As we’ve noted in earlier posts, because bikes are legitimate vehicles on our roads, bicyclists in many ways just drive their bikes like they would a car. One key difference however is that because cyclists are much more vulnerable, more awareness on the road is needed. Though there’s no need to be constantly afraid when you’re riding your bike; constant awareness of your surroundings is crucial. You maintain awareness as you ride by scanning around you.

FB Topic4 1 One of the most foundational, essential skills every cyclist must learn is being able to look behind them to see traffic. This should not only be practiced prior to changing lanes or turning to make sure that the way is clear, but on a frequent basis as you ride along. Scanning regularly keeps you safer and gets you in tune more with the other road users around you. The assurance that comes from knowing where your bicycle is positioned in relation to motorists and potential obstacles makes for a more relaxing and confident riding experience. It also helps to warm up your neck, slow turns, and upper torso before you get on your bicycle. Eye contact with nearby drivers can be surprisingly effective, particularly those coming up behind you. It humanizes our interactions and lets drivers know you might be changing lanes or turning soon.
FB Topic4 2 Unfortunately, approximately half of American adult cyclists can’t look behind them without swerving. Some have become overly reliant on mirrors. Mirrors on your helmet or handlebars can be a great supplement, but they are not a substitute for scanning behind you. Mirrors don’t show you everything and more importantly, the visual cue motorists receive from that head turn and eye contact doesn’t happen when looking at your mirror.
FB Topic4 3 It’s normal to swerve at first when first trying to look behind you while riding. But practice does allow for maintaining a straighter and more consistent riding line over time. Eventually, you’ll be able to maintain a straight line. We don’t recommend riding in traffic alone until you can scan behind regularly while maintaining a straight, predictable line.
FB Topic4 4 There are three ways to scan behind you. The easiest is simply tucking your chin into your shoulder and looking past your shoulder. Another option is a brief turn of the head. Either way, the goal is to scan long enough to see everything. If you’re able to do so, practice this third way of scanning: removing your left hand from the handlebars and either hanging it down at your side or grabbing the rear of your saddle. This allows you to twist your upper body a bit, which gives you a much better view behind you over your left shoulder. Having your right hand on the handlebar while removing your left hand briefly also makes veering out into traffic less likely while you scan.
FB Topic4 5 Scanning ahead is important too. Scan upcoming intersections, driveways and parking lot entrances/exits and be particularly watchful for turning vehicles. Decide where to position your bicycle before you encounter an intersection or potential threat. Scanning to the front, sides and rear is a great 360 degree habit to develop. A key component of safe cycling is anticipating other road users’ moves. By increasing your awareness of traffic conditions, you greatly increase your safety on the road.
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