If you’ve been in a Safe Routes to School class, taken the Smart Cycling class offered by the city (previously called Traffic Safety 101), or been to any “bike basics” kind of event, then you’ve probably already heard the ABC’s of bike safety. The uber quick version is:
A – Check that you have Air in your tires.
B – Check that your Brakes are working.
C – Look over your Cranks, Chain, and Cogs to make sure crank arms are tight, and the chain is not rusted or covered in black gunk. Make sure shifting is smooth.
Once you’ve checked these things and you feel like you’re good to go, there’s some things to keep in mind during your ride.
D – Watch out for the Door zone. Many schools have bikes lanes right next to the parking lane. When there are no parked cars, it’s not a problem. But when parents are waiting on students, they might pop out of the car to talk to someone. At that point, if you’re biking past, their door might pop out in front of you and when your front tire hits it, you’ll go flying over your handle bars. Avoid this by riding to the left side of the bike lane, away from the doors.
E – F – G
H – Wear a Helmet. Keep a brush or comb in your locker or backpack and remind yourself that a bad hair day is nothing compared to a head on the pavement kind of day. Despite the controversy around helmets, they do save lives. But they don’t work when they’re back home in the garage.
I – J
K – Keep alert. When you’re headed to school, it’s easy to fall in with some friends and chat while you travel. This is only natural. But don’t let that distract you from watching for cars backing out of driveways, sleepy motorists who might edge into your lane, or motorists/bicyclists/pedestrians who think red lights are just a suggestion.
L – Use Lights and reflectors. Don’t be a ninja. We usually think about needing bike lights at night and most students don’t hang out at the school till after dark. But what about heading to school in the early morning? especially when the sun is in motorists’ eyes? You don’t want to be invisible (like a ninja). Even though the sun is rising and you don’t need lights on your bike to see the road, it’s still a good idea to have flashing lights in front and back of your bike just to make sure motorists see you. Remember, they’re behind glass, which might have the glare of the morning sun on it. They’re probably squinting just to see what’s directly ahead of them. Having a flashing light will help to make sure they still give you the required 3 feet of space as they pass. (Just don’t forget to turn your lights off when you get to school!)
M – Magnify your intentions. Motorists don’t know what your plans are so speak with your body so they have a clue. If you’re at a stop sign and you’re going to wait on them, put your foot down so they get the message. If you’re going to be making a turn, signal that by sticking your arm out in the direction you’re going to go. Don’t speed up to intersections but start slowing down in advance so motorists know you’re planning on stopping. Make eye contact.
N – O
P – Watch out for Pedestrians. Though many schools have sidewalks leading up to them, not all do. If you’re bicycling on the shoulder of the road and there are pedestrians in the way ahead of you, first look over your shoulder and make sure the traffic lane is clear before passing them. If it’s not clear, then slow down and pedal patiently until it’s safe to pass. Remember, you should treat pedestrians with the same respect and consideration that you wish motorists gave to you as a cyclist.
R – Ride right. This doesn’t mean hugging the curb. That’s actually kinda dangerous. It just means traveling in the same direction as the rest of traffic.
S – Stop. Don’t blast through lights or stop signs. Do come to a stop. This doesn’t mean that you’re required to put a foot down.
– Stop signs: If you’re approaching a stop sign, slow to a bike-stop (there should be a moment when you’re balanced but not moving), verify that the way is clear, then proceed. If the way isn’t clear, then I highly recommend putting a foot down at that point. This is a clear signal to motorists that you are stopped and will be proceeding when it is your turn to do so.
– Stop lights: If the light is red, stop. If you wait for a considerable length of time (2 minutes or so), there is no other traffic anywhere to be seen, and the light just doesn’t seem to get that you’re there and you need it to change, then proceed through the red light with caution when the way is clear. If there’s an “all seeing eye” at the light, then it should catch that you’re there. But if there’s not, there may be no way for the light to recognize you’re there. In that case, there’s nothing you can do but proceed when the way is clear. (You could wait until a car comes and triggers the light. But that could mean waiting a very long time.)
T – Take the lane. There are times when you’re heading down a street and there’s really not enough room for you and a car to be side by side. Given that there’s a Colorado law stating that the farthest projecting part of a car (usually the side mirror) has to be 3 full feet from the farthest projecting part of your bike (usually the handle bars) there are many traffic lanes that simply won’t legally accommodate two vehicles side-by-side in the same lane. When you’re on a stretch of road like that, you should take the lane. That means to ride right in the center of the lane to discourage any motorists behind you from trying to squish in there with you. It won’t work, but they might not realize it. So taking the lane is your way to “encourage” them to obey the law. Once you’ve got a shoulder or bike lane, then it’s OK to get right again and let them pass. (Note: Elementary kids are small and may not be visible while taking the lane. Ideally they would be able to find a route where there’s always access to a sidewalk or bike lane. Granted, around some of our elementary schools that’s not always possible. But it is the goal.)
V – Be Visible. If you don’t want to wear bright clothes, at least stick a few bright doo dads on your back pack that will help make you stand out. There are times to be invisible and times to really stand out in a crowd. Any time you’re on a bicycle, you want to be noticed. If you’re seen, you’re much less likely to be hit.
W – X – Y – Z.
I missed several letters here. If you have an A-B-C to add to the list, please post it in the comments.
Stay safe out there and have a great school year!