Life in the Bike Lane

How not to get hit by a car

By: Tom Frady
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To see columnist Tom Frady’s Tour de Lincoln ride last Saturday, see

I was in a bike shop some time ago, one that sells used bikes.  There was a pristine, high-end road bike for sale, ridden three times.  I was told the owner was a new rider, and after contending with traffic for those three rides, decided that cycling wasn’t for him.

Drivers and riders sharing the roads can be problematic, at times.  If you’re new to riding or haven’t ventured out on some major thoroughfares yet, here are a few tips to make it safer for everyone.

Avoid busy streets.  This isn’t always possible but the route you take in your car may not be the best to take on your bike. On a bike, you can often travel through quiet neighborhoods, crossing those busy streets instead of riding on them.

Get some lights.  Why do most riders ride at night without lights?  I see it all the time.  Modern headlights and taillights use LEDs, so the batteries last a very long time.  Riders need to see and be seen.  Use them during the day, too.

Make turn signals.  You don’t want to surprise drivers with a turn.  Use signals.  Point to the left with your left arm for a left turn.  Point to the right for a right turn with your right arm.  Most drivers have never used hand signals and may not know what the old bent arm, right turn signal means.  Even the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) says point to the right with your right arm.  If you’re heading straight through an intersection, point to where you are going.   Moving into the lane, point to the lane where you are going. 

Headphones and cell phones.  Just no. You’re on a bike.  You need to pay attention to all the sounds and all that goes on around you.

Take the lane.  Something drivers don’t always understand is that it is often safer, and legal, for a cyclist to move to the left and take all or part of the traffic lane.  The vehicle code says cyclists must ride “as far to the right of the roadway as is practicable (safe), not as far to the right as possible.  Sometimes, a rider can be seen better away from the curb, parked cars, trees and bushes.  Riding too closely to parked cars can make you a victim of a suddenly-opened car door.

When you are riding on a street with several side streets, parking lots and driveways, many drivers making left turns are looking at the middle of the road, not to the far right.  You are more visible “out of the shadows.”

There are risks to both riding on the extreme right and taking the lane. What you do depends on many factors.  On very fast roads, cars have less time to see you because of the speed at which they are approaching.  It would be an unusual situation on roads like McCourtney, Wise and Barton where you should take the lane.  For the most part, these roads have fast traffic and minimal shoulders, so you need to ride as far to the right as is safe. 

One great accessory to enhance your safety is a rear view mirror, either the kind that attaches to your helmet or your handlebars.  No one would drive a car without mirrors (in fact, it’s the law), so why wouldn’t you use one on a bicycle?  I don’t understand why mirrors aren’t used on the Tour de France. 

Ride safe.  Be safe. 

Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.