There’s a psychological adage that goes something like: people don’t change — they can only learn more about their flaws. Motorist ‘blindness’ is now being cited as a major threat to cycling safety. No argument there at all, frequently noticing that I must have forgotten to take off my cloak of invisibility before setting out for a ride. Sadly this driver affliction may be a permanent, even growing disposition. And the responsibility for safer cycling just might have to reside on the other side of the windshield — with the cyclist. A few thoughts on where this process might start.
‘Just like riding a bicycle’ — usually referring to something we (sort of) learned to do a hundred years ago and may not have used since; and for some reason assume the skill set still to be fully intact. Bikes and roads have changed — and, just possibly, so has the rider. Spend a little time getting to know your 21st century equipment, environs, and self. If you have to ask ‘what number (gear) should I be in’ — perhaps you’re not ready for prime time (cycling or oil painting). Ask a vet. Old cyclists are old and cyclists for two reasons: they’ve been at it for a long time — and they’re still alive. Possibly have some useful tips tucked away under what remains of their hair.
Remember Billy-Bob’s Driving School. Same lessons apply to two wheelers. Check your bar end mirror frequently. Better yet, get a bar end mirror to check. What’s going on behind you is generally as important as what’s coming down the pike toward you — and a whole lot more dangerous. Turning around to have a peak is cheaper, but more wobbly and kinda the equivalent of checking that text message while driving. And recall the one about ‘defensive driving’. Insert ‘riding’ and you’ve got a safer platform. If you can’t make eye contact with that motorist about to pull out from the side road, he likely doesn’t see you. Oh, and the ‘always have an escape route’ caution from old B-B. Good advice for the biker too. Having the room to brake, veer, or otherwise avoid is generally preferred to the road rash you’ll cultivate from sliding into second.
There’s a cycling accoutrement found in most bikers’ kit bags, but that I’ve yet to find for sale in any bike shop. Attitude! Comes in a variety of colors and sizes. Generally, however, seen in red and XL. And best left at home; you’ll hardly ever need it. Being right is not the same as being safe. Taking your entitled portion of the road in the middle of the lane is often an unwise decision. 30 pound bikes don’t do well in confrontations with 3000 pound cars. The universal ‘salute’ is not necessarily the best way to win friends amongst drivers. Some motorists actually like cyclists; some actually are cyclists. A friendly wave when you’re given the (deserved) right of way — and one clearly distinguishable from the its darker twin — is good politics.
And then there’s the group ride. There are some sports that are better done alone or in very small, trusted bunches of friends who would gladly sacrifice their first born for you — and who are very experienced at their chosen activity. Fly fishing, mountain climbing, and hunting come to mind. (Golf and snooker qualify as well — but those aren’t sports.) And I would add group cycling. The loose canon with the shiny new 12 gauge, the enthusiast who doesn’t know a peg from a carabiner, or the twitchy guy who thinks carbon fibre gives him faster internet connections are often better given a wide berth. Safety in numbers, sadly, is a myth. No good data on this one, but personal experience is that the most dangerous element on the road for a cyclist is not found behind the wheel of a pick up. He / she is in that group of happy, chatty, distracted, skittish, inexperienced, self-absorbed, forward-focused fellow riders — most probably the one directly in front of you and about to shift their butt position on the saddle, brake, stop peddling, or. . . all without warning. Reaching out and touching (wheels) almost always ends badly.
And finally, the requisite rant about helmets and sidewalks. The latter are called side-WALKS for a reason. If they were intended for cyclists’ use, they might be called side-rides. And, of course, the ‘no brainer’, as it were, around wearing a helmet. If your encounter is with a semi, a helmet really doesn’t matter. But in those lesser meetings — car doors, gravel strewn intersections, other cyclist’s wheels — that piece of plastic-coated styrofoam may just save your life. Your choice.