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Riding in Traffic

Life in the Bike Lane

Tom Frady

Those of you who read this column faithfully (yeah, right) know I have been writing about the recent increase of traffic in our area. While I usually write from the road biker perspective, traffic is an issue for every person on a bike, from the kid his way to school to the mom pulling two kids in a Burly behind her cargo bike.

Drivers (and sometimes pedestrians, too) can look right through the bike rider, when focused on automobile traffic. The heavier the traffic, it stands to reason, the more likely this will happen. I ride with a very intense, white blinking light on my handlebars, which gives me a bit more confidence I will be seen, but it doesn’t always work.

Here are some ideas, including some I’ve highlighted before, to keep all bike riders more safe on the road.

Keep focused on everything going on around you. If you are following a car, be prepared for the quick, un-signaled right turn. You never want to be on the right side of a car making a right turn.

Pay attention to traffic lights and try to gauge when they will turn from green to red. Don’t run a yellow light in an effort to catch up with the rest of your group. Traffic lights are timed for cars, not slower bikes. If you are in a bike lane, a car turning left in front of you may not be looking where you are. If the light is already red, it is often safer to be in the “straight through” lane than in the bike lane.

As I have mentioned many times, many drivers wave cyclists through intersections, even when the cyclists do not have the right-of-way. Those good intentions may put you in harm’s way if the other drivers at the intersection have not seen the communication. While the “you go no you go no you go no you go” can be frustrating, it may be better for the rider to stop, put two feet on the pavement and insist the driver proceed.

Do your best to make eye contact, but it is often hard to see the driver because of tinted windows. And remember, most road cyclists wear dark glasses while riding. The drivers aren’t going to see your eyes, either.

Give yourself every chance to be seen. Most of us don’t ride in the dark, but if you do, get yourself lit up like a Christmas tree. Early in the morning or toward dusk, it can be gloomy or foggy. Today’s riding lights are very bright and made to shine in the sunlight (invest in good ones). Bright colored jerseys and jackets with large blocks of contrasting colors with reflective accents really help. Forget fashion. You really don’t need to be in black.

We have two senses to keep us safe in traffic, sight and hearing. Don’t compromise either one. There are safe times to glance down at the computer or phone on your handlebars. At times, I like to know how fast I’m going, how steep a hill is or how far it is ‘til the end of the ride. But I can review all the metrics when I get home (and I do).

It is against the law in California to have ear buds or headphones covering both ears. If you must have music or podcasts in one ear, keep the volume down enough to allow you to hear a Prius sneaking up behind you. There are many inexpensive blue tooth speakers made especially to attach to your bike like a car radio.

When a driver goes out of his or her way to help me be safe, I wave and say “thank you”. Drivers and cyclists are trying to do the right thing (well, there may be a few exceptions). We don’t want to hit and we don’t want to be hit.

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