Top 10 Road Warrior Safety Tips
UPDATE: While you might be one of the lucky ones to get out there, the conventional wisdom that it might not be worth the risk. In the unlikely event that you have an accident requiring roadside medical assistance from emergency services, there might not be a crew available or hospital bed. If you do go out, take it easy!
Look, we all know how dangerous cycling on the roads can be. A quick look at our Newsfeed and you’ll see far too many articles related to cycling accidents and deaths. Does this mean we should all take up gravel riding? (Well, yes. but that’s another article.)
With the global pandemic upon us, some countries have completely banned recreational cycling (France, Italy, and others) while still others are promoting cycling as a necessary part of a daily exercise plan. If you’re lucky enough to be able to get out on ya’ bike, then these road-warrior survival tips may just be what you’re looking for. In no particular order, here we go.
1. Safety First
Wear your helmet! I was recently hospitalized after a rather nasty cycling accident (that’s also another article) and during my physical therapy sessions, the therapist would always promote ‘safety first’ before embarking on any exercise or chore. Simply put – think before you act. Think about the road ahead, the upcoming intersection, road furniture, pedestrians, driveways and all the other hazards we face every day.
2. Slow down
As cyclists, things can come at us pretty fast and if that’s the case, it may be a good time to slow down. Busy streets filled with parked cars, pedestrians, and motor-vehicle traffic are not ideal for speed. When you’re riding through congested urban environments, just slow down. The difference between 20 MPH and 15 MPH is massive when it comes to the time you have to react to an unexpected incident. I know it’s difficult, especially if you’re the competitive type trying to smash out intervals or grab a Strava segment.
Case in point, this is a 10.7-mile segment along a busy urban coastal road with traffic lights (those are robots for my S.A. friends), stop streets, curbside parking, and hundreds of driveways. Average speed 24.38 Mph. I would suggest it’s both foolish and dangerous – don’t do this!
Visibility is the best thing we can do when it comes to helping drivers see and avoid us. We have a responsibility to make ourselves stand out as much as possible and we can do this by wearing hi-viz clothing items and mounting daytime running lights onto our bikes. You don’t have to wear one of those all-orange hi-viz jerseys but it helps. There are many cool options like a pair of hi-viz socks for example. When it comes to lighting, daytime lights are the boss. These are lights specifically designed to be seen during the day – they are brighter than the lights we would use at night (although many now have both day and night modes). Bontrager has a really good range of daytime lights and an interesting webpage describing their benefits. From their website “When cars did it, they reduced accidents by 25%. And motorcycles saw a 13% drop. Bicycle Daytime Running Lights just make sense, and all existing research indicates that the single best way for a cyclist to increase the likelihood of being seen by a driver is to use a flashing light that’s daylight visible.”
Wait, how is comfort a safety issue? I’ve been riding and racing bikes for almost 50 years and one thing I can tell you is that when I’m uncomfortable, I’m not 100% focused on riding my bike – I’m distracted. When we ride a bike that doesn’t fit correctly or we wear clothing that’s inappropriate or our helmet is uncomfortable, we tend to spend far too much time fussing over our discomfort and not enough time focused on the hazards around us.
There are 4 main contact points that we have with our bike and equipment. Head/Helmet, Hands/Bars, Feet/Pedals and Butt/ Saddle. To ensure that we don’t suffer undue discomfort in any of these regions it’s important to ensure that we have the right gear that fits comfortably and helps prevent pressure points.
The right gear in this case is:
- A comfortable helmet that doesn’t exert pressure in any particular part of the head and that is correctly adjusted to fit. If you’re unsure about the fit, visit you LBS and ask them to help you out.
- Riding Mitts are light-weight fingerless gloves that apart from offering protection against pressure hot-spots are, in my opinion, essential safety items. Even though they are light and thin, they will protect the palms from serious road rash in the event of a fall.
- Cycling shoes if you use clipless pedals or sturdy-soled sneakers if you prefer flat pedals. Our shoes not only protect our feet, but they also allow us to pedal comfortably for long periods. A proper shoe-to-pedal interface or grip will prevent slipping feet and potentially skinned shins (you know what I mean). If you’re just starting and you want to try clipless pedals, perhaps the most convenient is Shimano SPD pedals and matching shoes because in many cases you can purchase a sneaker style cycling shoes that allows you also walk around with the fear of slipping on the protruding cleats.
