Cycling Safely – Be Aware, Be Seen!

Cycling Safely – Be Aware, Be Seen!

Here is an article from my latest book Best Bicycle Park & Rail Trails in Ontario – Volume 2

I was only going to post an excerpt but this is so important I am sharing the full length. With all this talk of bike safety and goals of zero fatalities (which is impossible), here are a few tips to keep you riding.

I bet you enjoy cycling a lot. How can I tell?…you are here on a bike site. And I’m sure you want to continue riding forever and have your future eBike buried with you when you go at age 110.

Life is full of risks and the consequences associated with them. We constantly work out the odds and make decisions, hoping they are good ones. Cycling for the most part is a safe sport but it can lead to mishaps and death. The likelihood is very low, but it does exist. Yet I see too many cyclists not considering the potential hazards on the trail and, even worse, on city streets.

Let me run through my observations and suggestions and then you can make your own decisions.

My goal is to ride another day.

I thoroughly enjoy cycling and want to continue doing it as long as I can. It is as simple as that.

So on the whole, I analyze what cycling is and the environment I do it in. What are the potential hazards that could cut short my fun in the saddle? Some I have no control over, but for the ones I do, I want the odds to be on my side. I stand a better chance to evade a mishap or at least suffer less if one does occur. Many of my actions are automatic, second nature, conditioning, like looking both ways when you cross.

BTW, I do not constantly think about these issues, nor worry about them. I simply am proactive and mindful of my ongoing situation as I pedal, enjoying the ride for what it is.

Be Aware

My first objective is to be aware of my surroundings as I ride. Who/what is coming at me, or may turn into my path? Could that blind corner or hillcrest ahead hold any surprises? Is there a potential hazard approaching from the rear?

To answer those questions, my senses need to be on standby. I do not wear earbuds playing loud music. I do not make phone calls or text while riding. These are distractions when I need to be able to hear what is quietly approaching from behind, the honk of a horn, or an ATV. (I have played music occasionally on a lonely singletrack trail, but never when it’s busy. And even then the volume is low, and I use just one earbud or the loose-fitting kind.)Cyclists wears earbuds

Even chatting over to your riding mates for too long, or daydreaming and not focusing on what is ahead can lead to mishaps. I have had it happen.

You have to look out for others not readily seen or who are unaware of your approach. Where are they and what sudden moves could they make that could jeopardize your pleasant day in the woods? What evasive action would you take if they dashed in front of you, and suddenly stopped?

For us trail riders, our surroundings can also involve wildlife encounters. I have seen a few snakes, deer, partridges, and turkeys cross my path. We both get startled, and they run off. No moose or bears yet, but up north it’s a possibility. A little chatter between cyclists or a bear bell will help to keep them away.

Being aware of traffic in cities is on another, even more heightened level. So much can happen on a busy road: cars pulling out in front of you, people walking out from between parked cars, doors opening, trucks turning, no shoulders, potholes…ya, it can get to be a bit of a gauntlet riding the road. Thankfully bike routes on this site have very little of that “excitement.”

visibility of cyclists at night

Be Seen

Colourful cycling jerseyWhen I am on the road I want cars and trucks (everyone!) to see me. Drivers are programmed to look out for large vehicles; a bike is a thin, small object that can be tough to see, and bicycle awareness is still not that common.

I recommend wearing something that is a bright shade (I like red, yellow, or orange), be it a jacket, a colourful jersey or helmet, maybe even your saddle bags or backpack. You don’t have to look like an orange traffic cone, lol. I might not be fashionable but there is a good chance I’ll get noticed. My cycling fashion can suffer as long as it helps keep me safe.

Here is a chart of how effectively different colours are seen and at what distance. You can see black gives you no edge: you are virtually invisible. This is why stop signs are red and warning markers are yellow while ninjas and cat burglars dress all in black.

I am disappointed in the cycling industry that pushes fashion over function. Even reflective safety marks on clothing have been reduced. The current trends of black and grey activewear and dull bike colours and accessories are not going to help you be seen. They actually do the opposite; they endanger your life! When I see black cycling club jerseys, I just can’t believe they are not thinking this through. Black is also hot to wear in the sun and attracts bugs.

I also wish cities would bring this to cyclists’ attention through public awareness campaigns, as most road riders seem to be oblivious to their lack of visibility.

