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Heads Up, A Noob’s Guide to Safe Cycling

May 2013
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I could have ended up in the hospital yesterday – again.  An idiot in a blue Chevy Cobalt passed me to make a right turn into a gas station, 10 feet in front of me – and then the dope stopped with his back end sticking out into the bike lane to wait for a pump to open up.  Of course, when he heard me yell at him and give him the one finger salute, he looked at me with a befuddled ‘what’ look on his stupid face.

That 10′ is not and exaggeration. I skidded both tires and ended up lifting the back end off of the ground at the end of the stop – according to Endomondo I was going 23.8 mph just before the near crash.  There are a few simple things I did that kept me from having a Chevy emblem permanently embedded in my forehead..

Folks, this isn’t going to be one of those, ride on the right side of the road, don’t forget your melon protector, make sure your brakes work, posts.

If you think you’re safer on the left side of the street, or the sidewalk, it is because you are ignorant.  You’re several times more likely to be hit riding on the left or the sidewalk than if you’re riding on the proper side of the road (I’m from the US – adjust accordingly for your country).  If I remember correctly, only 3% of bicycle accidents occur with the cyclist obeying the law, riding with traffic.  If you don’t wear a brain cover – hey, it’s your melon.  Of course, one of my best riding buddies passed out on his bike because he didn’t drink enough. Guess what hit the ground first?  Now maybe you ride like a six year-old girl at 7 mph so you wouldn’t possibly be putting out the effort to pass out, if that’s the case – hey, it’s America, do what you like.  Just don’t come drooling to me when you’re peeing through a tube into a bag attached to your wheel chair.

Nope folks, this is one of those advanced noob posts.

Know your environment
I know every inch of pavement on my 16, 18, 23, 25, 30 and 35.5 mile routes. I know where the pot holes and cracks are. More importantly, I know where the rough traffic areas are so I’m always prepared.  If you’re in a new environment, use the knowledge that you’ve gained on your regular routes to navigate unfamiliar roads.

Head on a Swivel
If you’re on busy roads, and I ride on some high traffic roads, you must be aware of everything going on around you.  Listen for cars, look around you and slow up when something doesn’t feel right.

Trust your Instincts
Humans are the only animal on the planet that will tell you it’s rude to trust your instincts, to ignore them. When a gazelle sees a cheetah stalking it, the gazelle doesn’t stop and wait to ask if the cheetah’s feelings will be hurt if the gazelle runs away.  No, that gazelle shits ‘n gits. Put that silly BS in the saddle bag and listen to those instincts.

Expect that motorists are dumber than your left butt cheek
More often than not, you’ll be mistaken but when it counts, when you’re right, it could save your life. Motorists, like the one that cut me off yesterday can be unbelievably stupid.  Count on it and remember:  If you’re dead, it doesn’t matter if the accident was their fault.

Hands on the Hoods
When in high traffic areas, at high speeds, your hands are on the hoods or drops right at the brakes.

Head’s Up
That extra half-mile per hour isn’t worth not being able to see problems unfolding.  Keep the head up when you’re on a main road or a road with a lot of driveways.

Pay Attention!
‘Nough said.

Now, in my almost accident yesterday, here’s how it unfolded – and I used each of those tips in a few seconds…

As I wrote earlier, I was moving.  Solo, with a crosswind on the flat pushing at almost 24 mph.  The part of town that I was riding through is pretty busy, especially around 5 in the evening.  There’s a Hungry Howie’s and a gas station right next to each other so they draw a lot of traffic.  I know that this is a spot that carries a big potential for trouble.  I saw the Chevy pull up along side me but he was going painfully slow – I was only 6 mph under the speed limit but it didn’t make sense that he didn’t pass me a bit faster than that.  I didn’t like it so I let off just a bit.  Sure enough, he wasn’t passed my front wheel when he put his blinker on and we weren’t 30 yards from the entrance to the gas station.  I was coasting by then, hands working down to the brakes – and that’s when he cut it, right in front of me to get into the gas station.  In short, the only thing that kept me out of the hospital yesterday was the fact that I saw his dumb ass coming.  I was paying attention, I had my head up, I had my hands on the hoods, I expected the driver of that car to be dumber than my left but cheek, trusted that instinct, had my head on a swivel and I knew the environment.

Be safe and don’t let your guard down, it’s a jungle out there.

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10 Comments

  1. Chatter says:

    I ride mostly rural roads these days and still follow all of the above. Worst I had was when I was riding on some hilly roads, I was staying to the edge as much as possible when I heard tires sqweeling around the corner comes this car full of kids racing towards me in the wrong lane at 65+ miles an hour. There was no where to bail, but thankfully they veered back to their proper lane. I have learned when riding on these roads to gauge how fast a car is moving by sound lately and prepare appropriately. Good post my friend.

  2. elisariva says:

    Glad you are okay. Great post! I am sharing it on Facebook – too many people don’t realize just because the cyclist is not at fault doesn’t mean he/she won’t get hurt.

  3. Karen says:

    Some good rules you list here–I think new cyclists, even causal cyclists need some basic education points. Best one Pay attention–you usually have to compensate for the attention not being paid by drivers.

  4. tischcaylor says:

    Good job on the bike, good job on the post. Glad you survived that idiot!

  5. kruzmeister says:

    Great post Jim and glad you are okay. Drivers are the same down here and the bigger the vehicle the bigger idiots they seem to be too. Like Chatter I ride mostly country roads on the road bike, and mostly off road on the MTB, thankfully over here the councils are becoming more ‘cyclist’ friendly and we have a lot more designated cycle lanes. But yeah, vehicular stupideous is still everywhere!

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