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Breaking Bad Habits

Safety Corner logoby Eli Post


Bad cycling habits can compromise your safety, as well as the safety of cyclists riding nearby. Most of us have habits we’d like to break, but we may not be aware that some are unsafe. Why do we keep these bad habits? How can we break them? How can we help others break theirs?

What follows are the observations of several experienced riders who care deeply about safety, and who hope that knowing what is right, will help you do what is right.

Bad Habit #1: Straying into Traffic

Perhaps the two most common bad habits are riders not keeping right, and not riding single file, when there is a car back. Cyclists in Massachusetts are now allowed to ride double-file, but only when it doesn’t impede traffic that could overtake safely. When there is traffic, everyone in a pack of riders must get into single file and stay to the right. It does not matter where you are in the pack. If someone is way up ahead in the middle of the road, cars cannot pass safely until everyone pulls over.

Unnecessarily delaying a motorist is not only inconsiderate, but can be unsafe if the motorist takes a risk in passing or loses his temper.

Bad Habit #2: Not Keeping Your Distance

Following other cyclists too closely is another common bad habit, but it’s one that can easily be broken if you put your mind to it. The closer you are to the rider in front, the less reaction time you have when there is a sudden change, and this effect multiplies if you are further back in the pack. Pacelining (intentionally riding close to the cyclist in front) should only be attempted by cyclists skilled in the art who agree to ride in such formation.

It’s also too common for cyclists who are used to riding in a pack to overtake others too closely, shoulder to shoulder. Racers agree to take the risk of riding close together. Don’t impose this risk on another cyclist who has not agreed to it - and who might be just about to swerve around a pothole. Call out “on your left” in time for the other cyclist to react, and leave at least three feet of clearance.

Bad Habit #3: Unpredictability

Stopping suddenly without warning is a significant cause of crashes. Some riders forget that there are riders behind them. Being mindful of those both in front and behind requires constant vigilance. If you drop an article of clothing, lose a water bottle or miss a turn, do not stop until you can signal and provide sufficient warning to those behind you.

It’s also important to be predictable to motorists, maintaining a predictable line that a motorist can count on. For example, a cyclist may suddenly move left to avoid a pothole then move back right, but a few feet later moves left again to avoid another. Motorists can’t anticipate such maneuvers and may try to pass at an inopportune moment.

Avoid other unpredictable behavior, like waiting until the last second before moving into a passing lane when approaching parked cars, or passing on the right, or not obeying traffic signs and lights.

Bad Habit #4: Discourtesy

Finally, there is a whole collection of bad habits that are perhaps more irritating than safety-related. For example, shouting “on your left” too late for a rider to react as you overtake; or pedaling then coasting on and off. The fact that many motorists have bad habits does not excuse ours. We owe it to ourselves and our fellow cyclists to continually improve our riding style.. Also, cheerfully providing feedback with a mind to assist others and increase their riding pleasure goes a long way.
Remember—safety is about choices. What choices will you make?

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