There’s nothing to fear but fear itself… and a big-ass SUV doing 75 mph. Is riding on the streets safe? Debatable. Depends on the streets, the traffic, the weather, the region, and lots of other things. But in large part, it depends on you. Here are a few tips to keep you safe (well, safer) on the road.
Think ahead. Both driving and riding require forethought, preparation. Think and plan ahead. Know your route, and prepare for it accordingly. Hill coming on a high-traffic road? Save some energy to climb faster. Turn coming soon? Start checking for traffic and give yourself plenty of time to signal and merge over. Watch for hazards ahead that might force you further into the lane so that you can slowly take more of the lane instead of jumping into it.
Stay cool. No matter how accommodating you are to drivers, you’ll always run into an idiot or three. To paraphrase, keep calm and pedal on. Driving angry can lead to stupid consequences. Riding angry can lead to death.
Worry about what you can control. Be predictable. Signal. Keep a good, steady line so you don’t freak out cars trying to pass you. Keep a steady pace so cars can plan how fast they need to go in order to pass you.
Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Don’t think about every car in the world coming from behind and running you over. Twice. That’ll just cause you to freeze up and slow your reaction time. Stay loose, stay relaxed. Plan ahead, but don’t get fixated. Be ready to adapt to conditions.
Ride in groups. If you can, ride with a group. It doesn’t take a car much more effort to pass 10 of you than it does to pass just you. And it makes it a lot harder to ignore all of you.
Bring appropriate gear. Reflective bands on the ankles seriously increase visibility. Reflective gloves are great in early morning / late evening, when the sun is low, and definitely at night. Tail lights can be used day and night, and a good one can last all day without running out. If riding solo or in bad weather, a headlight on flash-mode is recommended. If riding at night, two headlights (handlebar and helmet): handlebar to light where you’re going; helmet to indicate where you want to go and to shine on the car that might not see you.
Manners. In short, use ’em. A car passes you and gives you a lot of room, give a friendly wave or thumbs-up. A truck slows behind you and you see the road ahead is clear for them to pass, wave ’em on. Your good behaviors will then be associated to the next cyclist they encounter. And if that cyclist has good behavior, then it’ll be re-enforced, so that those drivers will start expecting cyclists to be well behaved. It’s hard to treat someone badly when you expect them to treat you nicely.
You’re not a car. People will debate back-and-forth about “cyclists’ rights to the road” and such. And yes, we all know we have the same rights as a car. But here’s a few things we don’t have: mass, power, velocity, acceleration, deceleration, air bags, anti-lock brakes, crumple zones, horn. They have the advantage, and they know it. So don’t push them, don’t antagonize them to prove a point. Put simply: don’t poke the bear.