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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bike safe, my survival tactics for road cycling.

Safety first my friends.  I mean that.  It's pretty hard to ride injured.  Even harder dead.  I've had a lot of fun riding this year and happily it has been non-eventful concerning interactions with cars while training.  That's pretty darn good considering the amount of time I have spent riding my bike on the roads with cars.  This year alone I've spent  many hundreds of hours biking on our public roadways.   

If you are a grizzled professional rider or highly experienced rider you may feel that you can't learn anything from my list of survival tactics for road cycling.  This may be true, but you might be able to add to the list and save someone some damage or general stress.  Please review and add to the comments below.   I'll update this list as appropriate.

I have several survival tactics for staying alive/injury free while bicycling.  They are as follows:
1.  I try to always wear my helmet.
1.5 Never ride against traffic (this is an update, submitted by a reader)
2.  I try to maintain my bicycle, gears, chains, cables, brakes, tires and  pressure.  Cleaning a bike is a good way to inspect for damage. 
3.  I find that it is safer to know exactly where I'm going to bike ride.  This has many many advantages.
     a.  I know the road conditions such as gravel spots, pot holes, deep cracks, etc.
     b.  I know where chasing dogs are in advance.
     c.  I know the  idiosyncrasies of certain intersections such as round-a-bouts, lane merges, etc.
4. Concerning dogs:  I try to sneak past areas where I know that have  dogs that chase.  If an escape is not possible first try to vocally command the dog to "Go Home!"(this is an update, submitted by a reader)   If this is ineffective, a water bottle spray to the face may halt a charging/snapping dog temporarily.  Just long enough to make the escape.     I have found it generally best to slow down and in some cases actually get off my bike.  Most dogs are not wild vicious beasts that attack people (even though some love to bite moving cyclists if given a chance).  Generally the biggest danger is falling from tangling up with a dog.  This can be much worse than a dog bite.  If you do have to dismount your bike because a snapping dog is dangerously close and inescapable, keep your bike between you and the dog.  The bike can become your shield (and even weapon) to allow you to back out a dangerous dog encounter.
4.5  Concerning dogs and group riding: Same tips as above with a few amendments. 
     a.  Inform others of known areas with chasing dogs in advance.  This allows others to expect and anticipate difficulties, and bike more defensively.
     b.  try to pass known areas with chasing dogs with stealth (quick and quiet)
     c.  When a charging dog is spotted yell out to others "DOG!" and direction of the animal missile.
     d.  large groups can not possibly get away from a chasing dog (the group will be in a line of some sort), so anticipate braking or possible erratic bike handling.  
     e.  It is ideal if an experienced rider would pull out of the line and block/shield the group from the charging dog.  This person should vocally command the dog, use water bottle spray to temporarily halt the dog, or a frame pump for defense if necessary.    I personally would recommend using full caution, slowing down until a quick escape can be made.

 I also like the pepper spray idea, but I've never used it. It's probably a good idea to contact the dog owner about restraining a dangerous dog or call animal control. I have contacted a dog owner after a teammate was rendered unconscious from a high-speed tangle with a pursuing dog. I explained that he could be held liable for damages that his unrestrained dog causes. I never saw the dog again.

5. I ride the same roads, the same time of day.
    a.  This allows me to be able to predict/anticipate traffic conditions.
    b.  This also allows the traffic to predict me.  Often many drivers travel the same routes at the same times.  Predictability is usually a good thing. 
6. I try to obey all traffic laws.  Not only is it the law, but it is much safer.
[Caveat this is written from a US/North American perspective. The rest of the English speaking world (UK, Australia and New Zealand etc drive on the left therefore most of my advice that I  have given should be reversed on which side to go down etc]
     a. On left turns I fully enter a lane behind existing traffic.  Wait my turn and signal just as though I were an automobile.
    b. When I'm able to ride close to a posted speed limit, I take the entire lane.
    c.  I take the entire lane on very technical roads where cars should never try to pass anyone.
    d.  I never try to impede traffic.  When I see cars stacked up behind me, I will often pull over to let them pass quickly.  I also tend to pull over when I'm aware of semi-trucks and trailers that are pulling big/heavy loads.  I do this partly out of courtesy, and especially for my own well being. 

Below is a really good video illustration on when and how to "take the lane" in accordance with the law governing vehicles on roadways.

