Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips
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Bike to Work Guide
By Paul Dorn/Roni Sarig

Image of Bike to Work Guide cover


In the section above about choosing a route, I suggested that you don't think like a motorist. Well, that's mostly true. However, when you're out bicycling on the street, the safest way to travel is as if you're operating a vehicle. The California Vehicle Code (CVC), and generally the traffic regulations in most other states, essentially considers a bicycle to have the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle. That's something too many cyclists forget.

Many beginning cyclists think that riding on the sidewalk is safer than riding in the street. They couldn't be more wrong. Cycling on the sidewalk means you have to dodge pedestrians, pets, scaffolding, garbage cans, parking meters and signs, vehicles exiting driveways and garages, landscaping, trees and leafy debris, motorists turning off the street, pedestrians leaving buildings without expecting a high velocity traveler sharing their space, and police officers with a ticket quota to meet.

Ride in the street. It's safer. Bicycling on the sidewalk also creates unnecessary enemies for bicyclists. Respect pedestrians, seniors, and people with disabilities. Keep out of their space when you're on your bike.

Image of open car door

Many prospective cyclists are justifiably concerned about safety. However, the perception of danger is generally far greater than the reality. In my experience, probably 98 percent of the motorists I encounter are truly not a problem. There are some "road raging" jerk drivers out there, but for the most part, they're rare (fortunately.) You can further minimize the risk from motorists by doing a few obvious things:

Know your bicycle. The best way to improve your bicycling safety is simply to bicycle more. Take your bike to a quiet street or park and practice riding. Learn how your bike handles: how it stops, accelerates, turns, and shifts. Gaining confidence in your bicycle handling skills will greatly improve your safety.
Keep it working. Many bicycle crashes result from equipment malfunction. Keep your bike well-maintained and you will avoid many problems.
Pre-ride inspection. Before you ride, give your bike the "ABC Quick Check": Air, Brakes, Crankset, Quick Releases. Make sure your tires are inflated, brakes are good, chain is in the chainrings and cogs, and that quick releases are closed.
Be seen. Ride predictably, with traffic, where drivers can see you. Stay in the traffic lane, maintain a straight line. Never ride against traffic; wrong way cycling is extremely dangerous.
Be heard. Communicate with motorists, pedestrians, and other cyclists with hand signals, bell, and horn. Make eye contact with motorists, to be sure they see you. Smile when motorists yield the right of way.
Be assertive. Timid riding invites abuse. You have a right to the road. Claim it. Define your space. Donít be bullied. You have the same right to the road as an automobile. Many cyclists ride as close as possible to the parked cars on their right, frightened that an overtaking vehicle won't see them or won't wait until its safe to pass. Problem. The most frequent accident for urban bicyclists is "dooring," a collision with an open car door. Claim your space.
Be alert. Watch for hazards: potholes, debris, open car doors. Anticipate. Be familiar with your route.
Speed kills. Going fast on a bike is thrilling. But don't ride at a speed beyond your capabilities. Ride in control at all times.
Be smart. Obey traffic laws. Or the law of traffic. Know your limits.

Again, be assertive. Take the lane! Traffic law doesn't require a cyclist to pull over every time a car approaches from the rear. You only have to be as far to the right as you consider necessary to safely operate your bike. If there's road debris, broken pavement, another cyclist or anything in the extreme right that makes you uncomfortable, move to the left. You have the right to the entire lane! Take it. You're far safer having the cars behind you than crowding you while they pass. Give yourself a cushion. Define your space. Don't be timid. Assert your rights.

Bicycling is safe. Sedentary couch potato lifestyles kill far, far more Americans than pedaling.

Special Safety Considerations for Women

After a Crash: What to Do - Bike Commute Tips Blog
The Explainer: Crowded streets can lead to dangerous sidewalks - VeloNews

Mikael Colville-Andersen: Why We Shouldn't Bike with a Helmet - TEDx Copenhagen Video
Riding Predictably Video - produced by San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Bicycling Safety Tips for Adults - video from LAB/NHTSA
John Allen: Street Smarts
John Forester: Effective Cycling


Comments? Suggestions? Contact || Updated 10.20.11
Image: Open car door, great threat to bicyclists.