We all want to be safe. So it was no surprise that among the eighty women I have surveyed since 2013, the first and foremost concern about starting to bike is related to the fear of getting hurt. Well, I have good news. There are many ways a cyclist can minimize the risk of injury and enjoy a safe ride. For starters, the Oregon Bicyclist Manual (published by Oregon DOT) promotes these four basic principles:
- Maintain control of your bicycle. Did you know that most cycling injuries do not involve motor vehicles? Bicyclists are more likely to fall or run into fixed objects like a post, mailbox, or stationary car. Never ride while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) laws apply when you’re riding a bicycle.
- Ride on the right, with traffic, in a predictable manner. The risk for crashes with a motor vehicle are highest at road intersections and driveways where motorists and bicyclists cross paths.
- Be visible and ride alertly. When bicyclists and motorists collide, the fault is usually evenly split between them. And even if you ride safely, some motorists simply do not see you.
- Protect yourself. Wear a helmet. This is a simple way to reduce the risk of head injury in the event of a crash.
Safety in Numbers: Riding in a group yields terrific safety and social benefits but also presents additional risks. In a group, bicyclists are more visible. This is especially helpful when riding on the road. If you have mechanical trouble (such as a flat tire) there is usually help available to fix it and get you back on the road. Group riding offers a fun social and supportive element that can be personally fulfilling and motivating, especially for newer bicyclists. On the flip side, if individuals within a group do not communicate with each other, do not remain alert, and do not ride predictably, accidents can easily happen.
Learning safe riding practices and group riding etiquette is fundamental to learning how to bike safely. In an attempt to promote safe riding practices and minimize the risk of injury, every Ride Like A Girl bike ride begins with a review of the following guidelines that I have titled, “Ride Like A Smart Girl”.
These guidelines are intended to instruct and remind new cyclists of basic safety, navigation, and cycling practices, with special emphasis on group riding etiquette.
- I will ride my bike similar to how I drive my car. I will ride on the right side of the path or road, in single file, with the flow of traffic and not against it.
- I will maintain safe distances and keep a forward focus. To help prevent falls, I will keep my front tire a good distance behind the bike directly in front of me. I will maintain a forward focus, knowing that I can best control my bike by anticipating what is ahead of me. I will not to be distracted by what is behind me.
- I will ride predictably and communicate my intentions. Like a motorist is predictable and tries not to surprise others, I will ride predictably. I will ride with a consistent pace, avoiding the Yo-yo effect (ever-changing and unpredictable pace). I will avoid making sudden and unexpected changes to my speed or direction. I brake slowly, instead of suddenly, and make smooth stops. Before changing course, I will alert others around me by voice or hand signal:
- I will share the road with others. I will look out for vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and others that are sharing my path. I will give pedestrians the right of way. I will alert those ahead of me of my intention to pass by saying, “Passing on your left” – and do it well in advance (about 100 feet) so I don’t surprise them. I will not ignore the person wearing headphones. I will offer the same passing alert but I will give them extra space in case they did not hear me.
- I will be especially careful of children, animals, and anyone with a compromised ability to see or hear me. I will anticipate that they might move suddenly and unpredictably. I will take the added precaution of taking my time, passing slowly, and giving them ample room, and being prepared to stop if necessary.
- I will be alert and maintain 360-degree awareness both on and off my bike. I will be careful when I’m mounting and dismounting my bike as my leg is swinging up and over my seat. I will be aware of my surroundings as I ride, always anticipating the movements of the people, activities, and traffic around me. I will use caution when passing parked cars and doorways, knowing that doors may open unexpectedly in front of me. I will keep my focus forward, scanning ahead and into the distance watching for changes in road conditions, traffic flow and potential hazards, such as bumps, potholes, railroad tracks, posts, glass or gravel. I will alert others following me of these potential hazards:
- I will assume responsibility for my own safety. I will maintain a pace that I feel is safe, never going faster than I feel is comfortable for me and safe for those around me. If I don’t feel comfortable with some portion of the ride I will seek assistance from the leader, sweeper (leader at the back of the group) or another rider – and I will stop if necessary. If, for any reason, I decide to drop from the ride, I will tell the leader or someone in the group that I am leaving the group. I won’t silently drop out.
Make it a priority to learn safe biking practices. Require yourself to develop these skills until they become second nature. You will be a safer cyclist and reduce your personal risk of injury. You will role model for others the behaviors we wish every cyclist would practice. And you just might find that your new found skills translate into greater confidence and the type of exercise that you can’t get enough of!
Additional resources: For more information about bicycle law and safe riding practices, consider the following online resources.
- Pedal Power – a Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists http://www.stc-law.com/pedal-power.html
- Portland Bureau of Transportation “Bikes and the Law” http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/301187
- Oregon Bicyclist Manual (ODOT) http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/hwy/bikeped/docs/bike_manual.pdf