7.  I look over my left shoulder for traffic frequently.  I have found that if I look back at an approaching vehicle, they NEVER buzz me (as in: come dangerously close).  Let me repeat that with a slight variation.  If a driver sees you look back they will not drive dangerously close to you, they will pass you safely.   Strange but true.
8.  I tend to ride relatively close to the edge of the road whenever possible.  When riding with a cycling partner I tend to ride to the left of my cycling partner (for conversation), looking for cars and moving single file if a car is noticed.
9.  When I see an oncoming car, I always check for cars coming behind me.  I can't always do it, but I try to speed up or slow down to avoid being passed on my left, just as an oncoming car is passing as well.  It may be appropriate to briefly take up a full lane in a situation where roads are so narrow that should a car choose to dangerously and unlawfully pass you, all parties lives are in jeopardy.  Riding on the edge of the road in this case may encourage a reckless driver to make a dangerous and unlawful pass.  
10.  I try to wear bright colors, and avoid night riding. Yes night lights are a must for night riding(especially very powerful front and flashing rear lights), but I think it's safer NOT to ride on the roads at night.  (The trail is great for night riding).
11. I try NOT to assume that cars see me at intersections.
     a. At intersections with heavy traffic I will often advance along side (but in a bike lane) and at the speed of an advancing automobile.  This way the car is shielding me from all other cars except my right side (where both I and the car shielding me are both visible).  Care must be taken that the advancing car is not turning right.  I do this  by not positioning myself in the blind spot of the driver at the stop.  I pull full up to the stop line, just off to the right side of the front bumper and make eye contact with the driver.   The driver will see me, and signal appropriately (otherwise I let the car lead). 
    b. When I see a car waiting to pull out, I am on my guard.  If I can not see the driver's face look my way,  I stop pedaling and begin to prepare myself for that driver to pop out into my path. 
    c.  I am also on my guard when I see a car preparing to turn left in front of me. (this is my least favorite, because it is hard to know if I have actually been seen or if the driver thinks he can beat me).
12.  Before passing a parked car, I quickly look back for approaching cars and then move over just outside of a potential door swing (should it open suddenly).
13.  I never "flip off" a  driver of a car in retaliation.  It's my opinion that there's clearly something wrong with this person, and not a good idea to indulge this person.  (I haven't been flipped off even once this year..... pretty weird)
14.  I almost always try to ride roads with the least amount of car traffic and consider that traffic is increased going away from the city around 4:00 to 6:00pm and less going toward the city at the same time.
15. I think mirrors are very valuable.  I bought one and couldn't adapt it to my helmet.  Recently my friend Bob C. let me use his that attaches to sunglasses and it was fantastic.
16. When crossing railroad tracks try to do so squarely (as in perpendicular) to the track (or as much as possible).  If the railroad track is wet and you do not cross it squarely, expect to kiss the pavement.
17. Learn to "bunny hop" (jumping both the front and rear wheel off the ground at the same time).  This skill can save you from crashing when crossing seams or deep cracks in the road, as well as potholes, and many other unavoidable objects that suddenly appear.  At the very minimum always pop your front wheel over unavoidable objects.  This will tend to keep you upright.  
18. NEVER EVER EVER place a wheel on a bike without skewering it on properly.    (This happens sometimes when transporting a bike short distances with the intention of removing the wheels immediately, but forgetting or getting distracted.    It's a very dangerous action.  I know of riders who had severe injuries because of this innocent mistake.)
19. Here's a link to Bicycle Safety:  How to Not Get Hit by Cars.  It restates what I have said in this post (minus a few items on their part), but they have some helpful illustrations.
20.  There is evidence that riding in groups may have a safety advantage. Here's a link discussing this topic. I must say that group riding can produce some safety issues, and I have seen riders sometimes less alert to automobiles with a group (perhaps they think others are doing it for them).
    a.   it is best to ride known planned routes with riders that you know well.
    b.   If you are riding with beginners take the lead and/or do not draft closely behind them
    c.   At slower speeds allow room plenty of room for sudden decelerations or erratic  bike handling.
    d.  The lead rider is responsible for alerting following riders of safety hazards (i.e. potholes, roadkill, pedestrian, deep crack, glass, objects in road, etc).  This is done by physically pointing at hazard and "yelling out" the hazard to riders behind.  They should do the same for following riders.
     e. The last rider should alert the riders ahead when cars are approaching to allow riders to adjust as appropriate.  Such as get single file or pull over to allow a back up of vehicles to pass or in some cases take the full lane to prevent dangerous passes by overtaking vehicles. 
     f.  Signal and verbally communicate all turns in advance to your group.
     g.  anticipate a rider to decelerate when standing to climb a hill and ride off center of their rear wheel so that contact of wheels will not occur.
     h.  All other safety tips listed here apply when riding in groups. 
21.  Never "bomb" (full speed/edge of control) a blind curving descent on an open road.  There could be obstacles in the road or a your bike could have a mechanical and send you into or under an oncoming vehicle (depending on the road curve).

