Safe Riding Practices
For me, the number one rule of riding safely is to follow your own sense of what is safe, which in turn will allow you to ride with confidence.
By confidence, I don’t mean cockiness. I’m referring to the assured attitude that comes from the perfect balance of alertness and relaxation. And that point of balance will be different for each person. There are riders who can confidently navigate Elston Ave and Chicago Loop, and there are those who assuredly steer a frontloader filled with three children through a maze of side strets to get to their destination. And then there are those for whom riding a bike on any street is scary, and —until and unless they overcome that fear through some deliberate practice— they will not feel safe or ride safely in traffic.
Having said all this, there are a few things that we can all do as urban cyclists to improve our safety.
Ride WITH traffic. Although you may feel safer seeing oncoming traffic, it is actually extremely dangerous and illegal to ride against traffic.
Obey traffic laws, but put your safety first. Get on the sidewalk if the street is dangerous. Better to risk getting a ticket than put yourself at real risk of bodily harm.
Be alert. DO NOT use headphones, talk on the phone, text, consume food or engage in any activity that might distract you from paying attention to the road conditions, markings and traffic around you.
Ride predictably and assertively. This means don’t continuously weave in a and out of your lane, and ride as far to the left side of the bike lane as practical. This gets you noticed, and makes it less likely you’ll get squeezed into the door zone of parked cars.
Wear a helmet, even though it is not required in Chicago. I know there are some who will argue with this, and that’s their right. I don’t thinks helmets are be-all and end-all of bicycle safety, and they certainly are no guarantee of it. But, two points:
I have been working with urban cyclists for 25 years, and have heard weekly accounts from riders who were spared serious injuries by having a helmet on their heads, and literally zero accounts of those who were saved from injury by having no helmet.
A properly fitted, properly worn helmet communicates to those around you that you are a responsible road user who takes safety seriously. And that’s worth a lot.
Be seen, even during the day. Use front and rear lights and reflective accessories liberally.