run red lights or stop signs. Signal when turning. Don’t ride on sidewalks then on the street then back to the sidewalks, acting as a pedestrian or as a driver of a vehicle from moment to moment. You have the same rights AND the same responsibilities as motorists.
Watch the road
It’s easy to enjoy the scenery on a beautiful day. But cyclists have to focus on the road surface at all times. While your car may just make a small thump when you drive over a pothole, a crack in the pavement or a piece of debris on the road, those same hazards to cause you to have a serious accident when you’re riding a bike.
One serious road hazard Bay Area residents must be aware of are cable car or streetcar tracks. These road irregularities can be extremely dangerous to bicyclists. The California Street, Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason cable car lines run on steel rails, while streetcars run on steel rails with no slot between the rails.
Also, when crossing cable car tracks, always do so at a 90-degree angle, as bike tires can easily slip on the metal rails, causing a fall.
Limit YOUR distractions while cycling
Even if you are riding in a local park or mountain biking up Mt. Tamalpais, it’s best to focus on your cycling. Put your cell phone away. Don’t mount it on the handlebars. Distracted cycling is dangerous. Period.
Install safety mirrors on your bike
One the leading fears of cyclists everywhere is being struck from behind by a motor vehicle. Though it’s not the most common bike accident, traffic overtaking a bicyclist can be intimidating.
Local bike shops carry a wide selection of rearview mirrors that are inexpensive, easy to install and capable of helping you keep an eye on traffic coming up from behind you.
Watch out for these two situations
Two of the most common collisions involving bicycles and cars involve a motor vehicle turning. In the first scenario, a cyclist riding in a straight line down a street is struck by an oncoming vehicle making a left turn.
In these collisions, most drivers claim they never saw the cyclist. In the second scenario, a driver approaches a cyclist from behind, passes the cyclist and subsequently makes a right turn, striking the cyclist. In this situation, most drivers failed to ensure they had pulled far enough ahead of the cyclist to safely turn in front of him or her.
These collisions are two of the most common – and dangerous – experienced by cyclists. Always assume the driver does not see you.
Always ride WITH traffic
Many inexperienced cyclists feel uncomfortable riding with traffic rather than into traffic where they feel safer because they can see oncoming traffic.
But this is a dangerous – and illegal – practice. If you’re new to cycling, rest assured riding WITH traffic is far safer. You’ll quickly become accustomed to it.
Cycling safety is key, but accidents happen
Remember, in the eyes of the law a bicycle is considered a vehicle and is expected to follow the same rules of the road as a motor vehicle, with the same rights and same responsibilities.
This applies when a cyclist is involved in an accident. If you’ve been injured in a bicycle accident or if you’ve injured someone in a bike accident, you should seek legal assistance.
Contact Bay Area Bicycle Law today for a complimentary consultation. We have extensive experience in representing cyclists and scooter owners. We know the laws protecting you and we’re here to help you.