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Safety Tips for Riders

  • 20 June, 2009
  • TJ Juskiewicz

By Gordy Mosher

As the summer biking season in Iowa approaches and interest spurs regarding the RAGBRAI route, participants begin to think about getting in shape. Articles appear regarding conditioning, appropriate apparel, proper gear, and tuned up bikes. Bike shops throughout Iowa begin to encourage riders to get those bikes into top-notch condition.

traffic-jamAnother aspect I feel is just or maybe even more important is SAFETY. From my experiences as a 14 year RAGBRAI veteran with several thousand miles of training on county roads throughout central Iowa, I offer the following observations, tips, and suggestions that may make your training and riding this year just a little safer:

  • If you arrive at a cross road/intersection the same time a car or truck arrives, even if you are in the right, you loose. Always be prepared to Yield!
  • Aggressive riding will be met with equally aggressive reactions from motorists. For example, cursing or flipping off a motorist may result in retaliation from the motorist. (Cyclists already get enough flak regarding riding on public roads, so cool your emotions.)
  • Riding two or three abreast on roads or streets will certainly irritate a motorist who cannot pass. ALWAYS be cognitive of the motorists behind you. Don’t be too proud to yield to them, even if you’re in the right. Although bikes have the same right to the road as cars/trucks, one MUST ride more defensively and show more courtesy than the motorists. Get in single file until after they are safely past you.
  • Stay off high-traffic state highways and main thoroughfares at all times.
  • If more then 8-10 cars pass you within a mile, consider riding other roads or ride at times when there is less traffic.
  • Teenage motorists are the ones most likely to try to scare you by yelling out the window or honking just as they reach you. Always be prepared for their antics.
  • Elderly drivers hate to cross the center line and they are typically the ones who pass closest to the rider.
  • A car load of people visiting with each other or a person talking on a cell phone will surely send shivers through you as their reactions are slow and they rarely move to the left until they are even or slightly passed you.
  • Trucks and semi-trailer rigs can create quite a back draft. It’s important to hang on when they pass. One may even consider an exit strategy to the shoulder or ditch, especially if wind conditions are such that it exaggerates the back draft.
  • Vehicles approaching cyclists head on and are seeking to pass may never see you. Slow down when you see someone inching out to pass and have an exit strategy in mind to get to the shoulder or ditch if they start to pass.
  • If approaching a parked vehicle, assume someone will open a door just as you arrive, so pass far enough to the left to avoid an open door.
  • When riding, always use a mirror and check it frequently. If you are riding solo, it’s easy to get distracted with your own thoughts and you forget to check the rear vision. This is especially true when one begins to tire or gets close to finishing their ride. Make it a habit to check it every 10-15 seconds! When riding with a companion, double the checking time.
  • Always wear clothing that is brightly colored. Make yourself visible to motorist.
  • Get to know the traffic patterns where you ride. Commuter times are NOT the times to ride. People’s minds when going to work are preoccupied with their day’s schedule. They may not be even aware of bike riders at that time of day. Conversely, people on their way home after work are preoccupied with after work thoughts. They are impatient, anxious, and certainly don’t want to be held up by someone out riding a bike. If these are the only times available for you to ride, consider using trails in lieu of the open road.
  • Riding into the rising/setting sun can be extremely hazardous. Cyclists should take into account the weather conditions when riding. Sunny conditions can cause blind spots for motorists and cyclists simply become invisible. Take into account the direction of the roads you are traveling during sun up and sun down times. Also, rising and setting sun times change throughout the season. A clear visual east/west road in mid May could be a blinding road at the same time in early April. Check your routes at various times of day when you plan to ride.
  • Wear brighter clothing and do even more defensive riding on foggy or cloudy days. Wear yellow tinted sunglasses that brighten the landscape on cloudy days and reserve your regular sun glasses for clear days. Eye glasses help keep those pesky insects out of your eyes, too.
  • Use the white line on the right edge of the roadway as your personal safety zone. As vehicles approach and just before they pass, whether close or clear to your left, move yourself onto or to the right of that line. Make it a habit.
  • Finally, and this is probably the most important tip I have learned. When riding country roads, do your part to draw attention to yourself when vehicles are approaching from the rear. Move slightly left 6-8 inches when a vehicle is coming up behind you, yet still at a safe distance, then move back to the right 8-12 inches. This is an excellent way to make a visual connection, plus if the motorist sees you moving back and forth, I have found they instinctively pass further to the left then if you are riding on a straight course. A rider in a tucked position and riding straight ahead doesn’t look much different then a distant road sign to the motorist. How many times have we heard drivers who have hit a cyclist say? “I just didn’t see him/her.” So, don’t be afraid to move slightly left to right to draw attention to yourself. It may just save your life.

Safe riding to you all!

Gordy wrote this article last year and we felt it was important enough to run again.  Gordy Mosher has ridden 27 RAGBRAI’s plus thousand miles and wanted to share a few things that may just help keep someone from getting hurt or killed.


  1. hlindbiker

    Thanks for running this again. It has EXCELLENT advice and could save some of us bikers! People in cars just don’t think like we do unless they are also bikers!

  2. Margaret

    Gordy – These are all GREAT tips. I’ve ridden thousands of road miles under urban, suburban and rural conditions and feel as though you’ve written my thoughts EXACTLY! I especially like the ‘attitude’ ones – it’s my belief that: ‘You can be right – and you can be dead right – unfortunately though, you’re JUST as dead!’ As well, a friend of mine tells me about The Lugnut Rule: ‘He who has the most lugnuts wins!’ Yup! Thanks for a wonderful reminder. See you at (my first!) RAGBRAI!

  3. John Burnham

    My advice to people who ask me about bike commuting, or just riding with cars, is be as visible as possible, protect your space without endangering yourself or the drivers, obey the same rules cars must when in the street, assume the drivers *don’t* see you (and have a way out), and expect drivers to do the wrong thing.

  4. Ed Smith

    Great tips! Always, always, always assume that you are not observed. I drove a semi for years and was amazed at how invisible so large a vehicle could be at times.

  5. Mike Kahn

    The best advice I ever heard was to pretend like you are invisible at all times.

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