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Road Riding

My area doesn’t have trails so riding on the road is the only option. I rode on the road last year without being too nervous but now I’ve become more nervous about it. Do any of you who ride on the road listen to music on headphones? Do any of you ride with flashing lights on your bike or anything to draw more attention to yourself from distracted drivers? What are tips you have for riding on the road? Any different tips for riding in hills? Thanks!

17 Replies

SFC JKL 2, February 6, 2018 at 9:46 pm

Headphones are a distraction for you. Use a speaker or only one to make sure you can hear things going on around you. Blinky lights are up to you. I only use them in low visibility, but if it makes you feel better, great. I would suggest finding a local club or bike shop that has organized rides you could do. There is safety in numbers and they will be able to help you with the more technical aspects of riding.


Groeny82, February 6, 2018 at 10:24 pm

No trails here either so all my training is done on the road. I don’t listen to any music so I can hear something approaching and not scare me when it passes. I try to wear a bright fluorescent yellow, green, orange, etc shirt and also have a blinky. Cyclists aren’t overly common on my roads so I try to be obnoxiously visible to drivers who aren’t used to bikes on the road. I’ll probably get a mirror this year too. Overboard? Maybe. But I want to make it to RAGBRAI, and beyond.


Cory Rood, February 7, 2018 at 6:40 am

Do things that make you visible. I run a front and rear blinking light that are designed for daytime use and are visible from over half a mile away. Avoid wearing colors that blend in with your surroundings. Avoid riding on roads with high volumes of car and truck traffic. Avoid riding west during sunset and east during sunrise.


jwsknk, February 7, 2018 at 10:19 am

I do like having the mirror. I check quite a bit, even on trails. And I don’t use headphones, Depending on wind direction sometimes I can hear cars back before seeing them.


Bob Kidd, February 7, 2018 at 7:16 pm

I ride about 90% of the time on roads. No music most of the time but if I do have it it’s a small speaker. I ride with lights all the time. I’m at the point if I forget to put my mirror on I feel lost and have to stop to get it. Bright shirts and shorts. I haven’t had to many issues with drives being crazy. I did have a young girl come across the center line once while she was on the Phone. Illegal in Illinois now days. Don’t be afraid of hills they make you stronger ;) Good luck and be safe out there.


Csprint, February 7, 2018 at 8:38 pm

Trek Bicycles has invested a lot in the idea of daytime visibility and safety
with their Bontrager daytime running lights. In daylight the head and tail
lights are visible to many hundreds of feet so they can get even distracted
drivers attentions, and the lights are all rechargeable. I don’t like the idea
of headphones; as others have mentioned here they mask hearing what is behind you
and in most states, at least according to Bicycling magazine, they’re illegal.



SFC JKL 2, February 7, 2018 at 9:05 pm

Mirrors definitely help when playing in traffic.


cmparsley, February 8, 2018 at 9:15 am

[quote quote=1281583]My area doesn’t have trails so riding on the road is the only option. I rode on the road last year without being too nervous but now I’ve become more nervous about it. Do any of you who ride on the road listen to music on headphones? Do any of you ride with flashing lights on your bike or anything to draw more attention to yourself from distracted drivers? What are tips you have for riding on the road? Any different tips for riding in hills? Thanks![/quote]

This year will be my 11th consecutive RAGBRAI. I have also been a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor for the last 5 years. As an LCI, I teach the LAB SMart Cycling curriculum. This teaches people how ride a bicycle in traffic. Most states have laws that designate bicycles as vehicles. As such, bicyclists are afforded all the same rights and responsibilities as the operators of any other vehicle. The best way to sum it up is this:

A cyclist fares best when they act like and are treated as a driver of any other vehicle. Position yourself where drivers are looking for and expecting other traffic to be: in the lane.

It is much easier to be in the lane, scan for faster traffic approaching from the rear, then move right when you feel it is safe to do so, allow the faster traffic to pass, then scan for any other traffic, then retake your position back in the lane. Most often, it is the edge rider who finds themselves getting close passed when the motorist overtakes them while there is oncoming traffic. The overtaking motorist is forced to make a decision whether or not they think they can “squeeze through between the car in the other lane and the bicyclist on the right edge.

This right edge position also forces overtaking traffic to constantly monitor the bicyclist and determine whether or not the bicyclist is going to maintain their position.

I use a mirror and it is a good tool to keep you aware of movement behind you. It is not a replacement for turning your head to the left and scanning with your eyes. Scanning while maintaining straight line riding is a skill that needs to be practiced. The act of turning your head and scanning does a couple things. One, it lets you see what’s coming better than the mirror does. Two, it is a method of communication. The person approaching from the rear sees a bicyclist turn their head and now they know that the bicyclist is aware that they are there. I can then turn my head to right and scan for a safe place to move right and allow the faster vehicle to pass me. I also scan for oncoming traffic. When I see that there is no oncoming traffic and a clear area to my right that is free of parked cars or any other obstacles, I signal that I am moving right with my right arm pointed straight out. Then I move right. The overtaking vehicle then passes, and I scan over my left shoulder again. When the road is clear, I signal left with my left arm pointed straight out, then I move left.

I have used this technique and I have NEVER had an issue.

If the road I am on has multiple lanes, then I default to center of the rightmost lane that serves my destination. Faster traffic can move to the other lane to pass me.

I say it again:
A cyclist fares best when they act like and are treated as a driver of any other vehicle. Position yourself where drivers are looking for and expecting other traffic to be: in the lane.


francoisvanzyl, February 8, 2018 at 9:28 am

It is not about who is right or who is wrong, it is all about who is left after the fact. Bright colors, bright flashing head- and tail lights on the front and the same on the back and no headphones — it forces me to deal with what is in my head for a while.. What can I say, I am a sissy. Safety first though.


