Friday Group Ride #310

Friday Group Ride #310

It’s been a long, rainy week here in Boston. Just when I thought it was relenting, yesterday served up steady drizzle and temps in the 40s (Fahrenheit). Is this May? It can’t be. Only a car in the shop could get me out on my bike every day this week, so I’ve ridden right through it, not nearly as miserable as you might suspect, but nothing close to loving the “Belgianness” of it either.

On Tuesday, I didn’t wear a helmet. I sometimes don’t on my commute, because it’s relatively short and I greatly prefer the feeling of riding without. That said, the combination of rain and helmetlessness got me thinking about safety.

I can’t quite explain why rain makes me feel less safe on the bike. It might have something to do with questionable traction. It might have something to do with the shrinking of the road’s shoulder with deep puddles. It might have something to do with the diminished visibility, both mine and the drivers’ streaming past me.

On Wednesday I put my helmet back on, but because of a pre-work errand I ended up riding more direct, and thus busy, routes to work. My usual pattern is to seek the calmest, quietest roads, even if they are slightly less direct to my destination. Again, I found myself thinking about safety, wondering how my chances of getting hurt might have shifted, statistically, based on route and weather. Whatever psychological benefit I received from wearing a helmet seemed offset by the increased traffic.

I don’t want this to turn into the helmet debate. Suffice it to say some people will think I’m stupid for ever not wearing one. I am comfortable with that. We all make our choices.

This week’s Group Ride asks, how do you feel safer on the bike? What things do you do that make you feel safer? Are there routes? Ways of riding? Equipment? My own approach is really about riding where there aren’t cars as much as possible. This is as much about lowering my stress level and allowing me to focus on riding, rather than spending a lot of cycles anticipating what other people are going to do. Wearing a helmet does make me feel slightly safer, but not as much as riding the back roads does.

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  1. Tim Mathews

    I do wear a mirror, attached to my helmet. Seeing the cars coming from behind provides a piece of mind, especially if I am riding alone. In a group, the mirrors are sometimes left off…..more eyes to see the hazards coming, but alone, need that mirror.

  2. Bob Sponge

    When commuting to work, I pick routes that have bike lanes and/or plenty of space on the roads. These roads are often quite busy with fast moving traffic, but there is enough space to make me feel a bit safer. I nearly always wear my helmet when riding. Going 20+ mph on many routes means bad news if I crash – due to a car or otherwise.

    The one time I got hit, it was on a fairly quiet street in a local neighborhood. I’ve found that people tend to drive in a careless manner when they’re on “auto-pilot”, which often means near their own home. School zones are generally awful, speed zones and all. I’m always expecting the unexpected in the school zones.

  3. Zvi Wolf

    Like you I try to take roads less travelled. When I have a destination, it means that it will take a bit longer. So be it. I never, well hardly ever, ride without a helmet. After seeing my son crash and hearing that one of our club’s strongest rider died because he wasn’t wearing one, it’s hard to jusify going without.

    My son flipped a bike after getting his shoelace caught in the cranks. He landed squarely on his head. The helmet saved him from God knows what fate. I was very happy to replace the helmet and get the wheel trued. Our club’s rider died while out on a bike path on his way to go swimming. He hit a branch, went down and hit his head. I found out a couple of days later when the club president emailed to say that the rider’s wife was pulling the plug.

    I also will no longer pull up next to the lead car at red lights or stop signs…

  4. MikeG

    Two years ago I ditched my truck and got a used sportbike so that I could use the carpool lane and save money on gas for my commute. I either just rode 10 miles to the bus stop and parked the motorcycle, or did the whole 75 mile round trip in the carpool lane. With a helmet and decent gear I never really felt unsafe, but no one did anything really crazy right in front of me either! The interesting side effect is that I no longer really want to ride my road bike and be constantly around cars. I spend almost all my pedaling time on my 29er taking canal and horse paths so that I am away from traffic, and basically just wandering around checking things out, and trying to link multiple paths for a new adventure. I currently have no real desire to ride the usual bike lanes around town – I’m not sure if its directly related to feeling unsafe, or if its just not wanting to be around cars all the time having spent 1-1.5 hours in traffic on the motorcycle. I always wear the helmet on the motorcycle. I will wear a helmet on the bicycle unless we are just tooling around the neighborhood streets with the dog trotting along side.

