Biking columnist offers his top 10 tips for safely cycling solo

Biking columnist offers his top 10 tips for safely cycling solo

  • Cyclists take their break a block away from an Arlington Heights intersection so turning motorists have time to see them.

    Cyclists take their break a block away from an Arlington Heights intersection so turning motorists have time to see them. Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak

 
By Ralph Banasiak
Along For the Ride
Posted6/21/2022 6:00 AM

Summer cycling is in full swing. Organized bike rides abound, as the Ride Illinois calendar reveals.

One injury, however, can spoil all the fun. Last May, a silly biking error brought me to my knees, literally. For several months stationary therapy biking was my lone thrill. "Safety first" remains my guiding/riding principle, not just a taken-for-granted slogan.

 

In no special order, I offer my top 10 tips for individual safety. Group riding has its own protocols, presuming individuals all ride safely. Watch for group safety tips later this summer.

Gathered over decades of cycling, some tips aren't so obvious. Others originate as etiquette and common courtesy, yielding overall safety. Email me your favorites.

'On your left'

1. Announce yourself as a courtesy when overtaking others. Bearing left as they move right adds extra space for both parties. My favorite call, "On your left," is simple enough. (I once toyed with naming this column "On your left." I nixed that idea -- no point alienating half my potential readers. Political polarization remains inescapable.)

Announce early, giving others time to move rightward. Speed determines how soon. "Thank you" or thumbs-up in passing adds a nice touch.

2. Attend to auditory clues, not just visuals. At intersections, your hearing often affords an earlier sense of oncoming motorists, especially if shrubbery or parked vehicles block sightlines. Even with quieter hybrids and EVs, tire noise is constant.

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3. If you can't live without music, wear just one ear bud. Better yet, invest in a Bluetooth speaker or bone induction headphones that keep both ears unblocked.

4. Vision remains important. Expand childhood's "look both ways" mantra to "left-right-left." Look left, since vehicles are physically closer, then look right, ensuring clear traffic from that direction. Finally, glance left again for any just emerging vehicles.

No bottlenecking

5. Move off the main path when stopped -- sensible, yet surprising how many riders leave scant room for passersby, bottlenecking a path. Two bodies occupying the same space equals collision. That's not rocket science.

"No one was coming" is a pitiful excuse. On a chilly April weekday, cycling Busse Woods' 8-mile loop, I tallied 80 visitors in 40 minutes, one every half-minute. At 15 mph, a cyclist covers 22 feet per second, 660 in 30 seconds.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

You may not spy others coming when you first stop. Thirty seconds later, there they are. As weather improves and trail traffic increases, moving off-trail grows more important.

Per Illinois bicycle law, cyclists ride as close as practicable and safe to the roadway edge.
Per Illinois bicycle law, cyclists ride as close as practicable and safe to the roadway edge. - Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak

6. Help motorists see you if you're stopped on roadways. When cornering or cresting a hill, motorists may experience temporary obstructed vision, if only just a second or two. While I can't magically control their speed, I can increase motorists' chances of spotting me by moving farther down a hill or away from an intersection. I position myself about a block away in those situations.

'Right hook' avoidance

7. Whether you're riding side paths or roadways, watch for motorists traveling parallel to you to avoid "right hook" situations. Underestimating your speed, drivers might turn right, across your line of travel. One option is reducing speed, allowing drivers to turn ahead of you. Another option is moving into the traffic lane, allowing drivers to use the bike lane to turn behind you.

This CyclingSavvy video is worth reviewing: cyclingsavvy.org/tag/right-hook.

8. Downshift when slowing/stopping, a frequent miscue by one of my weekend cycling crew. (Kirby, your secret is safe with me!) Downshifting makes it easier to turn your crank as you resume riding, resulting in less wobbling or erratic weaving. Leaving one pedal in an upright position permits smoother acceleration with that first downstroke.

No curb hugging

June 4 Smart Cycling class participants learn to ride safely in traffic. Pictured, from left, are: instructor Kim Messina, Michael Labowicz, instructor Armaline Mirretti, Maruthi Balmuri, Nancy Haberichter, John Delaney, Carl Lashley and Mikie Swier.
June 4 Smart Cycling class participants learn to ride safely in traffic. Pictured, from left, are: instructor Kim Messina, Michael Labowicz, instructor Armaline Mirretti, Maruthi Balmuri, Nancy Haberichter, John Delaney, Carl Lashley and Mikie Swier. - Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak

9. Ride as far to the right as practicable but a safe distance from the edge, parked cars and debris. Allow room to avoid a hazard or to compensate if a vehicle "buzzes" you. Never hug the curb. A pedal scraping the curb can thrust you careening into traffic.

Parked vehicles can result in "dooring" riders if drivers fail to look backward when exiting. If the roadway is too narrow to share with vehicles, parked or moving, then slide into the traffic lane so passing drivers aren't tempted to squeeze by.

Paraphrasing League Certified Instructor Armaline Mirretti at a Smart Cycling class recently, it's better to have a motorist honking and upset then to get funneled into unsafe positioning.

10. Finally, watch the trail/road several yards ahead of you for hazards versus directly in front of your tire. Speed determines how far ahead to scan.

Casten backs DuPage Trail grant

Friends of EBDRT take U.S. Rep. Sean Casten hiking along a proposed trail section on May 23. Pictured, from left, are Patty Denney, Casten, Steve Johnson, Ginger Wheeler, Nancy Egerton.
Friends of EBDRT take U.S. Rep. Sean Casten hiking along a proposed trail section on May 23. Pictured, from left, are Patty Denney, Casten, Steve Johnson, Ginger Wheeler, Nancy Egerton. - Courtesy of Ginger Wheeler

Rep. Sean Casten (6th) elevated hopes for the East Branch of the DuPage River Trail by recently supporting a $1.5 million DuPage County Community Project grant request.

Casten submitted this project to the House Appropriations Committee as a potential component of FY2023 federal appropriations. If it survives the appropriations process and President Biden signs the bill, the project funds a Phase I Engineering study of the section between the Illinois Prairie Path and Butterfield Road.

Casten's Legislative Director Aaron Groce warns the process is lengthy and not a certainty.

"Projects requested are not guaranteed for Community Project Funding." Final FY2022 appropriations bill wasn't signed until March 2022.

Ginger Wheeler, Friends of the EBDRT president, is "cautiously optimistic this grant could come through within the next 14 months."

Friends Vice-President Steve Johnson added, "This grant will shave years off the project and bring us much closer to our goal of connecting the Illinois Prairie Path with the Morton Arboretum."

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

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