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THE BALANCED LIFE | Admit mortality—improve your cycling safety

W hen it comes to getting home in one piece on my bicycle from a training ride, tour, or open-road event, “Whatever it takes” works for me.

When it comes to getting home in one piece on my bicycle from a training ride, tour, or open-road event, “Whatever it takes” works for me. If you’re willing to wrap fragile flesh and bones in the thinnest of lycra and share three metres of asphalt with cars and trucks travelling five times your speed, you’re already a pretty confident cyclist.

That’s good, because some of these tips are pretty unconventional.

If you’re relatively new to cycling, use them only if they match your riding style and philosophy. And above all, the Voice and I are not responsible, no matter what happens.

To be safe in town, a little bike messenger DNA in your genes helps. Remember that car turn signals are about as trustworthy as Kim Jong-un or Putin. At intersections watch the eyes of motorists around you, where they’re looking and if their vehicle’s front wheels are pointed even remotely in the same direction. Check parked cars, looking for motion (not that kind of motion!), and look between cars for pedestrians and big dopey dogs.

Be extremely visible, everywhere, all the time, case closed. I’m cool with little black dresses at parties and camouflage clothing for duck hunting, but if it ain’t neon or similar on a bike, you’re just stupid. And that goes for allowing your kids out at night dressed like Johnny Cash, too; small, dark, a heartbreaking tragedy waiting to happen.

Always know what’s behind you. Stopping on a dime when a motorist cranks a right in front of you isn’t the best choice when you’re being tailgated by a texting airhead. Practice evasive maneuvers and sharp turns in advance, rather than experience on-the-scene training.

Lose your earbuds. Peripheral vision is 180 degrees, unobstructed hearing is 360. I consistently hear vehicles approaching from behind before I see them, and their sounds can convey speed, type of vehicle (think very wide tractor, or 14-wheeler), and maybe even driver IQ (reverberating bass, golden oldies cranked way up, squealing tires, etc.).

Assume you’re invisible, that in their heart of hearts no one really gives a crap about sharing their road with you, and if someone can make a wrong decision behind the wheel, they will. Assume all approaching drivers are on cellphones, just had a fight with their significant others, or are auditioning for the “World’s Worst Driver” TV show.

If you ride on the road at night, make sure your will is current. Your little $14.99 LED light is flashing in a world of zillion-watt burger-joint signs and oncoming Xenon headlights, and at night it’s way more probable the guy piloting the F-150 behind you has had a couple of beers.

Predictability on a bike is espoused as safe, but I prefer targeted unpredictability

You’re eating your carrots every day so you don’t lose your night vision, right? Ever see anyone with a bunch of carrots in their hand while they’re driving at night? Think about it. Maybe a florescent safety vest covered in Christmas lights would help, but there’s a reason I’m not out there after dark.

Predictability on a bike is espoused as safe, but I prefer targeted unpredictability.

When you’re cycling along a country road daydreaming, chances are the driver barreling along behind is doing the same. Check over your shoulder, and if they’re within 100 metres and still in your lane, try briefly weaving around like a drunken soccer hooligan (stay in your lane), then get back to your position. They’ll slam on the brakes because they’ve seen you for the first time, give you the finger, or honk because they don’t know what the heck you might do next, but they saw you and slowed down. Mission accomplished.

If you’re faced with traffic approaching from both directions, recognize that both vehicles will without a doubt meet exactly where you’re riding. You might be the loser in their game of chicken if neither one will slow down or move over. If one’s a black Suburban with tinted windows, and the other’s a Grand Marquis, you’re dead meat. Choose the Plan B option, and prepare to hit the shoulder or ditch fast.

Forget about your “rights.” If your legal rights as a cyclist are being decided in a courtroom, it’s already too late. Take your lane where it’s safe and makes sense, but appreciate that cars and trucks can’t feel pain when you’re selecting your battles.

Hope these tips got you thinking, and please don’t be intimidated by the hyperbole.

Cycling is fun, healthy, and safer than most people think. The huge majority of Pelham drivers are extremely courteous and competent.

Just be prepared for the exceptions. Happy Autumn.