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Awareness and Anticipation

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by Eli Post



The route turned onto a main street of one of the small historic towns that dot the New England landscape. As the rider moved along, the door of a parked car swung open. On another ride, another rider encountered a recently paved road which had a dangerous clump of concrete covered over by fresh paint and was essentially invisible. Elsewhere there were deep potholes at the end of a long downhill, not visible until you were nearly on top of them. And then there was the time when the rider decided to pass a row of riders in front of him, and at that very moment the motorist behind decided to pass them all. All of these examples were actual events on club rides, and none are pretty.

With all the safety issues that confront a cyclist, how do you anticipate what can’t be seen or is not immediately apparent? You obviously can’t, but you must recognize that safety is paramount when cycling, and participants must be vigilant and constantly on the alert for hazards. There’s more to safe cycling than remembering a few basic guidelines. It means developing a mindset that keeps the safety mission uppermost in your thoughts so that you are in fact prepared for the mishap that might cross your path unexpectedly. The act of foreseeing, expecting and taking measures against possible future exposure to risk is common in sports and is the athlete’s responsibility. It’s the downhill skier, ever watchful for patches of ice or exposed terrain. It’s the diver who must be mindful of the hazards of the marine environment. And it’s the cyclist who must never forget that he/she shares the road and that noticing potential dangers requires awareness and anticipation.

You share the road. You are riding along on a beautiful country road and enjoying the experience, but remember that you do not have exclusive use of the roadway and that at any moment you may encounter a motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian. Know your rights and the rights of others, and remember the simple rules. Bicyclists and motorists are both responsible for bicycle safety. Many bicycle-motor vehicle collisions are attributed to various bicyclist behaviors, such as disregarding a traffic control sign or signal, and others are attributed to motorist behaviors, such as inattention and impatience. Motorists might merge across the path of a cyclist, and even run stop signs and red lights. These actions can’t always be predicted, but anticipating the possibility allows a cyclist to plan an evasive response in advance. Stay aware of your surroundings, and constantly check traffic conditions especially when changing lanes or turning onto another roadway. While you are encouraged to ride predictably and lawfully, you cannot assume that others will always obey the rules.

Be alert! You cannot always predict when a stray animal or even another cyclist will cross your path, or when other unexpected events will require you to act immediately to avoid danger. The dog standing by the side of the road, may suddenly want to race alongside you. A parked car may suddenly enter the roadway. The rider in front of you hears his or her cell phone ringing and without warning stops to answer. Anticipate events that could cause you harm and ride defensively in uncertain circumstances. Being alert means staying on top of the situation, and monitoring the area ahead of you for signs of potential danger. It means being aware that conditions could turn quickly and being prepared to deal them. Keep your eyes moving, taking in the big picture, including scanning as far ahead as possible. If you see the potential for a bad situation to develop, plan your course of action so that, if you have to, you can act quickly and appropriately. No ride is “risk free”, but through exercising care and anticipation, you will be safer. You should be a confident and watchful cyclist—alert, not alarmed.

Imperfect Situations. A ride on a pleasant spring day along a deserted country road can be a delight, but we do not have full control of the environment and must deal with changes beyond our control. Rain, for example, can come without warning and be accompanied by decreased visibility, and reduced braking. The ride may take longer than anticipated and you may suddenly be confronted with decreased visibility as night approaches. A nearly empty road starts filling with vehicles as afternoon rush hour traffic mounts. An emergency vehicle comes out of nowhere and motorists scurry for the shoulder, perhaps right across your path. Be prepared to deal with such situations and have contingency plans in case they arise. Make your own decision—don’t just follow others.

There’s no complete list of what to watch for, or what contingency plans to take, but take note of the more common strategies: signal and slow down on turns, ride single file on heavily trafficked roads, do not stop suddenly and without warning if at all possible, merge left out of the “door zone” before reaching a row of parked cars, if you can’t see around a curve in the road, slow down, and finally be aware of all cars, people, and animals that are moving or could move. Always be prepared to take evasive maneuvers.

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