I have been writing this column for three years, and my topics have moved from advice on how an expert cyclist can blend with traffic safely and without antagonizing drivers to discussions of state-of-the-art accommodation of riders of all skill levels and training for novice cyclists.
With the light visible at the end of the COVID tunnel, I am sure there will be more riders and drivers on the road this year, and I’d like to return to the topic of “serious cyclists” mixing it up with cars.
I think most people who have ridden for years have figured out most of what I am about to discuss, but many of them probably do not know how to put everything they have learned into words.
Here is some helpful advice I received before departing Newport Beach in 2011. They provided guidance to me for the next 33 days on my way to Salisbury Beach, Mass., and for many thousands of miles on all kinds of roads since then.
Think “VAPOR” – the mnemonic can help riders move smoothly – and safely – through traffic.
• Visible. Wearing bright clothes and using lights at night (or even during the day) is an important and obvious first step. But riding where you’ll be seen as part of the traffic flow is just as important, or even more so. Don’t ride in the shadows under the foliage at the side of a rural road. Don’t follow closely behind a car so that you are hidden from a car coming in the other direction. When traffic is stopped, don’t pass on the right while riding as fast as you can. Nearly every serious accident in my experience has had violating this rule as one of its causes, and the fact that in most cases the cyclist had not violated a law and was not legally at fault was not particularly relevant to the emergency room staff.
• Assertive. Follow this rule and you will begin to see how these rules all work together. If you want to move safely with traffic, then there are times to clearly “take the lane” and ride with traffic. This is particularly important when riding through intersections. The general rule is you should take the rightmost lane that allows traffic in the direction you wish to travel. Riding to one side or the other of this lane is equivalent to wearing a “Kick Me” sign because it tacitly gives overtaking riders permission to pass you while they are making a turn. But know what you are doing when you do this. If you don’t have the skill, or if traffic is moving too fast for you to merge, an alternative route or tactic is called for; there are other ways to make or navigate a dangerous intersection, which I have talked about in previous columns and which I will come back to in the future.
• Predictable. Follow the rules of the road and make your intentions known. For example, don’t make a left turn from the right side of the road.
If there is a fork in the road, signal so that there can be no doubt which fork you are going to
take. Don’t ever put a driver in the position of guessing what your intentions are. I am often asked what the proper way to signal is – there are approved ways to address simple, everyday situations, but not every situation is simple, and sometimes the answer is “whatever makes your intention obvious.”
• Observant. Situational awareness and mindfulness are critical to staying out of trouble. Know where accidents are likely to happen, and you’ll be able to recognize bad situations before they become a bigger problem. My one serious accident in nearly 50 years on the road was when I was hit by a driver running a red light. Even though he was hidden from me by a row of cars stopped waiting to make a left turn from the cross street, I would have seen him if I had looked twice, and I could have heard him as well. Fortunately for me, I learned that lesson and have not made that mistake again. I hope you never make this mistake.
• Responsible. Be an ambassador for cycling and don’t let drivers see you as part of a problem. Obeying the rules of the road is obviously necessary, but it is not sufficient – be courteous. Don’t ride three abreast and prevent someone from passing you. Don’t block a right-turn lane just because you can.
The above rules may sound like common sense, but if you constantly review your own practices against these rules, I guarantee you will become better and safer cyclists, and your enjoyment will increase.
Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.