If anyone can think of additional safety ideas please add them in the comments section.  I'll, in turn, add them to this list.  Hopefully an idea will save someone some skin.

My survival techniques for racing are a bit different and they are as follows:
1. I try to never "half-wheel".  This is where my front wheel overlaps the rear wheel of a cyclist in front of me.  If they move over suddenly while I am half-wheeling, I could very likely crash (they generally won't crash)
2. Inside line (when cornering 2 abreast) is generally best when cornering.  Riders that crash will slide outward.  If you are on the inside of a turn, you can ride uninterrupted if someone crashes on your outside.
3. Faster races tend to be safer because the riders become single file.  When the pack bunches up, I am on my guard for a potential crash caused by half-wheeling.
4. Run good tires with ideal tire pressures.  For tubulars: 110/120 on non-technical courses, 90psi front and 105 rear on technical dry courses, and 85 psi front and 95 psi rear for wet courses. (I've heard of running as low as 80 and 80 for wet courses)  Clinchers are all different and riders must consult the manufacturers instructions.
5. I personally skip technical courses in the rain.  Professional riders can't do this. If you watch my videos you will note that I do sometimes ride in the rain and that I also sometimes crash in the rain.
6. I try to not ride behind someone who has just crashed or has a history of crashing.
7. For road races I tend to ride near the yellow line.  If a sudden crash occurs I can potentially go left (assuming there is no on coming car).  Riding the edge of the road can lead to punctures and possibly riding off the road.
8.  Never cross the yellow line except for safety concerns. (on coming cars are, of course, safety concerns)
9.  Look ahead for obstacles, barriers, cones etc.  Do not fully rely on the person you are drafting off of.
10.  When a crash is unavoidable try to react quickly and aim for the best landing and try to avoid fixed objects.  Prepare to tumble, arms out for initial contact and tuck and tumble.

Again, if anyone can think of additional survival techniques for racing, please add them in the comments section. 

That's it for this post.   Safe riding everyone.  And fun riding.


  1. Dave,

    Nice job on the post. I would add to #4 concerning dogs. If you have to get off your bike, it is wise to keep your bike in between you and the dog. Even if you have ridden by (even petted) the dog many times before. That was my mistake with the pit bull that left me with the four blemishes on my leg this summer.

  2. Mike Bobelak
    10. I'd suggest keeping the arms "in" if possible. In most crashes pulling the arms to your chest will keep you from breaking/dislocating bones,fingers,...,and protect your ribs. Keep you arms low so you dont "punch yourself " on impact. It VERY hard not to attempt to catch yourself, but the worst damage I've seen in bike crashes if from extenting your arms. Gymnists can pull it of not me....
    Knowing how to "bunnyhop" over "stuff/people" has also saved me many times.
    My 2c

  3. Jason: Great suggestion! This may save someone a visit to the emergency room!

  4. Mike: Also a good suggestion. Practicing bike handling skills can save one's ass. Learning to bunny hop, especially over unavoidable road obstacles is a must! (I just thought of railroad tracks.... have to add that).

    I think the "arms out" is a built in survival instinct and valuable (save the brain 1st). I think that after the first impact a tuck and roll can be possible and advantageous.

    Isn't the collarbone fracture one of the most common bone brakes? If so, how does one reduce this risk? Suggestions anyone?

  5. Mike B.
    I was told the collarbone was the "best" bone to break if you could pick one. Back in my BMX days, the guys with C/B fractures were always the quickest back to the track. Given on a roadbike your not "flying in the air" on purpose. Maybe Kakouris, will chime in we learn'd at a "early age" how to spill.
    My suggestion? Ride CX,BMX,MTB, and "learn how to fall?"
    I've been told I do a mean flip over the bars. I did this at Crankworks last weekend, minor scratchs, head over heels flip, direct impact into a bed of poison sumac/oak, itches like a SOB...(finished 3rd in Cat 2 40-49)

  6. I love the bunny hop idea, especially if you come accross something the size of a big hole, rattlesnake, or Gila Monster. Also as far as riding in large event rides, if you find yourself behind someone who does not know how to ride a straight line, keep a steady speed, or seems in general sketchy, pass or get away from them, as a lack of experience, or being self centered may cause them to bring you down to a crash if they slam on thier breaks or are otherwise not concerned about anyone who is riding behind them. If you yourself are inexperienced in riding in a paceline, learn how, learn how to be courteous and group aware, by learning from those who are experienced in group riding, and both your and others group ride experience will be enhanced.

