Riding a bike on a road is not quite as safe as say, walking the dog on a treadmill, but there are plenty of techniques that make it safer. First of all, we’ve got the road rage junkie. As an example, my wife and I were flipped the one fingered salute about a half a mile from our house on Christmas Day. There isn’t a whole lot you can do to please these people, most seem to me to simply be angry folks – especially seeing as we were single file, straddling the line on the side of the road with no cars in the opposite lane to block his passing us. I didn’t even notice to be honest, my wife pointed it out after he’d passed us.
Beyond that, there are a few things we can do to make our trip safe. The most important, so far as I’ve seen, is riding with traffic. It seems counter intuitive to some, the idea being that you want to see traffic coming at you so you can react, like you would if you were running. In fact, while running, I always say, “if you see red, you’re dead” – meaning if you can see the red of the tail lights in your lane when you’re out running, you have a better chance of being hit than if you were on the left side of the road where you belong. The opposite is true for riding. First, when you’re running, it’s natural to move onto the gravel shoulder when cars are coming at you…pulling off the road onto the shoulder at 25 mph on a road bike is surely shy of suicide, but not by much. In truth, I actually know a couple of wrong way riders and, humorously enough, it’s darn near impossible to convince them that they’re wrong.
With that said, the main problem with riding against traffic is cars that are turning right onto the road you’re on from your left… They’re looking away from where you’re coming from to see if they can pull out. If you’re coming from the left, they won’t see you before they drive into or over you. The same goes for riding on the sidewalk (sidewalk, not bike trail). Studies show that you’re three times more likely to crash when you ride against traffic (wrong way riders account for 8% of riders and 25% of all crashes). Getting rear-ended, driving with traffic only accounts for 4% of crashes. Think about that – 92% of riders ride the proper way in traffic, actually, take another 2% off for sidewalk riders, so 90% of riders and only 4% of all accidents involve a rider getting rear-ended.
UPDATE: I got to thinking, I can add to this post in a semi-significant way… Part of my normal daily ride includes riding on one of the busiest roads in my County. It has bike paths on both sides but it’s pretty hectic with traffic turning onto the road. The speed limit on the stretch that I ride is 30 to 40 mph… When I can, I use the cars in the lane next to me to block for me going through intersections. If I see a car to my right up ahead looking to turn onto the road, I’ll pick up my pace to keep up with a car driving next to me. The assumption is that while I’m tiny compared to a car, most people will refrain from turning into oncoming traffic. I’ll still look at the turning driver’s face and eyes as I approach to make sure they see me, but I’ve never had even so much as a close call with a car next to me – the same cannot be said when I’m alone…and the technique works as its own interval.