As we have now become more accustomed to our “new normal,” many individuals have discovered the importance of spending time outdoors to maintain physical and mental wellbeing. We all are tired of being inside while trying to “work from home” or just being at home. We are trying to find new creative ways to spend time, clear our minds, and get some exercise while social distancing. I too have found greater importance for outdoor recreation through my increased time spent cycling during Covid-19.
It can be argued that the best part of bicycling is the sense of freedom one experiences. When “hitting the road,” you leave your woes behind. Speeding along with the wind in your hair, it’s easy to forget about the stress and demands of your everyday life. However, if you are just beginning to ride or often ride alone, it’s also easy to forget that you’re not the only one out there. This can pose serious consequences for you, as well as others. Keeping in mind a few simple guidelines can ensure that riding remains not just a fun activity, but a safe one.
1. Be Predictable
If others know what you’re doing, they can do what they need to do to avoid you. This doesn’t only apply for other bicyclists, but for motorists as well. When you’re out on your bike, you have to be predictable. The last thing you want to do is surprise a motorist. Being predictable means doing what’s expected. Ride your bike with traffic, for instance, as this is where drivers expect to find you. Announce your intentions as much as you can, whether physically or verbally. Signal when making a turn, and when you intend to pass another rider, always do your best to notify them.
2. Be Alert
It’s tempting to pop in your headphones while you ride or to chat it up with a riding partner, but both of these things take your attention away from your surroundings leading to accidents. Always keep a lookout for potential dangers when you ride. Be aware of traffic around you, traffic signals/signs, and “cars back” or behind you. Watch out for road hazards. By keeping your attention on your ride, you not only get the most out of your workout, but you also steer clear of any unexpected mishaps.
3. Keep to the Right
As a cyclist, you should mostly ride on the right side of the road. Some cyclists prefer “owning” the road and keeping traffic behind them, but this should only be done on rare occasions. If you spot a hazard (like a big pothole or lots of loose gravel) make sure to establish your position on the road as soon as it is safe to do so. There is nothing worse than trying to avoid something in the last few seconds and riding out into traffic. Once you pass the hazard, move back onto the shoulder of the road and give the traffic behind you a nice smile and a wave. Under no circumstances should you ever cross into oncoming traffic! Better to wait for a passing opportunity than to risk a head-on collision with a motorist.
4. Never pass to the Right
Always pass a slower rider on the left-hand side. This is common etiquette, but it’s also a standard safety practice. In keeping with the first rule, always announce your approach “Approaching rider” and your intention “Passing on the left!” when you pass someone. When getting back into cycling myself, I didn’t often do this. After some scary situations where I failed to do so, I now consider it common cycling etiquette.
5. Don’t draft a stranger
Drafting is a term used to describe riding close behind another rider in order to conserve energy. The rider in front is doing most of the work to overcome the force of drag, while the rider in the back is taking advantage of the slipstream. Most bicyclists won’t mind if you draft them, but some riders are vehemently opposed to a complete stranger riding so close. For one thing, they have no idea about your level of experience, and you might be endangering them by being so close to them. To avoid any problems or confrontations, it’s easiest to just avoid drafting. If you must draft, announce your intentions, and then offer to reciprocate by taking the front position later in the ride.
6. Adjust your mindset on multi-use paths
There’s nothing like the feeling of glassy, smooth pavement that’s flat and straight with minimal stop requirements. But, that doesn’t mean you should go as fast as you possibly can. Bike paths are for everyone and to stay safe, keep those around you safe, and avoid irritating everyone else, you should show respect to fellow bike path users. Bikes are big machines on paths. They’re faster and more efficient, but can also be the most dangerous. Adjust your speed to avoid collisions or startling anyone. Be on the lookout for small children who might inadvertently dart into your path. Always yield to pedestrians no matter what the circumstances. “Wheels yield to heels” is an unsung motto for cycling on any path, sidewalk, or highway for that matter. Follow the adage and proper bike path etiquette and you can’t go wrong when cycling on pathways. Get out there and enjoy them, that’s why they’re there.
7. Have Fun!
Cycling is supposed to be a rewarding experience. If you find yourself getting aggravated or stressed out, then you need to do something differently. Whether that means taking a different approach to the way you handle confrontations or finding a more isolated place to ride is up to you. The bottom line is that getting on your bike should be a way to leave your troubles behind, not add to them. It should get your heart going, yes, but only in a good way.
As we continue to navigate our way through the current situation, I encourage you to find the time and enjoy the physical and mental benefits from time spent in the outdoors. You can discover a new hobby, complete a project that has been on your “to-do” or “Honey-do” list for a while, or learn a new skill if you have extra time on your hands. I have found that these can make the time much more enjoyable!
I hope that you are able to stay safe, healthy, active, and in good spirits during this unprecedented time.
Until next time,
Andrew “Howie” Howard
About Howie, NCRPA 2020 Summer Intern