Many people are afraid to get on a bicycle because they are uncomfortable riding in traffic. Motorists may honk with annoyance at cyclists, often leaving the rider confused about what aggravated the driver in the first place. Most cyclists will tolerate traffic but may be uncertain how to behave or react in different situations. What can you do to minimize your risk when riding a bicycle in traffic?
Most motorists have a general agenda, that is, they want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, whether the objective is getting to work, going to a sporting event, or to the mall. Anything that impedes the progress of a goal-driven motorist is frequently viewed with impatience and irritation.
Bicyclists have many agendas, which include training rides for future competition, commuting to work for exercise, social group rides, or a casual cruise with friends. Whatever the reason for being on a bicycle, motorists generally perceive the cyclist's objective as being less urgent than his or her own.
If you live in an urban environment, riding your bicycle in traffic is inevitable, and a physical confrontation between a bicycle and an automobile is likely to end badly for the cyclist and his machine. Safe handling of your bike in traffic and maintaining a flexible attitude toward motorists must be your top priorities.
You cannot take the mental approach that you have certain rights to the road that automobile drivers are required to observe; you must take responsibility for minimizing the opportunities for them to do you harm. Do not make the potentially fatal mistake of expecting them to look out for you!
Plan your routes to avoid busy, dangerous intersections and heavily congested roads. Do your interval training on rollers or a trainer. This will allow you to focus on the intensity of your training without the distraction of having to worry about motor vehicles.
If possible, avoid riding in traffic in rainy conditions. Automobile tires kick up gritty water that may compromise your ability to see, and bike handling can be tricky on wet, slippery roads. If you have ever had your wheels go out from under you while cornering on a slippery road in traffic, then you are well aware of how frightening it is to be on the ground and virtually invisible to approaching vehicles.
Be an Ambassador on the Road
Another extremely important concept to recognize is your role as an ambassador for cyclists. The motorist who becomes angry with a cyclist on one day is more likely to vent his or her frustration on other riders encountered in the future. Some common courtesies to observe that will work to improve motorist/cyclist relationships include:
- Do not block vehicles from making a right turn on a red light. Move over as far to the left as possible, even if you must move into the intersection a little.
- Do not ride two and three riders abreast on a busy road and obstruct the progress of automobile traffic.
- Stop your bike to talk on your cell phone. Both of your hands should be available to take evasive action if you need to maneuver out of danger quickly.
- Behave in a predictable manner and maximize your visibility to motorists by wearing brightly colored clothing and/or lights. Clearly indicate lane changes with hand signals, and make eye contact with drivers before proceeding.
- When a motorist extends you a courtesy, such as waiting for you or motioning you to proceed, acknowledge the action with a friendly wave and a smile.
- If a driver performs a dangerous maneuver, avoid getting angry, shouting obscenities, or making rude hand gestures. If possible, calmly explain the situation and why it posed a hazard, and that will do a lot more to increase bicycle awareness and diffuse hostility.