- Cycling shorts are perhaps the most important comfort item because they enable us to ride without chaffing. Cycling shorts have a thin layer of padding know as a chamois. In the old days, the chamois was made from goat-skin, then later synthetic leather and today it’s typically a sweat-wicking fabric. You can ride them with or without chamois cream, the choice is yours.
- Saddles are available in many shapes, sizes, and styles but typically firmer is better than soft and in most cases, narrower is better than wide. The idea with a well-fitting saddle is to find one that lets you bear your weight on your sit bones and doesn’t feel too ‘full’ – that is to say, you don’t feel the saddle other than on your sit bones.
5. Maintain your bike (plus on-the-bike-essentials)
It stands to reason that a well-maintained bike will be safer than a derelict pile of rust, never the less, many cyclists fail to carry out even the most rudimentary safety check and maintenance before heading out into the wild blue yonder. At a minimum, check your brake calipers are centered, check your tires have sufficient pressure, spin each wheel and check for buckling. If you don’t feel qualified to do your own wrenching, take your ride to the LBS.
I carry the bare minimum – 1 x tube, 1 x emergency patch kit, 1 x valve extender, 1 x tire lever, 1 x mini-tool (with T-25), 1 x mini-pump. I pack all this into a ziplock snack bag (it rains a lot in Florida and this keeps everything dry), and then into my small Lezyne saddlebag. No, I don’t carry a chain breaker or a spare tire. Is this enough? Well, I’ve ridden the 170-mile X-Florida event 3 times with this configuration and most of my training rides are 2 hours or less. I carry phone, food, money and credit card in my jersey pockets – never on the bike – if I get separated from my ride, I want to be sure I can operate. In cooler, variable weather, I’ll wear a light gilet and carry a compact wind/rain jacket like the Gore-Tex Shakedry.
6. Bike Fit
It doesn’t matter whether you are commuting or competing, bike fit principals come into effect..Volumes have been written about this and an entire sub-genre of science exists concerned with the optimal biomechanics of bike fit. And when it comes to elite athletes chasing the last few percent of performance, it’s extremely pertinent. However for most of us, bike fit is more about comfort and the ability to ride for extended periods without pain or discomfort.
7. The ‘No Bird’ Policy! – Or ‘Be Nice’
Reacting vigorously to every incident on the road is bad practice. It will wind you up, potentially get you into trouble and likely ruin your ride. If you see a driver doing something stupid on the road and it’s not an immediate threat, avoid the impulse to bang on their window while reading them the riot act. If, in the unfortunate situation, a driver presents a direct threat – STAY COOL! Take a pic of the plate and if you feel strongly that the driver is a menace, call 911 or your equivalent and report the incident. It will take up valuable riding time but that’s the price for civic-mindedness.
8. Emergency contacts
It’s always safer to ride with at least one other person. In the unfortunate event that you’re involved in an accident that requires your next of kin to be notified, it’s a good idea to have an emergency contact number readily available. Also, you might want to set up the emergency contact features on your phone. Here is a link to the Apple support page: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208076. If this seems like too much tech, a laminated note or one of the RoadID products will do just as well.
9. Be Prepared – Expect the unexpected
One of the joys of cycling is that you never know what’s going to happen on a ride. We all hope it will only be good things, the axiom ‘expect the best, prepare for the worst’ is a good rule-of-thumb. A few years back, my friend Ernie and I were crossing the Hillsboro bridge in Broward county. As we were rolling over the crest, Ernie yelled ‘watch out’ and then came to an abrupt stop.
We had picked up a stray fishing line. The bridge is a popular fishing spot and an inconsiderate fisherman had left his hook, bait, and 50 feet of line laying across the bridge. We were extremely lucky not to have gotten snagged up in the hook – it would have ripped us apart.
10. Follow the Rules of the road
I was on an organized, escorted charity ride a while back and we were riding on open public roads. Our group, (about 20 riders) slowed and proceeded with caution through a red traffic light at a T-junction. One of the group then announced himself as retired LEO and proceeded to admonish us for ‘blowing through a red light’. I was furious! I know exactly how the group had navigated the light and yet it demonstrated a very valid point. Other road users don’t always see the situation the same as we do. Every country and region has different rules of the road regarding cyclists. Here is the Overview of Florida Laws for Cyclists provided by the Florida Bicycle Association. If you follow the rules of the road and you get into an accident with a motor vehicle, small consolation, but at least it won’t be your fault.