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May 5, 2011

Rules of road for bicyclists proposed

Generally, this blog shies away from presenting "tips" from commercial interests. They often tend to be more self-serving than useful. But this list, from Genesis Bikes, seems useful, timely and well worth sharing -- especially in view of the impressive amount of unsafe bicycling observed in Maryland.

Warning: There may be some snarky comments inserted by the blog's editor, for which Genesis is not to blame.

We’re not going to pedal around the subject.  Bicycle safety equipment protects a rider, but unfortunately – no amount of gear can adequately prevent a dangerous accident.  The best way to avoid injuries while commuting on a bike is to steer those handlebars defensively.

Genesis – a top-selling line of bicycles, featuring high-quality designs, performance, and safety components at affordable prices – offers these Ten Rules of the Road to keep bike riders safe:

1. Always wear a helmet.

COMMENT: This is a no-brainer in a quasi-literal sense of the term. There is no such thing as a safe bicyclist without a helmet. Any bicyclist I see on the road without one immediately puts me on the same idiot alert that goes off when I see a tailgater. No, wearing a helmet while bicycling is not the law -- but it should be.


2. Obey traffic signs and signals.

COMMENT: That's the law. In my view common sense should allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs once they've slowed to watch for oncoming traffic. (Unlike drivers, bicyclists lose momentum with each stop that has to be recovered through muscle power. They also can stop quicker.) With stoplights, common sense calls for a full stop in all cases. Bicycles taking off a little early, once the traffic in both crossing directions has cleared completely, might be beneficial for both motorists and bicyclists, though I doubt most drivers will be rational on that point. 

3. Visibility:  Wear Light or bright-colored clothing.  Make sure you have a clear front reflector, a red rear reflector that’s visible from 100-600-feet, wheel-mounted side reflectors, reflector pedals, and a front light that’s visible for at least 500-feet if you plan to ride at night.

COMMENT: This is such an important and frequently violated rule. There are few things scarier for a driver than coming up upon a bicyclist dressed entirely in dark clothes at dusk along a road that compels lane-sharing. I'd empower the cops to impound bicycles that are being ridden after dark without reflectors until proper equipment is installed.

4. Install a horn or bell that can be heard up to 100-feet.

COMMENT: Any bicyclist who relies on horns or bells for safety from motor vehicles is delusional. Far too many drivers have the radio blaring and/or a cell phone glued to their ears. But horns and bells are essential for bicyclists sharing trails with pedestrians.

5. Ride in the right-most lane that goes with the direction or flow of traffic.  Do not ride on the sidewalk.  Be sure to allow yourself room to maneuver around roadway hazards.

6. Signal your moves. 
• Right Turn:  Raise your left arm horizontally with your elbow bent 90 degrees vertically.
• Left Turn:  Raise your left arm horizontally with your elbow fully extended.
• Stop or Sudden Decrease in Speed:  Extend your left arm at a 45-degree angle with the palm of your hand facing rearward.

7. Avoid Getting Doored:  Be on the lookout for passengers exiting cars.  Avoid the right side of any stopped car, especially if it’s near the curb.  Never swerve between parked cars and ride at least three feet from parked cars. 

COMMENT: The best advice in this list. Bicyclists need to take responsibility for avoiding getting doored because most drivers simply will never change. It's bicyclists who have more to lose in these accidents.

8. Re-think music players.  It’s more important to hear what’s going around you when you’re biking than when you’re driving a car.  Avoid wearing ear plugs or ear phones in both ears.

COMMENT: Don't just re-think. Don't use them.

9. Put the mobile phone on hold.  When you’re mixing with car traffic, the fewer distractions the better.  Texting or talking on a cell phone increases your risk of an accident.  You’ll want both hands free in case you have to suddenly brake. 

COMMENT: It's hard to believe this advice is necessary, but it is.

10. Avoid busy streets.  One of the biggest mistakes people make when they start bicycling is taking the exact same routes they used while driving.  Take advantage of bike paths that allow you to cross busy streets rather than travel on them.

COMMENT: Good advice, but drivers are reminded that it's up to bicyclists to make the judgment whether a busy but legal street is the better route. For example, I can't blame someone who uses busy St. Paul St. rather than less-busy Guilford Avenue if in their judgment Guilford is unsafe at certain hours. Just so the bicyclist doesn't choose to use Calvert or Charles in the wrong direction.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:34 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Bicycles


The classic signal for a right hand turn is the upturned left hand, but I still think it makes sense for a cyclist to hold his right arm to his right.

The left hand up makes sense for a car driver who must use hand signals. I think a following driver would more easily be able to grasp my intention with a right arm held out.

Also agree on rolling stop signs and traffic lights. Don't know why drivers hate this so much when they don't care about other cars speeding.

On (8), "re-think" should be "don't use." That's a bad idea all around.

The best thing a cyclist can do is be predictable. Don't switch between the sidewalk and road and different lanes, don't weave, use signals, etc. It summarizes a lot of what's here.

A nitpick: (7) is not exactly a "rule." Being on the lookout is; avoiding getting hit by a door is the desired outcome. As is avoiding being hit by a moving car, other cyclist, or generally getting hurt or into an accident.

Small edit/addition to Rule #2: Don't go through a Red Light.

