Whether you’re a new cyclist, veteran rider, World Tour racer, or hybrid bike-loving commuter, you share the road with traffic. No matter how long you’ve been riding, cars, trucks, and motorcycles can rattle your nerves. The Rally UHC Cycling team might race on roads that have been closed off, but all of their training is done on open roads with vehicles whizzing by.
Rally UHC’s racers have learned from experience that preventive measures go a long way to keeping riders safe and happy. The next time you head out for a ride, keep these safety tips from pro cyclists in mind.
Assume drivers can’t see you
The best offense is a good defense, says Erica Allar, one of the longest-running members of Rally UHC Cycling. She’s had her fair share of run-ins on the road and says that most of the time, drivers aren’t trying to get aggressive — they simply don’t notice you. “Make yourself as big as possible when dealing with traffic, and telegraph your moves as best you can,” she says. That means sticking your right arm out wide to indicate a right turn and your left for a left one, or using the hand signal for slowing — by touching the front of your hand to your back — when a stop sign or red light is coming up.
Always use lights
Canadian racer Gillian Ellsay rarely contends with much traffic in her quiet hometown about 155 miles north of Victoria in British Columbia, but that doesn’t stop her from putting lights on the front and back of her bike anytime she might be out after dark or in rainy conditions. “I ride with taillights and headlights always, but I still stay aware, and don’t assume that the lights mean cars can see me,” she says. “I try to stay towards the right edge of the road, as far to the side as possible.”
Check your vision
Ever ridden with a backpack on your way to work, or pulled up your hood because it was starting to rain? Vancouver-based Rally UHC Cycling racer and bike commuter Sarah Bergen cautions riders to be careful when wearing clothing or gear that obstructs their vision. “You might not realize that you can’t see out of the corner of your eye anymore because of your backpack,” she says, which means you also might not be able to spot a car coming. That doesn’t mean you need to leave your bag at home — but take note of how your vision is compromised by it and make an effort to look over your shoulder more frequently. (A helmet mirror, like a driver’s side mirror, is a piece of gear worth considering if you often ride with a backpack.)
Be extra careful cruising downhill
In Colorado, racer Abby Mickey feels right at home on steep mountain climbs and roller coaster-worthy descents. But sharing the road with cars and drivers who aren’t expecting to see cyclists on such routes can be scary. “I don’t pass cars when I’m going downhill,” she says. “It’s not worth it to take that risk. I’ll just slow down and ride behind them.” She also adds that when descending — or really anytime you’re pedaling — it’s important to stay in your lane. On descents, it can be especially tempting to drift over the yellow line to take a corner more comfortably. Don’t do it; on a twisting road, there could easily be a car coming right at you, making its way uphill.
Watch the weather
The sun might make it hard for you to see as you ride toward it — but imagine how it feels for the driver coming up behind you, coping with severe windshield glare. Rally UHC Cycling’s Colin Joyce, who finished third in last season’s Arctic Race of Norway, recommends trying “not to ride when the sun is going down, because it could be in the driver’s eyes. Think about it: When you’re driving and the sun hits your eyes, you can’t see. You’re not trying to ignore cyclists, you just don’t know they’re there.”
Keep your cool
“I used to be super reactionary,” says Allar, “but taking the high road, instead of yelling at an aggressive driver, is the better tactic. I was riding in Tucson and a guy cut me off at one stop sign. When I rolled up behind him at another, he actually rolled down his window and apologized, and we were able to talk about it. Hopefully now he’ll look more carefully for cyclists.” If a driver is being unsafe or aggressive, try to note the license plate number and call the police to relay the information.
Never stop scanning
The most important safety rule all racers seem to agree on is that you should always pay attention to what’s going on around you. That means listening for a truck roaring up behind you, noticing if a driver who’s just parked his car is about to swing his door open into the bike lane, spotting a pedestrian about to step into a crosswalk, or noting it when the car in front of you is drifting into the turn lane. Keeping your head up and your eyes open can save your life, so stay alert.