Whether you do it for work or exercise, biking is fun. Biking helps you stay in shape, saves on the environment, lowers your blood pressure … but for safety sake, we need to train drivers how to watch out for us. The best way to do that is with specific rules, and by watching out for them. My brother recently got hit at a four way stop. He said he'd stopped but then started and so did the car. I guess she just didn't see him. Or maybe she felt he was waiting for her. This is exactly what I'm talking about. Who had the right of way? For that matter, have you ever tried to ride a bike on a roundabout? Here's a tip. Don't. I know of one roundabout I'd ride, and that's in a quiet street, where I could take it like a car.
I have always dreamed of being involved in city bike planning. Maybe if enough people find this guide handy, I can use it as an in to a city council committee here.
This bike/car safety manual is divided into sections designed to help new and experienced bikers learn how to train cars to watch for them—a technique mostly called defensive biking.
SIZE & MAINTENANCE
Always test ride your bike before purchase. None of those online bike purchases. You can always find a bike shop where you can test ride your purchase. Get them to adjust the seat. Get them to add accessories, depending on what you'll use it for. Some like saddlebags, others want a front basket. Get your water bottle mounted, a 16 oz is always preferable when you're biking. I recommend city wheels if you're mostly city biking. There are also hybrid wheels which will also carry you off road a little easier. If it's only for dirt biking, get the wide wheels. Know your purpose for biking before you buy.
My bike was purchased in 2012, the first I've owned for more than a couple years, bought at a bike store, not Fleet Farm. In 2019 I had it thoroughly maintenanced, including new tires, and brakes tested. Don't ride it and forget it.
GENERAL AND COMMON SENSE
You need to keep yourself alert and attentive so these next tips will help you while you're on the road.
Stay hydrated. Don't just carry water, drink it. If you know a place to refill it, good, otherwise, a few sips every few miles is fine. If you can carry a lightweight back-pack a second water bottle wouldn't hurt. Taking the bottle in your bike carrier may only take you so far, if there's no place to refill. If you get a bottle with a filter you can refill it even in a gas station bathroom.
Do not wear earphones or anything that might block your hearing. You're on wheels now and need to be just as responsible and responsive as if you are driving a car. If you want drivers to respect you, you need to respect them. You have to remain alert to those situations where conflict with cars can happen. You won't always be on a designated bike trail, but even there you have to remain alert for other bikes, and pedestrians. Diverting your concentration makes you an erratic biker.
Learn to ride safely by riding with experienced cyclists who welcome newcomers or by taking a class offered by area bike shops. Parents need to ride with their children (who only belong on a sidewalk bike for so long.) To learn by doing, start with low traffic streets. If you're uncomfortable in a high traffic area, take a sidewalk, and walk the bike. Cross at crosswalks until you're comfortable with the rules. Observe other bikers.
There are three hand signals to indicate to cars which way you're turning. Use your left arm because drivers see it easier, because you ride a bike with the flow of traffic (not against). Arm straight out means you're turning left, straight down means you're stopping and straight up means you're turning right. This helps them plan for you, just the way a blinker does in your car.
The most difficult challenge, and the one to do only if you've become an expert and feel comfortable, is to get into the left hand vehicle lane to make a left hand turn. This is perfectly legitimate on busy but slow moving traffic streets, like in any downtown area. Just be sure when you make that left hand turn that you're able to veer as far as possible to the right, avoiding any traffic turning right from the adjacent corner, of course.
Biking in traffic is challenging enough – try and avoid rainy days. But as Cindy Johnson on Facebook reminded me, this is not always an option, because some people depend on their bikes for work. I suspect those folks already pretty well know what to do. She recommends you get small battery-powered red LED flashers that clip to the back of the seat and make bikers highly visible, day or night. "Bike riders, whether motorized or pedal, often have no idea how invisible they are to drivers. They're small, have few if any lights, and they blend in with all the background clutter, especially on city streets." And car drivers don't anticipate them, if they're few in number.
There are a number of authorized trails in the city, but if you need to get somewhere where there aren't any, try a cut-through of a residential neighborhood.
But never ever expect that drivers see you and always exercise caution. Like the person who's a good swimmer is the one likely to drown, an experienced biker is more likely to get hit, or one that doesn't follow safety rules. Don't get so comfortable that you forget caution.
Personally, I play it safe and find a route around one. So I'm not a good one to be advising here because I've never done it. If I have to, here's what I'd try:
Roundabout traffic is typically quite slow and if you remain to the right of the lane, you really shouldn't have any trouble, either being spotted, or getting to the road you need. The biggest problem will be if you somehow end up next to another car, and you're going straight while they're trying to exit right. Always stay behind or ahead of another car in a roundabout.
The other option, and the preferred one, is to take the lanes exactly as if you are a car. Do this when you're comfortable with the idea. There are no bike lanes in roundabouts, so you will be expected to take the lane that directs you to where you want to go. All lanes are marked. Some are just to the right. Some are ahead with the option to go right.
Sidewalk riding is for bicyclists at the learning stage; you are better off being on the road, obeying traffic laws. It is also illegal for bikers to be on sidewalks unless the community has passed an ordinance specifically permitting sidewalk riding; in some places they've widened the sidewalk for that purpose.
Pedestrians have right of way. If you have to use the sidewalk, remember to pass pedestrians on the left, but don't assume they know you're there. Call out "passing on the left" so they don't suddenly step in front of you.
Even better, if you have to use a sidewalk, walk the bike.
Be especially mindful of parked cars with doors that can open unexpectedly. You can't always tell if someone is in there and they rarely look for bikers. I've never been hit by one and have never hit a biker, but it still scares me to pass them. Authorized bike lanes are often alongside or within parking lanes. Parking lanes are nice to use for bike trails. But weaving in and out of parked cars is not recommended -- remember, there's traffic around them.
If you're in the parking lane, you will have to slow up and look for traffic behind you before you go around the parked car. No swerving.
COUNTRY AND LOW TRAFFIC AREAS
There are still cars out there, and they rarely go as slow as in the city. In the country, bikers are often in the middle of the back roads. It's easier to see a biker in the country than in a congested city. If you're riding on a county trunk they will use the other side of the road to pass you, but often they do this in a non-passing zone section of the road. Some drivers will slow down in a no-passing zone and wait for the vehicle coming from the other way to pass, but many won't. Few country roads have bike trails, and you should have a "rearview" mirror on your bike to see when you might want to travel the gravel or grass side off the road on occasion to allow opposing cars to safely pass each other, and you.
If you break traffic laws and a car hits you, I don't know how you'll be treated in court. You're better off stopping at all stop signs, to be safe. Always be cautious at stop signs if you don't feel like stopping entirely. At a four-way stop, for instance, you might be able to see ahead of time that you'd beat anyone else to the stop, and decide to just keep going. But if you have a stop sign and opposing traffic does not, always stop.
Finally, here's a fun tip from PeopleForBikes.Org to get you out on a bike: Go for a type of bike ride that you normally wouldn't. If you're a road rider, try a mountain bike ride. If you've never ridden your bike to work, give bike commuting a shot. And if the ride to work isn't something you can tackle this year, ride your bike to run an errand you would normally do by car, even if it's just a trip to the coffee shop or ice cream parlor. Remember—forty percent of trips Americans take are two miles or less, an easy bicycling distance.
Spratling, Cassandra, "Cycling: Fitness Means Fun," Green Bay Press Gazette, May 15, 2012.
WDOT General Bike Rules
Cindy Johnson, Facebook Friend