Megandoty, February 8, 2018 at 3:46 pm

Wow guys! Thanks for all the feedback! I started riding a few years ago and haven’t used headphones or listened to music but I’ve been listening to music lately while on the indoor trainer and I can tell I go faster and push harder (because I listen to upbeat music and I pedal to the beat). I was thinking I should listen to music outdoors to help me push myself, but I didn’t like the idea of headphones (especially after all of your feedback), maybe I’ll look into a mounted speaker.

cmparsley- do you mean you ride in the center of the lane? …and when you see a car come from behind you signal you are moving to the right of the lane? Now I’m curious… when people say “ride right” does that mean ride correctly or ride as far right as you can?


cmparsley, February 8, 2018 at 5:14 pm

Yes I do. Even a little left of center. I try to position myself where I would be if I was behind the steering wheel in a car.

If there is more than one lane of travel in the direction I am headed, then I keep my lane. There is another lane other vehicles can use to pass me.

For two lane roads, It’s not quite that cut and dried. First I check for oncoming traffic. If it is clear, then I check the right side of the lane. I look for parked cars, debris, parallel cracks or big potholes; basically, anything that would or could make things a little scary. If I decide that the right side looks safe and there is no oncoming traffic, then I signal by pointing right with my right arm outstreched, then I move right. Once I am passed, I scan, then signal, then move back left to my original position in the lane.

This entire process (sometimes called control and release) creates a situation where I am able to use non-verbal communication with other traffic to make sure my intentions are clear. Conflicts happen when bicyclists don’t communicate with other drivers. This unpredictability is frustrating for drivers. That frustration can lead to close passes, honking, yelling, etc.

Here’s the thing…the law in MOST places uses the wording that can be found in the Uniform Vehicle Code. This document is the foundation upon which all traffic law is built. The wording used in the UVC pertaining to bicyclists on the road is “…ride as far to the right as practicable”

Practicable is a different word from practical. They have slightly different meanings. Practicable means safely or reasonably able to be done. In other words, something that is practical might not always be safe. Practicable is such a bad word and many time it is interpreted as right as far to the right as you can always. Sure you can ride on the right, but what about that parked car? What about the muffler that fell off some car? So you swerve left around the obstacle. To a driver approaching from the rear, you look like a “bicyclist swerving all over the road.”

Now “Ride Right” on RAGBRAI means two things to me:

1. Ride correctly within the rules of the road.

2. Slower riders stay to the right.

Technically, none of the roads RAGBRAI rides on are “closed.” I am not the fastest rider, nor am I the slowest. Most of the week I can be found usually right near the centerline. Sometimes I move to the left side of the road to pass slower riders, but I still use the same exact technique. I scan first, then signal, then move. Every single time. One of the most frustrating things about RAGBRAI is the fact that many seem to think the rules don’t apply for this event. I have seen crashes where a rider moved without looking first. I have passed people on the left and been yelled at because they thought I got too close. Nevermind the fact that they are all the way over on the left side of the road with no one on their right.

Everytime we ride on the road whether it is RAGBRAI or just some other day in our hometowns, we have an opportunity to be good stewards for proper bicycling. If more bicyclists thought that way, perhaps we wouldn’t be so marginalized when it comes to building our transportation networks.


jelly0317, February 8, 2018 at 5:57 pm

“Most of the week I can be found usually right near the centerline”. That, to me, is one of the most frustrating things about RAGBRAI. If you’re not “the fastest rider”, why are you forcing riders into the oncoming lane to pass you?


cmparsley, February 8, 2018 at 6:26 pm

If there are no bicyclists to my right, then my default position moves to the right. There are time during the week when there are large gaps between riders. During these times, I am usually closer to the right side of the right lane. During times of heavier traffic, then my default position moves closer to the centerline. Rarely will you find me just cruising along left of the centerline. My average pace on RAGBRAI is around 16-20mph. There are riders that are slower than this, and riders that are faster than this.

It is perfectly reasonable on a two lane road to pass another rider by moving into the oncoming lane. This is how you would pass a car if you were in a car.

I commented that I have been yelled at for passing someone on the left when there was no one on their right. Not just for a brief moment, but people riding in the oncoming lane when there is plenty of room all the way around them to be on the right side of the road. It almost seems as if RAGBRAI for some is an excuse to ride on the other side of the road just for the sake of doing it.


Bob Card, February 9, 2018 at 9:31 am

Be aware that flashing lights facing frontward are not legal in many areas, except on law enforcement vehicles. I run a flashing headlight in addition to a steady light, and have not had any issues over many years, but I learned recently that front-facing flashing lights are not permitted by the traffic laws in my state.


mootsman, February 9, 2018 at 1:49 pm

I assume Iowa is like my home state which makes headphones/ear-buds illegal when operating any vehicle including a bicycle on the road. They prevent you from hearing approaching, car horns, emergency vehicles, etc…

I got a radar device which is really nice for the open road. Its a rear light with a radar detector by Garmin. It connects without wires to most Garmin GPS devices. When it senses a vehicle approaching from the rear it beeps and displays a “progress bar” showing the vehicle as it approaches. When it gets within 300 feet it also starts flashing a red light behind to get the drivers attention. Its nice in windy conditions where you can’t hear the vehicle approaching and you don’t have to keep checking your rear view mirror (another must have for road riding)… Its called the “Varia Radar Rearview Light” and if you don’t have a Garmin GPS head unit you can get it with a specialized head unit just for the light much more cheaply then a Garmin head-unit. It connects to even the cheapest head unit though like my Garmin Touring Edge.


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