This happened TWICE within 2 blocks in Hampden last Saturday: A bicyclist passed straight through a red light, in front of our car (we had the green light). The light was mid-cycle - it had been green for a while. Plus, the bicycle was traveling at a high rate of speed.

If the bicycles had license plates, maybe they would get caught and fined by the Red Light Cameras.

Regarding rule one. Not saying that helmets are a BAD thing, but I'm always surprised that they're usually the #1 safety priority in the US. If every cyclist without a helmet was an unsafe cyclist, half the populations of Copenhagen and Amsterdam would be dead or vegetative by now.

I reserve my idiot alert for people who are doing things to get INTO accidents, like riding in the door zone, passing right turning cars on the right, running red lights through traffic, etc. And no big surprise, I see just as many people doing these things with helmets as without.

More or the cyclist inferiority complex creeping in. Cyclists are legal users of the public roadway and as such are under no obligation to 'avoid busy streets'. How about the motorists avoid the busy streets, then they would not be busy and thus less congested and possibly safer. I ride the most direct route. I don't give a hoot what time of day it is or how busy the road is. To many cars are the problem, not too may bikes. And a helmet is going to offer little to no protection in a serious collision. If motorists followed the rules, helmets would be unnecessary like they are in Denmark, Germany, Sweden..the list goes on.

What is the magic Foam Hat supposed to do for safety? Bicycle helmets are only designed and tested to a 12.5 MPH impact, and helmets without hard shells can cause rotational injury to the neck in a sliding wreck. And by "hard shell" I'm not talking about that thin plastic skin that gets taped to most helmets, I'm talking about fiberglass or carbon fiber. Like the helmet I wear every day, every time I ride. 99% of bike helmets are just a placebo for "safety".

Fd - I use my left arm upturned to signal right turns for 2 reasons, the drivers are usually on my left side so it is easier for them to see the signal and because my right hand is on my back brake (if I have to brake hard while signaling I don't want to go over the handlebars)

I would prefer #2 to say "OBSERVE traffic signs and signals." That is, if you come to a stop sign, be prepared to yield the right-of-way and stop if necessary. I see no reason for a cyclist to come to a complete stop at every stop sign if there is no conflicting traffic. (And motorists I see every day on my commute see no need to come to a complete stop at stop signs, either.)

Also, a bike cannot stop as quickly as a car (unless you count flying over the handlebars as stopping). Bikes really aren't made for hard braking -- their natural mode is to keep in motion.

Michael, you know absolutely nothing of helmet effectiveness statistics. Please do even a minimum of research before you demand others wear a plastic hat.

Helmets ARE NOT the dividing line between responsible and irresponsible cycling. Helmets are NO SUBSTITUTION for safe cycling practices. Helmets are NO SUBSTITUTION motorists safely sharing the road.

Effectiveness is NOT up to 85% as the rhetoric claims. It isn't even close. Helmets also cause motorist to drive closer to cyclists and to take more risks while navigating around cyclists. Helmets double the circumference of the head, making it almost a large as shoulders are wide, which greatly increases the likelihood of a neck injury, erasing the statical benefit of a severe head trauma mitigation.

I will tell you the only rules of the road that matter. I will follow the laws of the road; and in return I will expect motorist to follow the laws of the road around me. And that will include driving the speed limit. I don't make demands that motorists follow imaginary rules that don't exist, and I would appreciate it if you didn't make demands that I follow rules that don't exist in return. I creates a false sense of obligation which motorists use to justify dangerous aggression.

COMMENT: Actually, I take more care around bicyclists without helmets because I view them as dangerously irresponsible. But I can't say that all drivers do the same.--MTD

"Actually, I take more care around bicyclists without helmets because I view them as dangerously irresponsible."

Well, that's a false perception which is not supported by the statistical data. But it highlights a notable danger of helmets: motorists drive more dangerously around helmeted riders because they assume that if the cyclist crashes they will be saved by the helmet. Helmets only successfully mitigate severe head traumas in adults about 24% of the time, and for all riders about 43%. That doesn't even account for all the fatal injuries that are not head trauma related. Yet, motorist see the helmet and, according to the statistics, think it means they do not need to take special care, drive closer to cyclists, drive more aggressively around them. Never mind the number of motorists who intentionally drive cyclists off the road into the ditch, thinking the helmet transforms that action from a deadly exercise into a funny joke.

I constantly wear a reflective vest while riding bicycle no matter if it is day or night. There was a couple times I remember when I was driving at night that I was pretty sure the small flashing red tail light of bicycle was hardly noticeable until I was unsafely close to the rider. Most people are alert while driving, but there are always some people don't pay too much attention on road. If I have to ride after sunset, the reflective vest may have saved my life many times.

I'm not buying Rule #10. I prefer busy streets - if I am going to be assaulted or in any type of accident, I want people to see me and help me - I stick to busy roads. That's not to mention the busier roads have better paving/less pot holes. I've even found Baltimore's bike trail paving to be less than acceptable compared to the neighboring roadway. I've recently taken the Jones Falls Trail to work and find the ride quality on Falls Road better in most cases.

I agree with the previous commenters about helmets. For the type of riding I do, a typical bike helmet isn't going to protect me from anything other than debris falling out of trucks - and won't protect my face.

You may think me irresponsible, but it should be MY choice, not yours. And I feel the same about seat-belt laws.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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