Bicycle Traffic Signs

This section should actually be re-titled as "defensive cycling". Trying to safely navigate through traffic on a fully loaded bicycle needs a whole new set of rules. You will see that the bike handles different because of the extra weight. It will take longer for the bike to slow down and the bike will tend to want to tip over depending on which direction air flow passes over it.

It will be great if all of the roads on your route will be rural ones with little or no traffic but that is not the case. Face it. Motorists do not want to really share the road with you even though you have all the legal right to be on the roads also. Nine out of ten motorists will not mind you being on the road.

It is always that one-tenth who will use every trick in the book to make you know that you should get off the road and walk. When you least expect it, they will blare their horns at you when they get right behind you in hopes that you might slip up, lose your concentration, and fall. Also, some of these motorists might use the speed of their vehicle to give projectiles more momentum.

I've had aluminum cans, fruit, and glass bottles thrown my way. In Tucson, AZ several years ago, I had one motorists decide that I would look better with a strawberry milkshake on the back of my jacket. Several years ago, somebody in New Jersey felt that I needed an orange thrown onto the back of my neck while I was walking across a drawbridge.

Even though it was a rarity, I even had encounters with motorists who would either open their car doors your way or maybe even roll down the passenger window and give your bike a shove. Age doesn't help categorize bad drivers.

Here are some good rules to think about:

a) Watch out for traffic in general.

Be aware that some motorists feel that since you are not enclosed in a metal shell you don't need to be watched. I've had motorists speed through intersections in front of me and turn right into my path without giving me enough time to know what they are doing. Ramps on busy interchanges are dangerous because some motorists will get onto the ramp in front of you at the last second instead of turning onto the ramp behind you which is the safest thing to do.

Don't get caught in the driver's blind side. Most often they are looking for moving traffic not something that isn't in motion. I've accidently had car doors opened on me because the people were not looking at what they were doing. Earlier this year, my bike was slightly damaged while I was walking through a parking lot because the driver in the van was more interested in finding a parking space and not what was in front of them. Luckily,there was a bicycle shop within three miles so that I could get the rear wheel trued.

b) Ride with the flow of traffic.

- This is because you have to follow all of the road as all of the other motored vehicles on the road. Rule of thumb is "ride with, walk against". It is best to maintain a safe distance between yourself and other riders or vehicles. Watch out for people who want to turn in front of you. Be aware of bright sunlight, fatigue, darkness, and sharp bends in the road.

Get ready for passing vehicles. This is especially for large semi-trucks or other wide vehicles. Hold onto your handlebars firmly and lower your body to lessen wind-resistance along with moving out of the way as much as possible. Keep in mind that the wind from passing vehicles will tend to "pull" cyclist forward and to the left.

Ride with confidence. Timid, wobbly riders make motorists nervous. Cyclist or groups of cyclists who look like they know what they are doing are more than likely to get extra room and respect.

c) Don't be a road-hog.

You don't need the full width of the lane to ride safely. If there are more than one cyclist, ride single file. This is required by law in most states. If there is a shoulder no matter how wide it is, this is the best place to be riding in. Don't hug the curb too closely. Maintain a safe distance from the road's edge.

If there is no shoulder, the best thing would be to "white-line" the edge of the road. You could possibly safely get to about a foot to the left of the white line. Be aware that panniers and tents could hang out about two feet from the bicycle.

Don't swerve back and forth around parked cars or other obstacles. Maintain a straight course and avoid opening car doors. I've gotten whacked by car doors several times including once on the neck. Do not ride on sidewalks (unless there is no other safe option). Even when this is allowed by law, it is seldom safe. Curb cuts can be hazards.

d) Be aware of side air turbulence caused by vehicles.

You cannot actually see it but there is an air envelop that develops around a moving vehicle and it can be very strong especially for fast, large vehicles that have poor aerodynamics (like flat bed trucks and buses).

When two large vehicles overtake each other along a two laned road, they can pass you within several feet. At this range, the air blast can knock you over. If you have the chance, you should stop and brace yourself if you have enough time.

If you get overtaken by a vehicle, it is another situation. You will have to deal with a sudden burst of speed that your bicycle is given as the vehicle approaches you from behind. The more clearance that the vehicle driver gives you, the less you will have to jostle with the extra turbulence for your balance. Keep in mind, your surface area is significantly increased with all of your panniers and gear. It is best to try and slow down and move close to the edge of the road or off on a shoulder if possible. Avoid riding on un-paved shoulders. Loose dirt and stones can flip you really easy.

e) Watch out for road litter.

Be vary careful with it. Avoid it at all cost. Litter no mater how small can flip you. Broken glass can also be a problem. Watch out for scraps of tires because the metal in them from the beads can easily puncture tires and tubes. f) Watch out for extensive speed going down hills.

It might be neat cruising down hills at speeds over thirty miles an hour might make you feel like you are a kamikaze but it only takes a split second to crash. Reaction time decreases with speed. You don't have much time to see ahead and judge if there are any cracks in the roadway, loose gravel or stones, or trash.