  7. if you see a obstacle ahead that you will need to swerve out into the travel lane to avoid check behind and edge out early so the drivers are aware - take the lane if possible. Don't go in and out for multiple obstacles - stay out. Time it right to avoid passing cars but definetly avoid the timing of passing cars in both directions.

  8. 7. I look over my left shoulder for traffic frequently. I have found that if I look back at an approaching vehicle, they NEVER buzz me (as in: come dangerously close). Let me repeat that with a slight variation. If a driver sees you look back they will not drive dangerously close to you, they will pass you safely. Strange but true.

    I live and ride in Taiwan - this rule is cultural. It works in America. In Taiwan it will not work.

  9. Bicyclesidewalk: Interesting. What is your primary survival technique concerning cars in Taiwan? (sidewalk?)

  10. Hi Dave.

    Saw your offer to entertain suggestions about road riding safety.

    I think we have to just start off slow and do it regularly to develop abilities in that area.

    Menawhile, the one main rule given to me by Chuck Davis of OK Velo:

    "Act like they don't see you, because they don't."

  11. 18. NEVER EVER EVER place a wheel on a bike without skewering it on properly.

    Nice work! Number 18 reminds me of an incident that occured right behind me in a "P/1/2" race a couple of years ago. The guy's bike was making a weird rattling noise, and eventually, disaster struck. Here is the result of his "skewer problem:"

    Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt; in fact, the guy in the red and white took a free lap and placed fifth. Oh, that guy in the green on the grass is a cyclocrosser. :-)

  12. Nice post Dave. I always follow traffic laws when riding my bicycle. If everyone would respect each other and share the road then accidents involving bicycles would go down. But I do have to say because of 10% of drivers and riders are the ones causing the lack of respect for each other.

  13. I like #6 & #7 especially - I've found that riding my bicycle 'essentially' as though I was driving my car and being predictable that way seems to garner respect from motorists. I've also found using hand signals especially reinforces that respect. I'm always looking over my shoulder to see what is going on behind me too. I've even found that sometimes if I need to take a turn in front of car at an intersection and I'm on the side of the road and need to move out - turning my head and looking back has often resulted in a driver slowing down realizing I'd like to make a turn.

  14. Glad to see this topic. I urge your readers to consider a Traffic Skills class from a League of American Bicyclists-certified instructor: I had lots of cycling experience before taking this course (as pre-requisite for instructor certification), so I didn't expect to get much out of it, but I ride much differently now -- and get less hassles from motorists (and less flats!).

    For some other things to consider, here is a link to a quiz we developed for folks who don't take the free class we offer:

    Of course has lots more info too.

    Ride safely, and often!
    Jim Sheehan

  15. On top of your blog, maybe caveat this is written from a US/North American perspective. The rest of the english speaking world (UK, Australia and New Zealand etc drive on the left therefore most of the advice you have given should be reversed on which side to go down etc...)

  16. I would add that when encountering dogs on a group ride do not hit your breaks. I have seen two bad accidents when someone near the front of the pace line reacts by breaking and then a following cyclist hits a rear wheel. Keep your pace and follow your line.

  17. Steve, thanks for your point. I've added a dog vs group ride element to the list.

    I hope I've written it most ideally. Any correction or addition is most welcome.

  18. Dave,
    Concerning dogs, When I shout "Go home!" I also point at them. I have seen this stop them in their tracks, possibly because they have been sprayed in the past and the gesture triggers a memory of it. Also, if the dog gets the drop on me, I'll stop pedaling as I glide by. They seem to be more interested when my legs are moving. Dogs seem to be pretty territorial. If I need to dismount, I'll slowly move on, keeping the bike between us. They seem to loose interest as you leave their territory.

