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Cyclist riding through an intersection in London

How To Bike Safely on the Road

Any cyclist who has ever been involved in a collision with a car while cycling on the road has probably heard the excuse.

“I didn’t see you!” the driver pleads their case with you and the police officer. It’s a common refrain, but it’s not an excuse — it’s the problem.

“If the driver admits that he did not see the cyclist, he is in effect admitting that he didn’t look,” says longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie. And therein lies the problem. In certain situations, it’s quite common for the driver not to look. That’s why the onus is on you as a cyclist to make every effort to be seen — and to stay safe when you aren’t.

Coach Darryl has a few tips on how to bike safely on the road to help you make sure drivers see you when you’re out cycling.

Wear Those Loud Colors

For starters, the most important thing you can do to be seen on the road is to wear bright colors.

When you’re cycling on the road, you need to wear it “loud and proud.” Bright oranges, blues, reds, yellows and greens should be the go-to colors for your cycling wardrobe. You may not like attention-grabbing colors, but they could save your life. If the day is dreary, or if you prefer to ride at dawn and dusk, add in some reflective cycling clothes that will shine clearly in the path of vehicle headlights.

This is an especially important reminder for anyone making the switch from mountain biking to road biking, since mountain bikers tend to favor neutral colors. But neutral colors are the last thing you want to wear when you’re trying to make sure car drivers can see you.

Wondering about how to be seen when cycling at night? That’s a different story, and we’ve got those tips covered for you in another post.

At Intersections: Watch the Driver’s Eyes

Those loud colors aren’t enough, though. Just because your clothes are shouting “Look at me!” doesn’t mean drivers will actually look. You’ve got to make sure they see you — and protect yourself if they don’t.

Intersections are one of the most common places for car-on-bike accidents, and this is where eye contact is crucial. As you come to an intersection, whether a car is turning right into your lane or hooking left across your path, you should never assume the driver sees you. And just watching the car isn’t enough.

“If I’m near a car, I don’t look at the vehicle,” says Coach Darryl. “I look at the driver.” His goal is to see where the driver’s eyes are looking. So, as he comes to an intersection, he’s watching for the driver’s head. Where is it facing? Where are their eyes? If you can’t confirm they’re fixed on you, then you should slow down and proceed with caution.

Because this eye contact is so important, Darryl recommends that cyclists avoid wearing polarized sunglasses. Although they’re handy for reducing glare, they make it very difficult to see a driver through a windshield. If you can’t see them, you have no way of knowing whether they see you.

When Passing Parked Cars: Look for Drivers

What about when you’re passing parked cars from behind and you’re in danger of getting hit with an open car door? This — the most common car-on-bike accident situation — makes eye contact a little more challenging. Here, you need to take a little extra care to stay safe. That starts with always riding clear of any potential opening car doors, but there are further steps you should take to be extra careful.

When you’re passing parked cars on your right, look at the line of cars ahead and try to find the drivers’ heads. If you don’t see someone, then you’re probably safe. But if you spot a head, there’s a good chance they won’t look back before they open the door, putting you at risk. Anytime he sees a driver’s head in this situation, Darryl veers farther out to his left into the road to make sure he’s well clear of any car doors.

To a lesser extent, this same caution is warranted if you’re cycling on the road with stop-and-go traffic on your left. Now and then, a passenger stopped in traffic might open their door and surprise you. This happened to a friend of Darryl’s, who ended up missing a national velodrome competition because of his injuries. So, if you’re riding in traffic, be sure you’re watching for passengers’ heads, too.

Be Sure You’re Protected

No matter how careful you are to be seen on the road, accidents can happen. And when they do, you want to be sure you’re protected. Every cyclist should carry uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage on their car insurance, as this will kick in if a driver who hits you doesn’t have sufficient coverage of their own.

Ultimately, though, many accidents are avoidable. Just don’t rely on the driver to see you. Take the extra effort to make sure they do — and steer clear if they don’t.

Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Lina Kivaka from Pexels