Watching other people ride bikes can reveal many secrets about bike safety, riding risks and sharing the road. After an hour or so of engaging in this activity, a few things become crystal clear.
Bikers have many different riding styles. Some of these styles reflect the rider’s level of experience. Beginners tend to focus more on handling the bike than negotiating traffic.Generally, they ride more slowly, either out of fear or out of uncertainty. And they are tentative in both their decisions and their movements.
More experienced riders show more variety in their riding styles. Their speed and positioning on the road varies. Certain riders develop a lack of patience and begin to weave in and out of traffic. They squeeze between cars, sometimes riding in a zigzag pattern which disturbs many drivers.
Other experienced riders become more aware of safety issues related to riding in traffic. These riders draw upon their experience to gauge the relative risk of certain maneuvers within recognizable traffic patterns.
Traffic does have predictable patterns. On familiar roads, cars align themselves in a particular order. They do this because they know the layout of the road and the odds of making a given light depending on what lane they choose.
Knowing how cars congregate and how they align themselves on different stretches of a road can be a huge advantage for a cyclist, especially with respect to avoiding accidents. It can also be useful in devising a strategy for circumventing traffic.
Nonetheless, there are experienced cyclists who focus on speed. Once they know how to ride in traffic, their goal is to get where they’re going as fast as they can. To accomplish this, they dart around from one side of the road to another, making quick, sharp moves.
With confidence in their riding skills, they feel safe. Some might say that they feel invincible — or at least that’s how they look. Skill often gives one a false sense of security. Such a feeling should not be part of a cyclist’s outlook, since cyclists are vulnerable road users, and one encounter with a car can be one encounter too many. It can signify the end of the road for a cyclist — literally.
What all riders have in common is the frequency with which they make sudden moves. Whether it is due to debris in the road, a pothole, a careless pedestrian or an oncoming car, sudden moves play a large part of a bicyclist’s life. But, this shouldn’t be so.
Sudden moves are a cyclist’s enemy because they take everyone in the area by surprise. The only one who knows the cyclist’s intentions is the cyclist. Everyone else on the scene is guessing.
In a split second, drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists are trying to figure out what the cyclist will do. The problem with this is that whenever a bicycle shares the road with cars, its movements must be predictable. Guessing should be taken out of the equation.
This is where gradualness enters the picture. Gradualness is really the secret to efficient, safe riding.
Gradual movements give other road users an opportunity to adjust to the cyclist’s position over a period of time. No one has to suddenly alter their position to accommodate the cyclist or to avoid hitting him.
Moving gradually on a bike also gives a cyclist a simple way to take the lane. By moving left an inch at a time, the cyclist can work his way into the center of the lane without causing a driver to slam on her brakes.
Using a gradual motion strategy is also a good way to position oneself just outside the door zone without getting too close to cars on the left. Gliding away from parked cars can give a cyclist an advantage in nudging the traffic behind him over towards the center line. This creates a buffer in case the cyclist is forced to swerve into traffic to avoid an opening door.
To begin learning how to ride with gradual movements, cyclists should imagine that they are carting precious cargo on their bikes. If a cyclist had a child or a dog sitting behind his or her saddle, darting movements would seem counterproductive and dangerous. One’s passenger could easily be thrown off of the bike.
However, gradual movements would allow one to ride through traffic without undue risk to one’s passenger. This is what cyclists should aspire to, if they want to maximize their safety on the roads.
While darting, zigzagging and slow and steady riding may all seem safe to the rider engaging in these styles, all of these riders would be better off riding predictably and using gradual movements to control the traffic around them and to reduce the risk of having drivers make snap judgments — and judging wrong.