In part I, we discussed more concrete ways to get yourself ready to ride outside including some tips on clothing, bike and drivetrain maintenance, and what to expect soreness-wise for those first couple of rides out.  In part II, I want to speak more on the subjective aspect and hopefully help some of you overcome the fear associated with riding outdoors by sharing what I do to keep myself safe and sound when riding.

Fear, its (literally) all in your head

The number one reason people tell me they don’t want to ride their bikes outside is due to fear of being hit by a car.  This is of course a reasonable fear to have as the news is full of sad stories of cyclist being struck by vehicles and getting injured, or worse.  I have been struck once myself and have had multiple close calls by either the driver not paying attention, or me losing focus of my surroundings.  However, with proper education of both cyclists and drivers, I believe we can cut down on the amount of cyclists being struck as well as disassociate ourselves with some of the fear of riding outside.  Fear is not a bad thing though as it creates a heightened sense of our surroundings, which leads me to tip #1…

  1. FOCUS – If I had a dollar for every time I came across a cyclist, or worse, a group of cyclists, who were oblivious to the fact that there were other cars and cyclists on the road I would have retired a long time ago.  When you are riding outside, please be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  2. Ride to the right / single file – When riding outside, always ride as far to the right as safely possible.  When riding in a group, ride single file whenever you are on a busy street and whenever there is a car back.  It is okay to ride 2 abreast, but only when you do not impede the flow of traffic.  I only ride 2 abreast when I have a wide enough shoulder to do so.
  3. Choose your roads – If I am going to be traveling somewhere foreign to me, or I just want to ride on some new roads, I use 2 things to figure out my route: Strava Routes and Google Maps.
    1. Strava Routes is fantastic because it will automatically navigate to roads that are most used by its users, which usually means they are safe and bike friendly.  You can also easily transfer the created route to your Garmin, or bring it up on your cell phone for turn by turn directions.
    2. Google Maps is good because they maintain a database of dedicated bike trails, dedicated lanes, and bike friendly roads.  All you need to do is access the “bicycling” map via the menu.
    3. If you are totally brand-new to riding outside, I suggest practicing in a parking lot, or on a bike path.  This will help remove all distractions so you can focus on keeping upright.
  4. Choose your time – The best time of the day to ride is midday and before or after rush hour during the week, or early in the day during the weekends.  I have found this to be when there is the least amount of cars on the road.  I also try to avoid the morning and evening rush hour traffic like the plague as the drivers tend to be far more aggressive and are usually doing a few things at once, i.e. not focused!
  5. Use lights/bright clothing – If you live in a busy area and you don’t have a choice but to ride on busy roads, you need to stand out against the traffic and be noticeable.  I suggest investing in some bright lights for both the front and the back of your bike as  well as wearing some bright colors to stand out from the traffic.  Anything that will help get you noticed by other drivers will be advantageous.  Check out the Varia by Garmin, the technology is really cool!
  6. Respect the rules of the road – Bicycles are road users, so they need to adhere to all the rules that cars need to.  That means stopping at all red lights, checking both ways at a stop sign, not passing other cars in traffic, not weaving in and out of traffic, etc.  If you wouldn’t do it in your car, you should not do while riding your bike either.
  7. Be predictable / Use signals – Ride in a straight line, use your hand signals, etc.  Be as predictable as you can be to the other drivers to keep yourself safe.
  8. Be calm – No matter how safe and predictable you ride, unfortunately some drivers will give you a buzz (drive close to you), beep, yell, whatever, from time to time.  When this happens, try to remain calm and not antagonize the situation further.  Now, I am not saying lay down, but 2 wrongs don’t make a right.

So, with a little bit of education, good habits, and wise choices you can drastically increase your safety on the bike and decrease your chances of being another statistic.  Of course, rule #1 is to always HAVE FUN out there!

For more information on GC Coaching and how we can improve your fitness and help you reach your goals, please visit www.gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

Further Reading:

Hand Signals – 

turnsignals

How to not get hit by cars

Bicycle crash statistics – US DOT

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in biology, is a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a Category 3 road and cyclocross racer. He is the owner of GC Coaching and the creator and director of P2 Cycling. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

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