Even your socks can help keep you safe when cycling. Since the human brain is wired to notice movement and has the ability to recognize a rhythmic up-down movements of pedaling motion as a cyclist’s, by adding strikingly bright socks to your cycling kit can offer a powerful and low-tech tool for enhancing visibility on the road.
I try to wear as much Hi-Viz colors as possible on all my
moving body parts, including my helmet, sun sleeves and gloves.
In my post “5 Step Guide on What Clothing to Pack” I talk about how cycling clothing is notoriously functional at keeping a cyclist comfortable. Just as important, however, your cycling cloths can also help improve your safety on the road too.
I’ve noticed an alarming fashion trend toward dark cycling cloths recently. While they may look cool, dark cycling clothes blend into the environment and they reduce your visibility to motorist on the road. Recently, I was astonished to meet a cyclist wearing camouflage clothing. I don’t want to sound cruel, but what was he thinking? Was he trying to win the Darwin Award for contributing to the evolution of humanity by removing his genes from the gene pool.
On the road, I wear Hi-Viz clothing. Hi-Viz colors stands out and can be seen well from a distance and in low light. That’s why yellow has become the standard worldwide for warning signs. Similarly, wearing a Hi-Viz clothing serves as my warning sign to motorists that they are sharing the road with a cyclist.
Just five days after
returning home from completing a fifty-two-day bicycle trip from coast to coast across the United States, I was struck by a car and severely injured just two miles from my home. It was not an
accident. By definition an accident happens by chance or without apparent or deliberate cause. However, this is not the case when a car collides with a bicycle on the road. Either the cyclist,
driver or both violated the motor vehicle safety laws
and caused the collision. In all collisions between a bicycle and a motor vehicle someone is guilty of carelessness or negligence.
However, regardless of who is at fault, it’s the cyclist who is most
likely to be injured or killed. The first
step in keeping yourself safe when cycling is to be alert of the traffic around
you at all times and follow the same motor vehicle safety laws as motorists. Nevertheless, as in my case, you can do
everything right and still be stuck by a motor vehicle. Hence the adage, “You
can be dead right”.
As a friend and two-time coast to coast cycler once
complained, it’s like wearing the Cloak of Invisibility while cycling. To improve your safety on the road you need to
be noticed. Over the next several post I
will talk about what I do to be more visible to motorist on the road.
I have ridden across the country twice, among many other rides, and have ridden with cyclists who carry pepper spray and will routinely use this on any dog that comes close when they are too far away to kick them or kick at them with their foot. Call me naive or lucky, but I do not carry anything more than a water bottle and the lung capacity to yell a very determined “No” with a well-aimed spray from my water bottle, which has proven effective in deterring dogs getting too close. My fear, as a dog lover, is that they will be so focused on chasing me that they inadvertently do not notice the speeding car coming at them in the other lane. I also have the fear the dogs will mistime their pace or my pace and get caught in the bike, putting both of us on the pavement.
The reason I am so opposed to the pepper spray and/or the ill-informed practice that I have heard from other fellow cyclists wherein they will stop, jump off their bikes and run at the dogs to intimidate and terrorize the dog as they believe this is a good deterrent for the dog is that I know this can actually exacerbate the situation. The problem with this is that most barking dogs are fear barking, and most dog bites come from a fearful dog, so jumping off your bike and challenging/terrorizing not only teaches the dog that he is 100% correct in fearing a cyclist, but may make the encounter for the next cyclist to come upon this dog exponentially more dangerous for the cyclist and the dog. The dog may likely have a “I’ll get them before they get me” attitude, which makes him more likely to bite. Heaven forbid THIS cyclist also stops, jumps off his bike and believes intimidation will take care of everything.
Now, I have heard horror stories from cyclists who ride in foreign countries, and I will freely admit I have no experience with these more wild dogs. So please do not comment that I have a Pollyanna view for every dog in the world. This article is only regarding what I know, which are domesticated dogs in the United States. I have ridden through southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama where it seems there are an inordinate number of dogs who run freely. It may be unnerving to have a dog running too close, but you are likely not the first cyclist they have encountered. Hopefully, the cyclist before you is not one who terrorized a fearful or anxious dog.
I do not pretend to speak for cyclists who have been attacked by a dog and bitten previously, I have no doubt this leaves one, at the very least, wary of any dog you encounter, and I can see how a dog loudly running at you can trigger posttraumatic stress.
In my experience, I have found that nine times out of ten, domestic dogs in the US are harmless, i.e., they are not hoping to have you for lunch. However, of course have a game plan, give a deliberate and deep-throated “No!”, have an easy to reach water bottle for squirting and/or throwing to distract them long enough so your well-muscled legs can carry you down the road and the dogs give up the chase.
There will always be irresponsible owners who do not know or maybe do not care that their dogs are chasing passing cyclists. I would never in a million years tell you that I believe that all dogs are harmless. I never say never when questioned whether any given dog will bite because I do not know if there is a situation where the dog will be so frightened, in pain or sick, hungry, nervous enough to bite when it never showed those tendencies before. I just believe it is poor practice to pepper spray, kick, jump off your bike and stomp at the dog, as those may be sure ways to turn what could have been just a close call into a dog attack.