  5. Michael Hotten

    I have been riding more dirt roads. Compared to dry tarmac, a dirt road may seem like a sketchier place to ride. But the dirt roads I chose do not allow cars. At first I was just enjoying the dirt experience. I later realized I was appreciating a safer experience.

    Thanks Robot.

  6. Cody L Custis

    Back in 2014, clipped a handlebar on a chain link fence taking a ramp down a bike path. Went over the handlebars and head hit the pavement, like a weight on a six foot pendulum. Got home before I realized that I had a mild concussion, which would have been major without the helmet.
    Decided that I’m head crash prone, and need to wear a helmet, but wish the best to those who aren’t.

  7. Hubcap Diamondstar

    The time I feel most uncomfortable on pavement is when I can’t hear because of wind noise, which is why I prefer long climbs despite being a baby-clyde. I stick mostly to gravel and dirt, with pavement-only rides being an occasional treat that involve a 30 min drive to the local mountain and it’s hour long grunt. I don’t feel uncomfortable when I’m moving as fast as the cars, so bombs away, a-okay.

  8. Andrew

    I’ve worn a helmet for so long that I feel weird without a helmet. So I just wear it.

    Although I think the roads around here (SE MN) are perfectly safe, I ride an awful lot of dirt/gravel and prefer it. It’s just improves the whole experience to know that there are going to be few if any cars. I can listen to music on earphones and feel no guilt, if I want to. Having said this, I have come around downhill turns way too fast and discovered very large pieces of farm machinery in my way, so you can’t be completely brainless about this…

  9. Sharkie

    “I also will no longer pull up next to the lead car at red lights or stop signs…”
    It wasn’t until I read this that I realized I started doing that a while ago.
    I used to be right at the front taking my piece of the road but somewhere I decided farther back was safer.

    1. Peter

      Definitely something I tend to do as well. I recently started rush hour commuting from Chicago to the burbs. Outbound isn’t as bad as it’s a reverse commute. But I find that I am more than happy to take my spot on the road and not move up much unless I have a clear lane. Not enough people pay attention to the roads nowadays. I’d rather control the playing field than thrust myself into trusting the moves of others.

  10. Quentin

    I agree with the others who’ve mentioned peace of mind as being a factor in doing a lot more dirt riding. In west Texas, dirt roads are plentiful and the paved roads have shockingly high speed limits (75 MPH on some two lane roads), so even though drivers are pretty good most of the time about giving me space, I’d rather be on roads where it’s impossible for drivers to go that fast.

    1. Dave

      North Texas roads share the outrageous speed limits on shoulderless 2 lane roads as our West Texas neighbors. So, I’ve relegated myself to multiple loops on quiet(er) back roads. My choices have become somewhat limited, but I’m willing to forego the variety of routes for perceived safety.

  11. Aar

    I have a list of things I do to make myself comfortable that I am cycling as safely as possible:
    1) Try to use the least trafficked roads that get me where I’m going or the distance I intend to ride.
    2) Brightest tail light I can find turned on at all times. Currently DiNotte which is 200 lumens with a decently large surface area.
    3) A 200+ lumen front light turned on at all times. Wanting to change to a DiNotte Amber front light.
    4) Visible jersey – solid color, red to pink. (I will not wear day glow yellow/green)
    5) Ride in groups as much as possible.
    5.a) Don’t ride with groups or cyclists that I deem unsafe.
    5.b) Encourage my cycling partners to use as much lighting front and rear as affordable whenever they bring up the topic.
    6) Always wear a helmet. Since high school, I haven’t ridden more than 25 miles total without a helmet.

    Despite item 6 above, I fully understand that the choice to casually ride or commute without a helmet is personal. Further, I buy the case that riding without a helmet in those circumstances can be safer than wearing one – especially when using bike-specific facilities. That said, I will not participate in a group ride that has a single helmet-less rider.

    Note that I live in North Carolina which is a Contributory Negligence state in which cyclists have won judgements against the motorists that hit them. However, some of them collected nothing because they were wearing a dark jersey with no lighting. Yes, I’ve probably listened to too many lawyers.

  12. Stephen Barner

    I’ve been road riding for over 45 years, the first 30 or so of those without a helmet, so it’s tough for me to get all paranoid about having to have one on my head before I head out on the bike. Still, I typically wear one, but I don’t harbor any misconceptions about a helmet keeping me safe. We had a rash of cyclist deaths last year in Vermont, which in this small state was four riders. All of them were wearing helmets. Of course, there were likely other crashes which could have been much worse had the rider not been wearing a helmet, but a helmet is pretty skimpy protection. I have noticed more drivers passing closer in the past few years, which I attribute to distracted driving.

