May is “Bike to Work” month. With winter weather behind for most of us, it’s a great time to use your bicycle more often for transportation, and not just for recreation. Cycling for transportation for most of us means that we often ride in the city. Safety is a major concern, so this month we are preparing a series of posts about cycling safety.
To start with, let’s look at one of the greatest dangers to cyclists: poor riding skills. More than half of all cycling accidents and 16% of cycling fatalities do not involve collisions with other vehicles. So how can you improve your riding skills and avoid crashing?
The biggest step is learning to control your bicycle with confidence. It may appear counterintuitive, but riding timidly makes you less safe. Not only is your bike more stable and maneuverable at higher speeds, but if you know its limits, you are better able to respond to unforeseen hazards. You can stop faster or change direction quicker without risking a crash.
Here are four things you can practice to improve your confidence in handling your bike. Do this only while riding on a traffic-free stretch of road:
1. Ride in a perfectly straight line.
- Why? Not wobbling will make you safer and more predictable in traffic.
- Where to practice: Ride on the white “fog line” at the edge of the road.
- How to do it: Relax your grip on the handlebars. Your bike will go straight, if you let it find its own way. As you sense your bike’s movements, decrease your inputs until you are riding in a very straight line.
2. Place your bike on the road with accuracy.
- Why? If you can place your wheels exactly where you want, it’s easy to avoid hazards like potholes and debris.
- Where to practice: To practice, go between two lane marker dots without touching them with either wheel.
- How to do it: Your bike goes where you look: if you look at a lane marker dot (or pothole), then you’ll hit it. Focus instead on the gap between two lane-marker dots. Here, too, relax your grip on the handlebars. You only can go where you want if you don’t wobble.
3. Brake hard.
- Why? You will be amazed how quickly you can stop.
- Where to practice: Braking is best practiced on a downhill. Let the bike roll, then brake hard. Repeat and brake even harder.
- How to do it: Use only your front brake. Shift your weight back and lock your elbows to brace yourself against “going over the bars”. (This is the only time you want to grip your handlebars with force.) The photo at the top of the blog shows the correct technique.
4. Jump your bike.
- Why? Being able to jump over cracks, steps in the road or small potholes greatly increases your safety in traffic. Jumping also is helpful when faced with railroad tracks that run at an oblique angle to your direction of travel.
- Where to practice: First work on just getting the wheels off the ground a little. Then pick a line in the road and jump over it.
- How to do it: For those of us who did not grow up with BMX, this will work best with clipless pedals or toeclips. Make sure your feet are secure. Bend your knees and elbows, then launch your body upward. Your bike will follow.
Once you master these four skills, you’ll be a much more confident and safe rider. What exercises do you use to improve your confidence and ability to control your bike?