Oh! Cycling in the city on that day! How could I forget! It was pretty early in the morning, I was riding my bicycle on the assigned lanes for bikes; then about 30 meters in front of me, I saw a taxi parked and invading the bike lane, it was just there doing nothing, and while I was getting closer I realized it wasn’t gonna move, so, I slowed down a bit and move to the side of the lane so I could pass. Then the unexpected! The passenger’s door of the taxi opened! It just took me by surprise, I had the door right in front of me with no time to hit the brakes, and while trying to avoid a collision I lost control and fell over the pavement.
What happened next was kind of funny, first I sat and checked I didn’t have any broken bone, then a couple of cyclists approached and asked me if I was ok (fortunately I was). When I realized I was fine, I looked around trying to find the taxi that was invading the bike lane or the ma’am that opened its door, in the middle of a bike lane without looking if a bike was coming. I saw no one. I then got up and a police officer approached and even asked me if I required an ambulance -I’m not sure but perhaps from the pedestrian perspective it looked that bad-, but fortunately I was really fine and didn’t required any.
So, what happened here? Even with lanes destinated for bicycles there was an accident. Car drivers ignore they are in a heavy vehicle that could easily seriously injure or even kill anyone with a hit, pedestrians ignore the fact they are the most vulnerable, I’ve seen people who cross the street with the semaphore in red, unnecessarily risking their lives to save a few seconds. But also cyclists who don’t seem to realize they are on a light and fragile vehicle, with many of them seeming to go in a race or quite commonly driving the wrong way.
Every city has its own laws and regulations about the use of bicycles, some have serious penalties for those irresponsible users but others don’t. But even with rules, accidents happen, and when you’re on a bike, chances are you get a good injury. Either if you hit a car or a pedestrian, the one who loses is the cyclist. Here are some tips and advices to make your cycling in the city experience the best possible. Some of them might seem pretty basic, but believe me, I’ve seen them so many times that you should really consider them.
1. Always wear protection and visible clothes
Wait! Protection? Like a helmet? Isn’t that logical? It might seem logical, and perhaps it’s kind of common and many cities, but in others it’s not. A helmet, a good pair of gloves and even a good glasses might make a difference in case of any accident. You even feel more confident when you are wearing them, so, always take them with you. Some good visible clothes also help, even if you wear them only to ride your bike, there’s nothing better than a good orange “look how I shine” color so you are easily visible by cars.
2. Plan your route and look for the bicycle lanes
Remember you’re on a bike! Since one’s already used to the car routes, most of the time we always take that way without thinking there might be easier and safer routes. The experience is the real teacher here, you can take Google Maps and check for the bicycling directions. Use the bike lanes, they are exclusive for your use, avoid the sidewalk, they are for pedestrians only. If you need to go for a sidewalk, get off the bike even if it’s just for a short moment, better to lose a few seconds than several hours if there’s an accident. Some cities have bicycle sharing systems, look for their routes since they are designed for bikes.
3. Don’t use headphones
This is something I see very commonly, many people really don’t care and are listening to music all the time. But they should know that listening to what happens around them is far more important. A cyclist must avoid distractions, the five senses must be on what he or she is doing.
4. Lights! Lights! Lights!
I’ve seen many bikes at night without lights, a good pair of them might be the difference between that car can see me or not. A good ring is also necessary, make sure you get one. This point might seem pretty obvious, and it actually is, it’s just that many people don’t take their own security seriously, and with that, they don’t care about others either.
5. Better a poncho than an umbrella
In rainy days, I see many people wearing waterproof clothes, the ponchos look great! But I’ve also seen many with an umbrella in one hand and riding with the other. This significantly reduces the maneuverability on the bike and might be potentially dangerous; plus, in case of an emergency brake, it’s better if you have both hands on the bike while wearing some waterproof clothes. Here again, we’re thinking as we’re used to, but leave the umbrella for pedestrians, you need full control of your vehicle specially in wet pavement.
6. Don’t go the wrong way
Unfortunately, this is something I see everyday. Many people think that just because they are on a bicycle then can go in either way, and even when a street has bike lanes in both sides of it, they go the wrong way jusy because it was the closest. These are people that would do the same if they were in a car or even if they were pedestrians, they just don’t care, but put in risk the others who go the right way. Avoid going the wrong way, even if the section is short. Again, better to lose a few seconds than hours.
7. Always assume you’re the main target for everyone, cars, pedestrians and other bicyclists as well
I left this to the last, but also as the most important one. You can do everything right, you can always go the right way, get off the bike in sidewalks, respect the traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, and even though, you can have an accident just because the irresponsibility of another. That’s why even when you know you’re right, you must assume the other will do wrong. Slow down if you see pedestrians near the bike lane, assume they are going through so you’ll have time to hit the brakes. Beware of the right hook! Always assume the car is going to try a right turn into you. Don’t start immediately after the traffic light turns green, always assume that a car or a pedestrian will try to win the traffic light. Beware of parked cars! Don’t get too close nor too fast to them, always assume they will suddenly start or that the door will open -even when it wasn’t mu fault, my accident wouldn’t have happened if I had assumed that instead of thinking of passing through it-. Assume, assume and assume! That for me is the key point.
Even when you know you’re right, you must always assume the others will do wrong.
Don’t be afraid of biking though, I’ve heard many people tell me they don’t go cycling in the city because they’re afraid of being hit by a car. But biking is actually one of the most wonderful experiences for anyone; some people even consider it a part of their lives and go bicycling to do practically everything, from going to work to just take a small ride.
Yes, you can be hit by a car, but that’s a risk you also have when you are a pedestrian and even when you are in another car. You just can’t be thinking about that, just take any necessary precaution in the same way you’d do as a pedestrian or as a car driver.
Are you ready to enjoy biking? What other tips do you know that might be helpful for safe cycling in the city? Share your thoughts in the comments.