    Regardless, I am adherent of the “Any bike, anywhere, any time” philosophy. I’ll take the less-trafficked road when it’s convenient, but I refuse to be crowded off roads by drivers, when any alternative routes would be much longer. I never ride with a mirror and only turn on lights when the natural light dims. I believe in bright clothing and reflectors when riding at night. I commute about 6k miles a year or so, and do several thousand miles of other riding, year round.

  13. Rick

    I wear a helmet to protect my head from a collision with the ground and not cars. Worst I ever bumped my head was an out of the saddle acceleration-broken crank arm at about 6mph on SunSet Loop in Redlands CA.

    In southeastern OH, we have many gravel roads to choose from. I feel much safer when I’m on them.

  14. Jay

    More than 90% of my rides are on roads that have little traffic. There are a few on which I have yet to encounter an automobile, and a few others where the automobile count annually can be counted on your ten digits. I will propose that while I don’t feel unsafe from danger from car traffic there is an uncertainty in my mind that causes worry in the opposite way. Some of these roads are isolated in such a way that if I were to get in real trouble getting help might become a real issue.

  15. Jay

    I’d say the change for me was an increased awareness of safety. When younger, it wasn’t top of mind.

    The single biggest decision I made for safety in the last few years was to stop attending the Tuesday night worlds. The second is just a further evolution of me choosing more smartly which roads I ride and when.

  16. Lyford

    Bright clothing.
    Don’t ride with people who ride like jerks.
    One huge improvement to low-light visibility has been adding high-qualty reflective tape to the bike. It weighs almost nothing,, and looks fine if you do a neat job. Red on the chainstays and back of the seat tube and silver on the forks works well. There’s even black tape that reflects silver if you want something more subtle.

  17. Alan

    I’ve broken a helmet TWO times.

    in 30+ years.

    Both on innocuous crashes on bike paths (no cars), once in the rain.

    Helmets saved me each time, wearing your f–king helmet all the time,

  18. Steve Salas

    I feel weird on my bike without my helmet, so that’s just a given. I have my blinky lights ready to go as soon as I’m riding in and out of the shadows of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Finally, I just don’t ride after 2pm on Fridays. There are very few ways to go through Santa Cruz and on Friday afternoons too many people drive like maniacs trying to get their weekends started early.

  19. Pat O'Brien

    For equipmentI it is helmet, rear view mirror, and rear blinky light. I live in Arizona, and big rocks are everywhere. There are very few soft places on the side of the road. Add concrete curbs in town, and the helmet makes sense. Then I always use a bar mounted rear view mirror. I finish it up with a bright rear blinky light, a Princton Tec Swerve.
    I carefully select routes and times to ride based on time of day. No matter when I ride, I can use a fairly safe route. Last, I use bike lanes or multi-use paths when available on the route. On the paths, I slow down.

  20. Mike Terrell

    Helmet-mounted rearview mirror. Bright orange, red or yellow clothing that have reflective accents. Front headlight and rear blinky light on at all times. Little used roads with wide shoulders or painted bike lanes. Make eye contact a lot. Signal turns early and clearly. Ride when there is less traffic, even if that means waking up early. And last, but not least, keep on repeating “If I were in a hurry, I wouldn’t be on a bike”.

  21. Donnie Knighten

    commute 12-13 miles though city always wear helmet had two crashes last year 3 weeks apart both destroyed helmets. Lbs gives me 25% off replacements for being a crash dummy. First happened on wet road avoiding speed bump at about 20 mph. Second at about 3mph avoiding suv. Covering a good subject I have 2 grandchildren will not let them near a bike without their helmets.

  22. Geoffrey Knobl

    What do I do? I know my roads like the back of my hand including every pothole and crack. I ride in the center of the road when going fast and when nearing an intersection and when the shoulder is dangerous. I know which routes have cars and which don’t have so many and I use the bike trail a lot, despite being filled with people, not cars. I’d use a helmet rear mirror except I have this image of crashing head first and having the stem break off then stab into my head. I wear my helmet. I am a bit hyper about animals on the side of the road as even a rabbit and squirrel have nearly caused me to crash. They don’t make a nice sound when going through your gears. It is habit that I decleat about five seconds before I come to a known stopping point to give me time in case something odd happens.

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