Friday, May 4, 2007

Surviving on the Street

Rule 1 - SEE

FACT: A cyclist is more vulnerable in an accident than the vast majority of roadway users, who are cocooned away in their big, secure, padded, air-bagged steel cocoons. In fact, we need to avoid a collision, because it will almost certainly result in at least injury, and possibly death.

I've had a few accidents over the years. But my last one of any consequence was probably 5-6 years and 30,000 miles ago. Thankfully, I've never been seriously injured. So - I must be doing something right, or you'd be reading "He loved his bicycle" on my tombstone!

Besides being a dedicated tranportation cyclist, I ride a motorcycle. And every few years I take the "Advanced Rider" refresher course offered by Idaho Star (highly recommended, if you putt-putt). Many of the hazards - and survival skills - are remarkably similar for bicyclists and motorcyclists. I'm a better bicyclist because I ride a motorcycle... and I'm a much better motorcyclist because I do so much bike riding.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and the Idaho STAR program, teach a technique called SIPDE.

Kind of a stupid acronym. But strangely, I've remembered it. (Usually I can only remember totally trivial stuff!)

SIPDE means:
S - SCAN... keep eyes constantly moving... look up the road as far as you can see
I - IDENTIFY potential hazards
P - PREDICT the behavior of those hazards; determine worst-case scenario
D - DECIDE on your best course of action

I've found that if I can think about doing the "scan" thing, the rest automatically follows, unless I'm totally on "automatic pilot." (I love to think about anything and everything while I'm riding... but I try to dedicate some of that central-processing power to SIPDE.)

SCAN! It's actually a heady experience to "get in the survival-mode scan zone" - eyes constantly moving about, watching for lurking danger.

Anything that is moving - or might start moving - is a potential hazard.

Anything that's big enough to hide something moving is a potential hazard.

If the hazard is not moving - curb, parked car, road debris, etc. ... well, if you can't avoid it, maybe you better stick to walking (with a football helmet on!). (Watch the cars parked alongside the road! Look for heads inside. They can suddenly be not parked... or a door can fly open into your path.)

The sooner you see that hazard, the more time you have to do the "..IPDE" thing.

Including your peripheral vision, unless you're wearing some totally stylin' sunglasses, you can probably see 180 degrees or more. Concentrate on what's ahead, but have those side-motion-detectors in full function.

I always use - and strongly recommend - a rear-view mirror. I feel vulnerable without it. (It makes all the difference when riding in traffic.) Mine is helmet-mounted, but if you don't like that, you can get 'em frame, or handlebar, or sunglass-mounted. Besides a helmet, I'd say a rearview is the best money you can spend on safety gear.

Another benefit I've realized by "scanning" up the road is... my stops are minimized.

By observing up-ahead trafffic lights, pedestrian walk/wait lights, how many cars are already waiting, etc., it's much easier to predict when my light will be green. Using that, and a few other "veteran tricks," I can frequently make my entire commute nonstop. (Which is way cooler than those Car-Bozos who win every stoplight-to-stoplight drag race!)

Side Note... Besides SEE, I'd also recommend HEAR.

I take great comfort in being able to hear other roadway users.

I've got an "iPod-like device" - the poor man's model - that I very occasionally wear when I'm cycling. But only when I'm on a dedicated bike path like the Greenbelt, or in very light traffic with unlimited visibility, like out on Gowen Road. (Hearing-impaired and no-rearview? Fuggeddaboudit!) I see people riding nonchalantly along in heavy traffic with their buds jammed in their ears, and it makes me hope their friends won't be reading "He loved his bicycle and Eminem" on their tombstones! Exercise some judgment! The stakes are mighty high. There is a time and place for righteous tunes.

(Of course, if one of those big diesel pickups is within a quarter-mile or so... or one of those Bozos on his "Loud Pipes Save Lives" motorcycles is roaring down the street... you can hear them loud-and-clear, earbuds or not.)

Photo credit: Jim Emery (


Apertome said...

This is all very good advice. It's interesting the way you took advice given motorcycle riders and applied it to cycling. I do the same somewhat with mountain biking ... one rule in mountain biking is: look where you want to go, not down that ravine you want to avoid. Your bike tends to follow whichever way you look. Yes, I know that it's possible to compensate while you look a different way, but if in doubt, look where you want to go (always remembering to "scan").

I am getting better at making my rides non-stop, but I'd like to hear more about the techniques you use to accomplish that.

Bikeboy said...

Well-said, apertome! That's another point of the "SIPDE" thing. Most 1-vehicle motorcycle crashes occur in corners, and it's frequently because the rider goes in a little too fast and starts looking right in front of the front wheel, or worse, where he doesn't want to go... he SHOULD be looking way out to the end of the corner. (I've tried it - it works!)

NON-STOP riding:

In this jurisdiction (Idaho), cyclists can LEGALLY ride through a stop-signed intersection after slowing and yielding if necessary.

Also, a right-turn is permitted at a red light without stopping (after yielding, of course).

So, when I do hit the occasional red light, I'll sometimes make a quick right-turn (after making sure the coast is clear, of course!), then a quick U-turn, then another right-turn to put myself back on course. (I emphasize SEE - I look both ways, then look again both ways, before performing that stunt. I also check for cars approaching from behind me, that might follow me around the corner.)

Anonymous said...

Being aware of one's surroundings is the most important thing to learn whether on a bike, in a car or playing with the kids in the front yard. My wife will start talking with a neighbor and get absorbed into the conversation and not realize where or what the kids are doing.

You are right that as long as your are aware, attentive and scanning the rest of the reaction follows right along.

Anonymous said...

Here is a great post about how a cyclist got out of a traffic ticket for running a red light.

Anonymous said...

sorry try again

db said...

Good advice from Bikeboy, and a nice read from Clancy's link. Thanks!