By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
In the aftermath of the tragic bike collision on Tuesday, June 7 near Markin Glen Park outside Kalamazoo, Michigan that claimed 5 lives with several other cyclists hospitalized it is worth reviewing safety strategies for road cyclists.
Here are 10 ideas to make your road cycling safer today.
- Choose Ride Routes Wisely.
This does not mean you should avoid riding on the road or confine your cycling to parks and indoor trainers.
You should ride routes frequented by other cyclists. Sites like Garmin Connect, Strava, Map My Ride and others provide valuable insights on where you can ride and be relatively safe.
- Acknowledge Risk.
Five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault said, “In cycling, you make your own luck, until the rider in front of you falls, then you inherit their bad luck.”
Hinault acknowledged the risks and the control we have over accidents in that single quote. Cycling, as with SCUBA diving, motorcycling, open water swimming, jet skiing, wilderness hiking and other outdoor activities has inherent risk.
When you acknowledge and accept risk instead of trying to avoid it you have taken the first mental step toward proactively managing your exposure to it.
You may choose to avoid risk entirely and limit yourself to indoor cycling. Those riding experiences do not reflect conditions on the days of events like tours, triathlons and other events held on public roads. In short, you won’t be adequately prepared for them. You will have no practical experience in real-world riding environments. As a result you are a less competent cyclist on event day and may even pose a risk to other cyclists.
If you acknowledge the risks inherent in road cycling and proactively seek to moderate them you are accepting responsibility and modifying your behavior with good decision-making. That is one step toward becoming a competent road cyclist.
- Learn To Ride With Responsible, Established Cycling Groups.
In Michigan the Wolverine Sports Club, Dearborn Cycling Saddlemen and many other cycling clubs have group rides that are well established and administered by a code of conduct, sometimes subtly unwritten but still in place, that makes them safe and controlled.
Established cycling clubs often have senior members with extensive experience and formal training from USA Cycling in administering group rides. Seek these rides out.
When you are a member of a USA Cycling affiliated cycling club and participate in one of their scheduled group rides you may also be eligible for USA Cycling supplemental insurance in the event of an injury accident. Join these organizations.
In much the same way as PADI for SCUBA diving and the NRA for shooting sports have moderated risk, indemnified members and provided formal and informal training governing bodies like USA Cycling and USA Triathlon and their affiliated clubs are a clearing house for information about cycling techniques, ride routes and a resource for finding people to ride with.
- Check Your Helmet Expiration and Chin Strap Adjustment.
According to helmet.org, “Most manufacturers recommend that helmets be replaced after five years, Bell now recommends every three years.”
In the current Giro Helmets owner’s manual on page 1 it says, “…it is recommended that helmets be replaced three years after date of purchase or if the helmet does not fit you anymore.”
Most cyclists on a group do not have their helmets adjusted correctly. Your helmet owners’ manual and numerous online resources including video along with your bike dealer can offer assistance in adjusting your helmet correctly and instructing you on how to wear it safely.
- Let Others Know When and Where You Ride.
This seems obvious in the age of connectivity but letting a responsible party know when you are leaving, where you are riding and when you will return can save hours of fear and anguish for friends and family and may assist in finding you if you do have an accident.
While there are a number of emerging technologies that can track you live on the bike so others can monitor your progress it is as simple as sending a text when you leave and arrive, sticking to established patterns and being accountable for your own safety.
- Be Seen: Lights and Bright Colors.
You can’t be too visible on a bike. New, brighter helmet and cycling clothing colors have a high “excitation factor” for drivers.
In research conducted by Philippe Lacherez, a post-doctoral fellow at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, “We found that crashes disproportionately occurred during low-light conditions such as at dawn, dusk or at night. Only 34 per cent of cyclists in these low-light crashes were wearing reflective clothing and 19 per cent of them said they weren’t using bicycle lights at the time of the crash.”
Lacherez went on to say, “We’re concerned that this means cyclists are making themselves more vulnerable by not being adequately visible to an oncoming driver.”
These findings were originally published on the website Road.cc in 2012 and are confirmed by additional studies and even anecdotal evidence.
Flashing LED lights are now so small and unobtrusive they look at home even on lightweight racing bikes. Helmets, jerseys and even accessories like gloves are commonly available in high visibility colors. Especially when riding alone, chose high visibility colors and use a light, especially at dawn and dusk.
- Wear Identification.
I lost my lifetime best friend to a collision with a drunk driver at night. He remained a “John Doe” for nearly 24 hours until his body could be identified. I spent most of the previous night searching for him on the ride route he commonly used. I learned about his death on a local news broadcast the next morning when news helicopter video showed the accident scene and I recognized his bike.
That is absolute worse case.
Wearing identification makes first responders’ job easier and can speed treatment if you do fall off your bike.
Keep emergency identification simple and easy to read. An EMT I spoke to told me they only want emergency contact information. That is all. No blood type, no drug allergies, no motivational slogans. “We can’t be sure the information on the bracelet is right, so we can’t act on it. We have to test for things like drug allergies and blood types anyway, and that isn’t usually a part of lifesaving for a first responder.”
Companies like Road ID and others offer simple, inexpensive and easy to order ID bracelets that every athlete should wear.
- Inspect Your Equipment for Safety.
Seven years ago a cyclist’s plastic pedal cleat failed during a ride on Hines Drive here in Michigan resulting in a serious fall. The pedal cleat had become worn from the routine practice of repeatedly putting the same foot on the ground at stoplights. Eventually it broke.
Failure of a weight-bearing component on your bike can contribute to or cause a serious accident. Inspect your equipment frequently. Take responsibility on your own. Don’t buy into the narrative, “I’m not a mechanic, I don’t know anything about bikes.” Basic maintenance safety protocols are available online at YouTube and through a Google search.
Take responsibility for making sure your equipment is in safe running condition. Maintain it before it becomes unsafe.
- Develop an Effective Risk-Management Mindset.
I’m still alive. Despite an airplane accident, parachuting accident, heart surgery, a stroke while running, numerous surgeries from accidents and being hit by cars three times while cycling. But I am still alive.
In the military I learned an effective risk management mindset. If something feels dangerous and the downside risk seems unacceptable, I don’t do it. I also always “maintain a high degree of situational awareness”. A psychologist once told me I’m alive because I am “hyper-vigilant”.
Your decision making loop should constantly be evaluating environmental risk, formulating a “plan B” and making decisions about risk acceptance and downside exposure.
Will that car turn in front of you? Are those cracks in the pavement wide enough for your tire to get stuck in? Will a car run a red light in an intersection you are crossing? Is a driver coming toward you texting requiring you to give them extra room to avoid an accident? Is there gravel in a corner that could cause my tires to slip? Is a sewer lid wet causing poor traction?
At every given moment on your bike you should be monitoring your environment for exposure to risk and making small decisions to moderate it.
Keep your head in the game. Don’t zone out. Take responsibility and proactively manage decisions related to risk.
- Eliminate Distractions While Riding.
Earbuds, cell phone, GPS, cyclocomputer, heart monitor, power meter, GoPro camera- if these distract you from monitoring the safety of your riding environment, leave them home.
Keep your eyes and your head up when riding and avoid unnecessary conversations with other riders that may distract you or cause a lapse in concentration.
Your first priority on every ride is to return intact. That requires your active attention and decision-making. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by technology. Learn to use your devices at home, in a safe setting, before taking them out on the road.