So find some bright, fun colours that stand out and say,

“HEY There, I’m on this trail/road! Just so you know!”

At night, or even during the day, using these new LED bike lights is a wonderful idea. They’re cheap, small, and bright, with long-lasting charges or batteries, so there is no reason why you would not use them. And many of them can blink, too, as another way to say “Here I amtake notice!” Adding reflectors is another smart idea, if you wish.

One last item: pedestrians and others on the trail appreciate a bell. Bikes are pretty quiet and can sneak up on someone. If startled, someone may jump in front of you, or if they don’t hear you, the moment you try to pass they may cluelessly step into your path. A polite “ding ding” or a call of “on your left” before you pass on their left is the norm. A bell also helps the traffic (walkers with earbuds, kids, dogs) register that you are coming.

LED bike lights

Why Wear a Helmet?

Silly question, we all know why. And most of you do, but for those who still don’t… Here are my reasons why it’s a good idea and not a hassle to wear.

I have heard the arguments about why a helmet is not needed. It goes something like this: stats show how few get hurt, so the risk is low. People will state how many years they have ridden a bike and nothing has happened, so why worry?

Applying the same logic suggests that they do not wear seat belts in cars or planes. Again the odds of a crash are slim. But if there is one the probability of survival not strap in is, umm not good.

The thing is, stats and working the odds are not what you should use for reasoning.

It is the severity of the possible outcome,

if and when a crash does happen, that should be your gauge. You only have to fly off your bike one time for a disaster to happen. If you’re not wearing a helmet, what will help save you?

I also hear “Wearing a helmet makes you more confident, so you take more risks and your chance of injury will go up.” I don’t agree. Not once while mountain biking did I think “I got my trusty helmet on today, so let’s go fly off that jump.” Actually, in the world of mountain biking, everyone wears a helmet, everyone! Yet on the streets of any city in Ontario, so many road riders do not. And I consider that a way more dangerous cycling environment than a trail lined with trees.

I rode a bike for decades without a brain bucket. There was little public awareness back then and it just was not something you could buy. Times changed and I eventually joined a cycling club where you had to wear a helmet to ride. So I tried it and now if I were to ride without one, I would feel out of place, vulnerable. You get used to it.

Not convinced? Well, I won’t suggest you hit yourself on the head with a 2×4, but do you remember how it feels when you smack your noggin on an upper shelf? Not so pleasant an owie, eh? Now think about hitting it at 30 kilometres an hour.helmet dent

Helmets also reduce the amount of sun and bug bites you get. (I use a visor on my helmet regardless of what roadies think is not aerodynamic or fashionable currently. I’m practical.) And too much sun can later lead to skin cancer; my dad got it playing tennis. Use a sunblock lotion with a rating of SPF 30 or higher.

Parents, the Ontario law states your kids have to wear a helmet ’til they are eighteen, then it’s optional. You should show by example.

Another prudent good measure for your cycling well-being is wearing padded cycling gloves. Not only do they help with friction and vibrations from the handlebars, they will spare your palms from getting road rash when you crash and your hands instinctively reach out to break your fall.

I do not want to put fear into you. These measures should do the oppositegive you some sense of comfort and confidence. By following these proactive safety tips, you lower the odds of injury significantly (not entirely).

Riding Behaviour

What is left in your safety cycling equation is your cycling behaviour: how you manage and ride the terrain, deal with obstacles, descend hills, and so on …and how you share the path with others. Do you know the rules of the road and what the signs mean? Do you follow them?

Finally, ride within your means, stay in control, and don’t overdo it! Improving your skills will pay off when you need to take evasive action. Wear your helmet properly so it works. Charge your light batteries so they are ready. All the little safety things add up.

Now you can relax, knowing you are making a conscious effort to avoid injury, so you can continue to enjoy the sport you love ’til you hit your 110th birthday.

kids with helmets

PS – Has the world gone crazy with its love of black? You can now buy black camping tents. Oh that will be a hot snooze when the sun hits it.  Black speed boats, looking cool but hard to spot on the lake. And recently I saw black life jackets for sale! Seriously stupid, what are they thinking? This will not make it easy for emergency services to find you floating in the water, and at night forget it.

August 7, 2023No comments

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