You know the moment, you are riding down a quiet country road, feeling strong and grateful for the ability to take in the scenery at this speed. Then suddenly you hear a distant “bark, bark, bark!” You look to the side to see a dog running at what looks like full speed in your direction and you have seconds to decide if you should pedal faster or come to a dead stop. It is the cyclist’s dilemma debated for decades.
Full disclosure, I am a dog lover and have been a trainer for over a decade. However, I am also a cyclist and have had many encounters with loose dogs over the years. I do not believe because I love dogs that all of them have no malicious intentions when running at a cyclist. Some of them do…but more often than not it will not be the dog who barks loudly all the way out to the road, making his presence abundantly clear. The dogs you most need to worry about are the ones who know enough to be stealthy and quiet and seem to come out of nowhere. The body language of a dog up to no good is a high tail (does not matter if it is wagging or not; wagging can mean he is happy or anxious), ears back, lowered head, a hard stare, hackles up, and maybe a combination of these or none of these.
Most dogs are simply out for the glee of a good game of chase. They have no intention of running into you so that they can knock you off your bike and have a good gnaw at your hamstrings. Dogs, like most living things, have a keen sense of self preservation and will not knowingly put themselves in danger. They do, however, have a couple of objectives in running at a cyclist: (1) they are guarding and trying to get you away from “their” property, (2) they have a genetic prey drive and find the constant revolutions of your feet or your bicycle’s wheels too tempting not to attempt to catch either, and thus, it is a game for them.
Most dogs will give up the chase when reaching the boundary of their yard or tire out when they know you cannot be caught or when they are satisfied, they have kept their family safe from this strange wheelie thing and scared you off. Some will even give up if you stop and stand over your bike; again, you have ruined their game. It is always best practice if you decide to dismount that you keep the bike between you and the dog.
I hate to think about it, but I’m a member of that group of men age 45 or older who are at a higher risk of heart attack. While one of the reasons I cycle is to help keep my heart healthy, I can’t help but think about the Jim Fixx story. Here was a man who was credited with helping to start America’s fitness revolution, yet he died from a heart attack during his daily run. This lesson was reinforced for me again when another apparently healthy cyclist had a heart attack while we were cycling across the country.
I’ve learned that it’s important to know the symptoms of a heart attack and what to do if you think you’re having one. That is why I carry aspirin when I cycle. Taking aspirin during a heart attack could reduce heart damage by helping to keep blood from clotting.
Nevertheless, if you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency immediately. Don’t delay calling 911 to take aspirin. Call for emergency help first, then take aspirin if it is recommended by emergency personnel.
I was lucky to find a Rhode Gear Quick Release Cycle Mirror, “New in Box”, on Ebay for the Disc Trucker. This vintage, made in the USA, mirror was in very high demand when Rhode Gear replaced it with a plastic model. So much so, that it used to sell for far more than its original retail price. Now it is almost impossible to find at any price, so you can’t image how happy I was to find it for about its original retail price.
Although the Disc Trucker’s first thousand miles have been on rail trails, it still gets a mirror. You might wonder why a mirror would be needed for a bicycle used for riding rail trails. The answer is simple, to see what going on behind me. Unfortunately, there are a few riders that don’t practice good trail etiquette by giving a friendly heads up when overtaking walkers and slower riders.
In addition, when riding with friends on a rail trail, it is easier to keep track of everyone with a mirror. I find whether on the road or on the trail, a mirror is a good addition to a bike.
Using a bicycle mirror is clearly a personal choice and isn’t for everyone. Nevertheless, if you’re reading this blog to learn more about bicycle touring, it appears that among seasoned touring cyclists a mirror is an essential. If you find that you are a rider that also likes to keep an eye on what is going on behind you, I hope I’ve given you some useful information to consider when choosing the mirror that’s right for you.
As mentioned earlier, I used a handlebar mirror when I cycled across the country. However, I also use helmet and glasses mirrors. Regardless of the type of mirror, here are five features my mirror must have.
Glass Mirror – In my experience glass mirrors provide the clearest and brightest image.
Adjustability – As mentioned in my previous post (see Bicycle Mirror Limitations), a mirror must be carefully aimed. Therefore, a mirror must be fully adjustable so that it can be aimed to the viewing angle necessary for you.
Stability – I need to feel confident that I’m constantly looking in the same area behind me. Since bicycle mirrors provide a narrow field of view, it shouldn’t move or be knocked out of adjustment while riding.
Replacement parts – Since glass mirrors can break, I look for mirrors that I can get replacement parts for.
Convex – I prefer a convex mirror because it provides a wide field of view. However, I find a super-convex mirror can be difficult to determine the speed and distance of vehicles behind me.
When considering a bicycle mirror, look for these features to stay safe.