A few weeks ago I wrote about the excitement we felt as kids when spring was approaching. I still feel that excitement every year, and I’ve just started getting my “spring bike” tuned up a bit. If it’s warm enough on the weekend (over 40 degrees) I’ll make sure I get out for a ride.
As enjoyable as those first rides are in the early spring, there are a few hidden issues that both cyclists and motorists should be aware of. So how to ride safely? I call it Situational Awareness. As a cyclist, I’m always looking forward and plotting out potential areas of danger, as well as being conscious of any motorist traffic that may be coming up from behind.
First, it’s pothole season, and most towns have not gotten out to start repairing the roads. Potholes are not your friends [no small matter?], trust me. This time of year they’re frequently filled with water or, worse, ice. And they’re usually surrounded by the dirt and gravel that get splashed out. I try to pick out a route that has minimal potholes, but that’s not always possible.
You have two choices with a pothole: ride around it or go through it. Please don’t go through it! Bicycle rims can be fragile, and a deep enough hole can cause the handlebars to turn, resulting in a quick and painful crash for you. Even worse, you could land in the path of an oncoming car. The best move is to slow down, look over your left shoulder quickly to check for cars and, if the coast is clear, go around the hole. If I have a safe distance from a motorist behind me, I’ll use my left hand to point down at the road to signal them that I’ll be avoiding the hole.
So you have to be constantly aware of what’s in front of you and what’s behind. And the motorist has responsibility, too. If you’re not a cyclist and are reading this from the point of view of a driver, be aware that a bike up ahead might suddenly move out into the lane to avoid an obstacle. Slow down, and pass only when you can maintain a safe distance. They’ll return to the edge of the roadway as soon as it’s safe.
Now, what’s the safe distance between a motorist and a cyclist? Thirty-two states in the U.S. have enacted what’s called the Three-Foot Law: a motorist passing a bicycle must leave at least three feet between car and bike. If they can’t pass safely, they must slow down until they can. Massachusetts does not have a Three Foot Law, but does specify that the cyclist must be passed at a “safe distance.” We’ll have more on this in the future when we discuss “door zones.”
If you’re out riding in the next few weeks, keep your eyes open for potholes and signal to motorists if you’re approaching one. They will really appreciate it!
As always, ride safe!