This article was originally published in the Friday July 8th 2011 edition of the Lake Tahoe paper, the Sierra Sun.
Summer has finally (officially) arrived in the Sierras. These cloudless days of endless warmth bring cyclists of all types onto Truckee's roads. Automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians are all trying to go somewhere in Tahoe. How can we all get along and stay safe?
Understand your place on the roads
Cars are restricted to roads; bicycles are restricted to roads, bike lanes and bike paths; pedestrians have no restrictions but are safest on sidewalks and walkways. When you are on your bicycle, your are bound to the same traffic laws as when you are driving your car. The only difference is that you have access to bike lanes. Stop signs, stop lights, turn lanes and turn signaling laws apply to every cyclist on the street. Unless you are walking with your bike, avoid riding on sidewalks. Not only is it dangerous to yourself and those around you, but it's illegal in California. So first and foremost, ride on the road when no bike path is available.
Assume no one can see you when riding
When riding your bike on the roads, position yourself to be as visible as possible. This often means riding further into the middle of the lane. If the road is too narrow to offer a shoulder to safety ride in, take the whole lane. It's yours by California law. If you are approaching a stop sign or signal, take the whole lane, either directly in front or behind other stopped vehicles. Don't put yourself in a position where a vehicle could make a right or left turn into your bike. If you are approaching a cross-street with traffic waiting to turn, take the whole lane. Cars at intersections ahead of you can see you better if you're squarely in the road, rather than on the extreme edge where you're easily overlooked. In all situations, brightly colored or neon clothing greatly improves your visibility. It may or may not improve your fashion style.
Look first, and signal all of your moves
Automobiles have rear-view mirrors, turn signals and brake lights for a reason, it's safer for everyone on the road to know what you plan on doing. You need to replicate all three of these features while on your bike.
- There are a wide variety of bicycle rear-view mirrors on the market that will aid in checking the traffic behind you. However, the technique of turning your head to look behind while riding works just as well if you can do it safely (practice this one first). Always look or check your mirror before you turn.
- Extend and point your left arm out to the left to move or turn left. Extend and point your right arm out the right to move or turn right. While you could use the traditional hand signals as taught by the DMV, I would not wager my life on every motorist understanding them. Again, always look before signaling, or you could get your arm taken out by a passing car.
- If you plan on stopping or slowing down, extend your left arm at a 45 degree angle with the palm of your hand facing rearward.
By adhering to the rules-of-the-road, automobile drivers will be more aware of your presence. As more cyclists as a whole adopt these practices, the bicycle versus car incidents will decline. Truckee is trending towards being a bicycle friendly community and the best way to get there is if we all stay safe.