The real key to riding downhill safely is to remain in control of the bike and the situation. Because of the extra weight from the gear on the bike, it is easy to gain too much speed even on hills that are relatively shallow or short. Prepare at the top of the hill by making sure that your hands, head, neck, and toes are protected from the wind. Wear protective eyewear so that your eyes keep from watering as you descend or if something pops up from the road or you might even get hit in the eye by a bug.

When it is hot outside, you may need to stop occasionally during long descents so that your brake pads and rims cool off. Heat can be generated with sustained braking. The best way to decrease speed is to use frequent quick taps on your brakes. This is called "feathering" your brakes. You need to concentrate on applying your rear brake before your front.

g) Cycle with your mouth closed.

This is easier said than done. Insects can easily fly into your mouth. They don't always taste the best.

h) Be careful with headwinds.

The best way in dealing with headwinds is to avoid them. Find out about local wind patterns prior to your trip if it is possible. If the winds get too bad, this might be the time to take a break and have fun doing something else. When there isn't any way to avoid riding in a headwind, downshift into a lower gear, keep your pedaling cadence up, and keep your body low to minimize wind-resistance. With regards to cross-winds, use the same technique and keep a safe distance away from the road's edge or traffic lane (depending on which way the wind is blowing).

i) Use caution in cold weather.

Cycling produces a lot of body heat, so touring in moderate conditions can be pleasant. When temperatures drop, you should wear adequate clothing (wear layers of light loose clothing), protect your extremities (feet, hands, and head), and stay well fed, hydrated, and rested.

Watch out for snow and ice on the road. To limit the chances for crashing and skidding, you need to slow down, ride cautiously, and adjust your center of gravity back slightly on your bike. This changing of center of gravity will allow you to swerve or make a quick turn safely and prevent your front wheel from skidding.

j) Use caution at night.

If you are in unfamiliar territory, the best thing to do is to be off the road at night. When night riding is unavoidable, you should ride cautiously and wear the proper clothing. Outer wear that is light in color and has reflective patches or tape on it is a must. Also, make sure that your headlight and taillight work. It is also best to stay well away from the road's edge, proceed slowly, and avoid riding in risky situations (like on busy, curvy, or poorly maintained roads).

k) Use caution with bridges.

To cross most bridges safely, you should wait for a break in traffic going both directions and then cross the bridge far enough out in the traffic lane to keep the cars from trying to squeeze by you. Approach all bridge decks cautiously. Some bridges have either corrugated or grooved surfaces that can be dangerous.

Bridge surfaces also have the tendency to attract a lot of debris at the edge of the road surface. If all else fails, get off and walk your bike across the bridge. This could give your legs the break that they need.

l) Use caution with tunnels.

Like bridges, tunnels usually have narrow shoulders. Stop just prior to the tunnel entrance and time your entry to coincide with a break in traffic. Turn on your headlight and taillight so cars can see you. Remove your sunglasses. Ride through the tunnel quickly and cautiously without stopping.

m) Watch out for construction zones.

Follow all the above precautions and follow the instructions the safety personnel if there are any. Watch out for debris, workers and construction vehicles turning into the roadways.

n) Be wary of rumble strips.

Rumble strips are sets of miniature speed bumps that can be found on the shoulders of some roads. They are put in place to alert drivers who veer off the roads. These strips can be a nuisance than a serious hazard. Steer around them whenever possible. Excessive riding over them can cause a popped spoke. I found that out several years ago in Utah.

o) Watch out for train tracks.

These can really trap tires especially when they run diagonally to the roadway. It is the best to try and cross tracks at a ninety degree angle with your weight centered over the bike. If you can, stop and walk across them. Along with this, you need to avoid cattle crossings also in the same way.

p) Be wary of water puddles.

Be careful when you go through these before and after rain storms. You can easily hydroplane in less than an inch of water. Under these level patches of water there can be large potholes and manhole covers. Also, watch out for slippery center stripes. The best advice is to concentrate on staying alert, staying balanced, and lean less during turns. q) Avoid loose patches of dirt whether dry or wet.

This is a given. It needs no real explanation.

r) Avoid cycling along cobblestone roads.

They can give "sore ends" easily.

s) Take care on climbs.

Be aware that climbing up a hill with or without baggage requires a significantly different effort and balance skills. Never be ashamed to use your "granny gear". You use different set of muscles in your legs and lower back when you ride instead of when you walk up a hill.

Concentrate on staying seated and maintaining a good cadence through the whole climb while down shifting when necessary. On big hills, you need to downshift right at the base of the hill so that you can keep your legs moving at a good pace.

Be careful not to swing your bike too much from side to side. This excessive movement might shake gear loose or cause the bike to tip over. If all else fails to let you have a comfortable and safe ride up a hill, get off the bike and walk it. This is not a "cop-out" (even somebody like me had to it quite a few times).

I hope that this list helps you in your travels.


Bicyclist in Sunset


All Written Material unless specified is by Rev. Johannes Myors
No part may be reproduced without prior permission by Rev. Myors.
(Main Graphics, Logos, Photos, and Text restricted use)

Copyright: 1998 to present