Stay out of harm’s way and reduce your safety risks through common sense and vigilance…
Riding a bicycle in Southern Utah is generally a safe activity because of mostly good roads, nice weather, and a moderate population density. And there are actions we can take to make our cycling even safer.  The most astute thing you can do is to reduce your exposure to danger and keep your physical contact with other riders, motor vehicles, the ground, and large, unexpected stationary objects to a minimum. This article will deal with things you already know, but maybe that you haven’t thought about enough. My sole purpose in writing this piece is not to alarm you, but to help make your cycling experience free of danger.
Busy roads
Although it may seem obvious, one of the best ways to stay safe on a bicycle is to avoid dangerous stretches of road. We have roads in Washington County that have become safer over the past few years, and many more that have become less safe. The safety of a road is determined by three main variables; the size and condition of the shoulder, the speed of motor vehicles, and the number of vehicles that use the road. One of the more dangerous roads is now Dixie Downs. The shoulder is very narrow in spots, there’s a lot more traffic, people often drive 50 mph or more, and with more and more texting drivers, the meandering nature of the road often finds cars drifting onto the shoulder. (There are also more sewer caps per mile on Dixie than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.) Most of us find Indian Hills a safer alternative route, with better shoulders and maybe 10% the traffic. Cut down your exposure to vehicles passing you and you’ll be safer. Look for routes that avoid dangerous roads and intersections. The math will be in your favor.
The invisibility of bicyclists
Assume drivers don’t see you, even in your dayglow orange socks. If you have the right of way and a car is at a stop sign poised to turn onto the road, assume they don’t see you, at least until you make eye contact with them. If I see someone obliviously pulling out in front of me, with my big Italian mouth I yell “HEYYY!!” (Never in anger, though.) One indignant motorist asked me why I yelled at him, and I nicely explained “Because I don’t have a horn.” Be polite to motorists, even if they’re wrong.
Concentrate on riding; not on Metallica
Some riders use earbuds, and they can increase your risk of injury. Once in a great while I’ll ride alone with20161022-IMG_9812 one earbud (the right one) to listen to a White Sox game (which they will lose), with the volume down low, but it’s really not that safe. If you listen loudly enough that you can’t clearly hear cars behind you, can’t hear other cyclists in a group to your left or right, or can’t tell if you’re between gears (annoying click-click-click-click), you are a hazard to yourself and others riding with you.
Use common sense with aerobars
You don’t have as much control of your bike when riding with aerobars. I understand the need to train on aerobars if you do triathlons or time trials, but you are vulnerable on the road or with other riders because evasive maneuvers are tricky, and your hands are nowhere near your brakes. If you don’t race, I don’t see justification for aerobars. If you show up for a group ride with aerobars, just don’t use them. Nothing is more dangerous than a rider on aerobars in a fast pace line.
You have added responsibility if you’re in the front of your group
If you’re the lead rider in a group and you approach a busy intersection, don’t sprint across the street in front of a car, dragging the riders behind you into traffic. Wait until there’s enough of a break in traffic that everyone can safely make it across. Also, call out any road hazards, and point if you can. The front rider is temporarily the engineer of the train.
Use the commands “car left,” “car back,” and “car right” in a group of two or more. (Only call out “car left” when you’re riding alone if you’re schizophrenic.) If you’re on a narrow road and someone yells “car back,” shuffle yourselves into single file.
Stop lights and stop signs
Stop at all stoplights. Most of them now have sensors, and they’ll change quickly enough. If you’re there for over a minute and the light doesn’t change, and you can see no cars in either direction…well, you’re on your own. If you’re in a fast paceline and you enter an intersection and the light turns yellow, the group can continue to roll through, as if you’re a truck with a double trailer. Slamming on the brakes midpack after half the riders have made it through is actually more dangerous. If the group is already into the intersection and the light turns yellow, the lead rider should yell “Roll it!” so no one slams on the hooks. If you’re approaching the intersection and the lead rider sees the light turn yellow, he needs to yell out “light” and the group, with everyone holding a straight line, stops. There’s added responsibility on the rider who happens to be at the front.
Treat a stop sign as a yield sign, but be prepared to come to a full stop. The intersection by my house at Kayenta Parkway and Evening Star in Kayenta is a dangerous 4-way, with trees and bushes and a big median. I see an occasional cyclist blowing off the stop sign at 30 mph coming south, and that is not prudent. Stop lights and stop signs have to be approached in a consistent, safe manner, especially if you’re riding in a group.
Be predictable, smooth, steady, and straight
One of the most common causes of crashes in a group is overlapping the wheel of a rider next to and in front of you. If they swerve around a sewer cap (another no-no) they’ll hit your front wheel and take you down. Also, ride a straight line and always be predictable. Riders who ride unpredictably are known universally as “squirrels.” In a group, always remember that you have someone drafting you most of the time, and they shouldn’t have to read your mind. Avoid sudden moves. And speaking of manhole covers or other obstacles, don’t swerve around them in a group. Point them out, and gradually “English” over a bit, and then gradually return to your original line. Don’t jerk your bars around obstacles.
Curtail your outward hostility to motorists
20161022-IMG_0159Screaming obscenities and giving the one-finger salute may be immensely satisfying in the moment, but it just exacerbates the rift between cyclists and motorists. I usually just give threatening motorists a parade wave and a smile. When you explode at a motorist, you increase his odds of reacting aggressively to the next cyclist he sees. And when a motorist passes you and gives you more than ample room, maybe give him a thank-you wave. Be especially diplomatic if you happen to be wearing your Red Rock kit. You are an ambassador for your favorite bike shop.
In short, pay attention to your surroundings, avoid dangerous roads, communicate with other riders, be predictable, and ride a straight line. Develop good safety habits, and you’ll minimize the chance of injury. If you have any other safety suggestions, please mention them in the comments section, or in the Facebook thread for this article. Happy Trails, kids…
Written by Paul Scarpelli