As an avid bicycle tourist and rider, bicycle safety has become a very important part of almost every ride that I take. Some awful things can happen that can injure everybody involved in a bicycle accident. In the worst case, a collision between a fast moving bicycle and a pedestrian or another person on a bike can be fatal.
Much of my mileage each year is on bicycle trails where I train. These are trails where I share the road with other cyclists as well as dog walkers, people with baby carriages, roller blade people, and runners. That’s the short list because there are other things that sometimes appear on the trail. One of my trails is used by equestrians. I have seen people on unicycles on several occasions. There was a lady walking a llama on the trail one fall day. If it doesn’t have a motor, it is possible that you might see it on a trail.
One way to avoid conflict, accidents, and potential collisions is to talk to other people on the trail. I usually say “passing” to let people know when I am approaching from behind. I say it loud and try to get some kind of response so that I know that I have been heard. Some people have the bad habit of listening to their portable music players on the trail, but I still repeat the word “passing”. If I’m approaching a group of people who are resting or talking along the side of the trail, I like to get them to know that I will be passing. I’ll say either “heads up” or “passing” to get their attention.
Riding defensively works well in other situations. Two examples are children on bikes and blind curves. There are times when an oncoming child will look at you and steer toward you rather than stay on track on their side of the road. A friend of mine had a collision with a child and lost a tooth from his impact with the ground. The child was not injured. When passing a child it is best to stay alert for random motion and to allow room for an avoidance maneuver.
Defensive riding is one of the few things that will save a runner who is listening to music with earbuds. A few months ago I was passing such a person. I was passing on the left side of the trail and I did my usual hail, but all of a sudden bad things happened. The runner came to the point in the trail where she wanted to turn back and made a U-turn right in front of me. My hands were fortunately near the brake levers and when I stopped we were eye to eye.
All kinds of traffic can be a hazard on a blind curve, including pedestrians and other cyclists. Imagine taking a curve at speed and being confronted with another bicycle doing the same thing from the opposite direction. It is best to slow down and be ready for surprises, including other cyclists who may be careless or inexperienced.
Children need a lot of coaching on a trail. Most parents that I meet on the trail coach their children to move aside and stay on the right when being passed either from behind or by oncoming traffic. I have a lot experience with that from riding with my four granddaughters. They are very good about understanding rules and etiquette, but their thoughts drift and they need occasional reminders.
Riding the roads is another story because cars and trucks do not respond very well to hailing. On the road it’s all about being predictable and obeying the rules of the road. Predictability means that you drive your bicycle as though it were a car or truck, avoiding sudden turns and swerving in traffic. You obey the rules when you honor stop lights and signs as well as signal turns with hand signals and use traffic lanes properly. Personally, I like to have motorists respect me and the best way to accomplish that is to demonstrate that I am operating responsibly.
These thoughts about bicycle safety occurred to me after an incident on a local trail. It wasn’t serious and there was no collision. Every time things like that happen to me I think about them and they reinforce my habits. At my age especially, I can’t afford to get injured and miss a lot of cycling.