4 cyclists have suffered fatalities in Boulder County since late May. Let me repeat that. Four human beings have been killed when riding their bicycle in Boulder County where the Boulder Half and Full Ironman races take place in the last two and a half months. Two fatalities have occurred this summer in Dane County as well where Ironman Wisconsin takes place.
Those are scary statistics. Not only are they scary statistics, but they are punctuated by the latest incident which occurred during the Boulder Ironman when a cyclist left the designated, coned-off bike lane and fatally struck a truck.
I personally accept that there is inherent danger in many hobbies in which I participate – not only in cycling. Part of accepting that inherent danger though means taking the necessary precautions to ensure you are reducing the risks as much as possible. You can’t control everything that happens out on the roads, but you can focus on the things within your control and take steps to ensure your own safety.
Choose good routes to ride
The first step you can take to ensure your safety happens before you even mount the bike. Pick good roads to ride. Look for roads with wide shoulders or even better, designated bike lanes. Map out your route so that you ride loops in a clockwise direction. This ensures that you’re primarily making right turns and crossing fewer lanes of traffic. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, check out where other cyclists frequently ride. You can talk to other cyclists, chat with folks at a local bike shop, or look online at sites like Strava and MapMyRide to find popular segments.
Ensure you can see and be seen
Especially if you ever ride at dawn or dusk, make sure drivers can see you well and that you can see well. Wear clothing with reflective paneling. Ride with a headlight and taillight on your bike. I know they’re not ‘cool’, aerodynamic, or lightweight. Most lights clip on easily though, so you don’t have to keep them on when you ride during the day or during races. I’ve had multiple people make comments to me laughing that I keep the reflectors on the wheels of my road bike. I ride that bike in the dark fairly frequently though, so I take the jokes.
Establish yourself in the lane
As I write this one, I know it will be the recommendation that is the most contentious. When there is not a shoulder or bike lane – and there won’t always be one – I believe it is important to establish yourself in the lane. Many cyclists will try to ride to the far right side of the lane, tiptoeing the edge of the lane and the edge of the road. I don’t. When there is no shoulder, I will ride to the right or the lane but still with a few feet on my right before the edge of the lane/road. I do that because cyclists have a right to the lane and because it is not safe for a car and a cyclist to share a lane. When I see other cyclists completely hug the right side of the lane, I also see cars pass them dangerously close while trying to share the lane. By establishing yourself more towards the middle of the lane, it communicates to drivers that they need to cross over to the next lane/oncoming traffic in order to pass you. If oncoming traffic isn’t clear, then they need to be patient and wait. I will say that many drivers don’t particularly like being patient and I have been honked at many times in situations like this. I would rather have them honk than have them pass dangerously putting my life in danger.
If you want to get technical on this one, Colorado Law states, “Any person riding a bicycle shall ride in the right-hand lane. When being overtaken by a vehicle, such person shall ride as close to the right-hand side as practicable.” Admittedly, that wording is fuzzy and leaves a lot for interpretation. But to me, practicable does not mean tiptoeing the edge of the roadway where you could easily fall into the ditch. Practicable means I feel safe and I do not feel safe sharing a lane with a car.
Follow the rules of the road
The next thing you can do is ensure you follow the rules of the road. That means stopping at stop signs/stoplights and signaling your turns. Doing something like running a red light on your bike not only puts your life in danger, but it also builds animosity between you and any driver that just saw you break the law. As cyclists, we need to show drivers that we respect the rules of the road, and they’ll in turn respect us. I know it can be frustrating if you hit a stoplight right in the middle of an interval. I’ve been there too. Regardless of what you’re training for, it does not justify running the light. Plus, look back to my first recommendation. In picking a good course, you should also consider things like whether or not your ride includes higher intensity intervals and if so, try to hit those intervals on sections of the course without stops.
Wear a helmet
Wear a helmet. Always. When you’re doing a slow climb; wear your helmet. When you’re just going on a short ride; wear your helmet. There is absolutely no reason not to wear it.
Keep these tips in mind and stay safe out there. It can be scary on the road sometimes, but if you’re proactive about your own safety, you can ride safely and enjoy your training.