  19. David,

    great post. Concerning mirrors, you might have a look at this one: (Navigate to 'Rear View Mirrors', model no. 901/2

    It fits into the bar end of the handlebars, providing an excellent view back, with hardly any vibration related issues, and also almost no aerodynamic impact as the mirror 'disc' is almost in a horizontal position when properly adjusted.

    I consider it my no. 1 safety equipment. Not just for cars, but also great for group rides.


  20. Another caveat:

    > b. When I see a car waiting to pull out, I am on my guard. If I can not see the driver's face look my way, I stop pedaling and begin to prepare myself for that driver to pop out into my path.<

    Do not rely on the car *not* pulling out even when you have made eye contact. It has happened numerous times that a car pulled out directly into my path *while looking me in the eye all the time.*

    I don't know why that happens. My theory is that these drivers, while they *do* see you, are unable to gauge your speed. Instead, some sort of program runs in their head that supplies them the (wrong) information that a bike will approach at no more than 10 mph and therefore they have ample room.

    In my observation, the risk for this is most pronounced with (elderly) women drivers.


  21. What about always having your rear quick-release pointing forward so if you are riding in a group and there is a crash no-one can undo it with their front wheel accidentally

  22. Another good safety tip is to wear very bright clothing, such as neon green or orange,
    Drivers will see you.

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  26. I have read your post. Awesome post. Most informative. Thx! , Super! Thanks especially for the video!
    Informative and interesting which we share with you so i think so it is very useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the efforts. I am tiring the same best work from me in the future as well.

  27. - When moving toward the middle of the lane or on a very narrow road I hold my left arm out to show my intend to upcoming drivers. Looking back and holding arm out usually establishes communication and sort of signals that I am sorry to slow them down and appreciate their patience (at least that is what I am trying to signal) I think any kind of communication makes the driver more aware of the cyclist. Eye contact, gesture.
    - When turning lef wtih the traffic I actually move all the way to the front and ride straight first to allow cars go faster and me get to the bike lane in a straight line.
    - I use blinking front flight during the day and of course the brightest rear light. I see too many riders with very weak rear light that is hardly visible at night and practically invisible during the day. I keep the batteries (rechargable) fresh changing them frequently. I usually keep several packs with me.
    - I usually draft little bit to the side to have a better view of what is infront of the rider I am following
    - I keep with me some wet wipes, antibacterial cream and band aids,
    - Keeping myself alert on a long rides is probably one of the most important tasks - caffein, sun screen and SPF clothing, hydration, or stops when needed to stretch and rest and regain alertnes
    - avoid sudden breaking - we have no break signal so cars dont know when you break. if breaking hard, go to the side.
    - when unsure, slow down and be ready to stop or pull over - no time gain is worth crashing, especially on fun rides
    - climbing on narrow, twisty roads is very dangerous - you are slow, they can not see you... get out of the way. If possible, on very slow climbs I ride the sidewalk - noone is in danger
    - sunset is a dangerous time to ride for several reasons
    - you should expect the most terrible driving - crashing sucks even if you are RIGHT and they are WRONG.
    Thank you very much, I am a novice and try to ride as safe as possible.
    Good luck everyone, be safe!

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  29. wow, really wonderful article!!! you did great job. I hope this will help to others. this is the best article secrets i ever read

  30. Great post here. It you are interested to ride in a mountain bike, you need to read this post. Really, such a great post.

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  32. I suspect the reason passing cars give greater clearance when you have just looked over your left shoulder at them is that they are preparing for the possibility of you making a leftward move in the lane.

    One huge tip I will give is that if you hang a small reflective yellow yield sign ( I use a fabric one by aardvark cycling ) from your saddle (one of the fabric ones made by jog a lite or some such company) cars give you an extra two to three feet, especially at night. (It's amazing the difference at night.)I think it's something about it being an actual recognizable road sign instead of just a blinking light or other reflector. This even works during the day to some degree, in my experience.

    1. actually it's made by Aardvark Cycling Accessories and its's 6 or 7 inches on a side.

  33. Thank you for this detailed information. It is really informative and helpful for the people. I took some tips and added in my blog post

  34. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  35. For safety purposes, high visibility colors and reflective stripes are going to make you far more visible.Safety vest

  36. Wow your article very informative. Thanks for sharing such a useful post.

  37. Great post about road bike tactics. Recently I am a bit worried about road biking as it is becoming risky these days. I hope the above road bike tactics will help me to stay safe.

  38. Very useful tactics! I love cycling, but sometimes it`s a bit scary on the road!



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