The training I received from Michael Munk prior to our 3,400-mile bicycle ride from Newport Beach to Salisbury Beach, Mass., in 2011 inspired me to write on this month’s topic. There were 21 of us on that trip, and Mike’s goal was to ensure that every one of us made it safely to the Atlantic Ocean.
Mike created the mnemonic VAPOR to describe rules of safe cycling in a world filled with motor vehicles. His metaphor is that a cyclist can ride safely without disrupting traffic like a vapor mixes with air. These rules, or characteristics of a safe riding style, are all self-consistent and support each other. I only have room to give a few examples of what he means, but you will know a rider who has mastered all of these skills when you see him or her.
• V is for visible. Being visible is more than the obvious of wearing bright clothes or having lights. Riding where you will be seen as part of the traffic flow is just as important, or 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.
• A is for assertive. This rule follows the same logic as above. This is the one rule that may not be obvious at first glance, but there are times where the only safe route is to insert oneself into the traffic flow, for example, when making a turn. If you can’t do that safely, then an alternative route or tactic is called for.
• P is for predictable. Follow the rules of the road and make your intentions known. 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 – the answer is, “Whatever makes your intention obvious.”
• O is for observant. This was the subject of my first column – situational awareness is critical to staying out of trouble. Know where accidents happen and you will be able to recognize bad situations before they become a bigger problem.
• R is for responsible. Be an ambassador for cycling and not part of the problem. Obeying the rules of the road is necessary but 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 may sound like common sense, but if you constantly review your own practices against these rules, I guarantee that you will become better and safer cyclists – and your enjoyment will increase. I plan to circle back to each of these points in future columns.