Bicycling Safety – Defensive Riding in a Suburban Environment

Riding a bicycle in the suburbs presents challenges to cyclists and drivers alike. While the wider streets and lower concentration of cyclists make the suburbs seem like a safer place to ride, the suburban landscape can actually be a no-man’s-land for cyclists. Whether you’re on your bike or in your car, these observations can help prevent accidents and annoyances on the road.

Bicycle laws do vary by state. Nevertheless, with some exceptions, cyclists should obey the same traffic laws as motorists. This generalization is not as obvious as it sounds. How many times have you cyclists crossed against a red light when no cars were coming? On a bike, it’s easy to feel unrestrained by the rules of the road. Unfortunately, this attitude can provoke motorists who aren’t sure how to react to bikers that, to them, appear out of nowhere and do unpredictable things.

In the suburbs, the ratio of cars to bikes is much higher than in the city. Suburban motorists are not so accustomed to seeing cyclists. Most are more concerned about other cars than cyclists and are surprised to see them. Therefore, as a suburban cyclist you should take extra care not only to follow the rules of the road, but to make believe that you’re invisible and no one sees you. This idea will go a long way in keeping you out of trouble.

While assuming that no car is looking for you, also assume the worst when keeping track of a vehicle. What does this mean? Let’s say a vehicle is heading toward an intersection. Let’s say the car stops without activating the turn signal. Normally, we would assume that the car will continue driving straight. Stop! Instead, assume that the driver is the type of person who doesn’t use the turn signal and that it’s equally possible that he will turn left or right. Assume that drivers aren’t paying attention, that they’re distracted, texting while driving, eating a Big Mac, painting their nails, and so on. This will help you predict the movements of many motorists, especially suburban motorists.

The wide boulevards, regular lanes, and enormous intersections of a suburb provide a predictable driving environment, perfect for sleepy drivers. In contrast, the narrow lanes, sudden changes, and frequent stoplights of a city force urban drivers into a more alert state. Therefore, suburban cyclists ought to make up for the alertness that motorists lack by following the rules of the road, staying visible, keeping aware, and predicting the behavior of all nearby vehicles.