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Riding the Two Laners

Safety Corner logoby John S. Allen
from the June 2006 issue of WheelPeople

Charles River Wheelmen rides take advantage of many scenic and quiet country roads. Many of the numbered highways in Massachusetts also are relatively pleasant for bicycle travel, with light traffic (at least on weekends) and/or rideable shoulders.

Nonetheless, most club rides require some travel on highways that present challenging conditions. And the highways are generally the most direct routes if you are in a hurry to get somewhere. Riding safely on highways calls for a more defensive and less assertive approach, since motorists are traveling faster and need more time and distance to react.

On a narrow two-lane highway, you generally ride near the right edge. All in all, it is more important to be alert to conditions ahead of you than behind, and to deal with traffic behind you by wearing bright-colored clothing and being predictable. If you see traffic approaching from ahead, or you are approaching a blind curve, it can be helpful to pay extra attention to what is behind you. When passing a blind driveway to your right, check for traffic behind you, then move farther into the roadway, or if you can’t, slow down so that a driver exiting the driveway will see you in time to yield right of way.

A rear-view mirror makes it easier to determine whether vehicles approaching from ahead and behind might pass you at the same time. If this appears likely, evaluate the spot ahead of you where the pass will occur. Is the road width ample? If so, fine. If not, is the motorist approaching from the front moving to the right to make more room? Is the motorist behind you slowing to pass at a safer location? Usually, you can convince a motorist behind you to slow by using a hand signal and/or by moving toward the center of the roadway. And if you can’t convince the motorist to slow, you may need to slow so that both motorists don’t pass you simultaneously.

When multiple vehicles are approaching from the front, watch for vehicles pulling into your lane to pass. Be prepared to move right, or even leave the roadway, to avoid a head-on collision. Your attention could be a lifesaver.

On high-speed downhills, use more of the lane to maneuver safely and move farther left when approaching a driveway or intersection. Change lane position well in advance, so that everyone has time to adapt. If you are going as fast as the motor traffic, use the full lane just like a motorcyclist.

On highways with wider lanes, or shoulders, generally ride about four feet to the right of the overtaking motor traffic. Even on a highway with an extra-wide shoulder, maintain this position to reduce the likelihood of a “right hook” collision. Motorists can still pass you without having to use the oncoming lane, and you are more visible to drivers entering from the right.

You may want to move somewhat farther left before intersections, especially if a motorist behind you is preparing to turn right.Thanks to the open landscape and lower background noise level, one’s ears can be somewhat more useful on a rural highway than under urban or suburban conditions. Your hearing can often alert you to a motorist in a driveway or approaching from behind, or let you know that a vehicle behind you is slowing to make a turn. Turn your head slightly if necessary to help distinguish between noises from the front and from the rear. Be aware that a headwind not only makes it harder for other cyclists to hear your warnings, but also refracts the sound waves from vehicles behind you up and away, over your head.

Good group-riding discipline is especially important on a high-speed highway. Yes, motorists tend to be more courteous to groups of cyclists than to a lone cyclist, but overtaking the group also presents more of a challenge to a motorist. On a high-speed two-lane highway without shoulders, riding side by side is only appropriate if there is very light traffic, you can see a long distance back, and are glancing back frequently. Be especially careful to break up a large group so that overtaking motorists can merge between smaller groups when traffic approaches from the front. Also, when you are preparing to change lane position or turn, be sure that your view of the road is not blocked by another cyclist. Ride in an orderly line to avoid blocking the view for other cyclists.

Remember—safety is about choices. What choices will you make?

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