I’m a nervous rider in traffic. I also live in a big city, with three lanes of traffic, squeezed into a space that was probably meant for a horse and cart. Due to this, I’m a pretty cautious rider when it comes to traffic. I’ve been run off my bike, I’ve banged on a few bonnets of cars to let them know I was there, and had plenty of close scares, but thankfully no real injuries (just a big scar on my knee).
I just wanted to share with you a few tips that make me feel safer on the roads. You may be a much better rider than me, and a lot more confident in traffic, and these may not work for you, but hey, it seems to work for me.
1. When in doubt, take up the lane. Often I see riders riding right in the left hand side of the lane, which tempts cars to squeeze around them to the right. If you’re in traffic and you’re a bit nervous about the cars, make sure that the car has to make deliberate effort (ie change lanes) in order to get around you. This gives you more space, but also means you have room on your left to get out of the way if it all goes wrong. You don’t want to be squooshed right up against a gutter with nowhere to go if it all goes pearshaped.
2. Don’t wear lycra. This may be a bit radical, but I’ve noticed I get treated much better by motorists when riding my touring bike in a skort (knicks underneath) and blouse with a pannier than when I’m in lycra on my road bike. I think the casual clothing helps motorists to think that you’re not part of the ‘lycra menace’, but just a person , like them, going somewhere.
3. Choose your route before you go. Sites like Bikely can help you find routes that have less traffic, or good road shoulders to ride on.
4. Ride consistently. Ride in a straight line, and be predictable about your actions. Clear hand signals when turning right help drivers know what you’re planning.
5. Try and predict what drivers will do. If you see a car parked in the shoulder of the lane you are riding in with their lights on, be prepared that they might pull out in front of you. If you see a car parked in the shoulder of the road with a person in it, be prepared that they might open the door on you. Be ready for anything.
6. Choose your time of day. This may not be useful if you are commuting, but early in the morning can be a lot quieter than later in the day. On the other hand, peak hour traffic can often move so slowly that you are easily keeping up with traffic. Either way, avoiding masses of fast flowing traffic eager to get around you can make your ride less stressful.
7. Ride with other more experienced riders. This can help you gain confidence in riding in traffic, and they can also ride behind you to aid your visibility. In addition to this, they can help give you tips on dealing with traffic.
Anyhow, I’m by no means an expert, but see how you go.