Biking Safely

An friend pointed me to a site with some very graphic pictures (really, don’t click if you have a weak stomach), telling me to be sure to wear a helmet when I bike. I always wear a helmet, but it got me thinking about one of my pet peeves.

When I’m out on the street around here, I see a lot of people on bicycles. That’s good, I think the bicycle is an underused vehicle in the United States. But a lot of cyclists behave very dangerously. Many cyclists don’t wear a helmet, and there’s just no excuse for that. Helmets are cheap, and seriously reduce the chance of a fatal accident while biking. If one of your limbs smacks into concrete at 15mph you will probably break something, but that’s not fatal. If your head smacks into concrete at that speed it might be very bad. And if you get hit by a car, that car is likely to be going a lot faster than 15mph. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has some good information.

People ride bicycles at night without lights or even reflectors. \$30 will get you some excellent lights at REI. If you shop around you can pay much less than that. A cyclist in the dark is just really hard to see, especially when you’re doing 40mph on a road with no traffic lights. Either get lights, or don’t ride your bike at night.

Lots of people (but mostly kids) ride their bicycles on the sidewalk. I don’t have a big problem with bicycles on the sidewalk, as long as they give pedestrians the right of way. But when you’re crossing into the street from a sidewalk, you need to be really careful. Motorists check for pedestrians on the sidewalk when they turn at an intersection. When they do that, they’re really just looking at the sidewalk about 10 yards from the intersection. A cyclists goes much faster than a pedestrian, with the result that the sidewalk may look empty to a motorists who turns, only to hit a bicycle that came onto the road from the sidewalk.

Then there are people who bike on the wrong side of the road. In the United States bicycles should travel on the right-hand side of the road. Biking on the other side might feel safer because you can see oncoming traffic, but it is much more dangerous. This is also most obvious at intersections. Imagine a cyclist going straight, with a car coming in from a side road. The car will look for traffic on his side of the street on the left, and on the other side of the street on the right. Meanwhile a cyclist going the wrong way will be approaching on the car’s side of the street on the right, which is not a place where cars look for traffic. Unless the driver is particularly alert, the car and bike will collide.

Bicycles are vehicles, with exactly the same rights and responsibilities as cars. If you ride your bike like you drive, you’ll be fine. A little extra care doesn’t hurt, because even if you have the right of way, the cyclist always loses when there is a collision with a car. Ride on, but be safe.

About the author

Living the good life in Seattle, occasionally sharing something interesting with the Internet.