What You Need for Self Supported Touring by Bicycle
Concerns - Safety
Safety has to do with your personal well being. If you have been safe, you will return at least as well off as you started - physically, emotionally, and mentally.
- THE most important way to stay safe is to have your brain working 100%. The best ways to do this are:
- Staying Hydrated.
When you don't drink enough, your blood thickens. Thick blood is harder to pump. You become less alert. Your thinking process dulls down towards handling only manditory bodily functions. You can't think straight.
If you don't need to urinate every two or three hours, you may not be drinking enough. If what you drank is sloshing around in your stomach, you waited too long, and should be drinking smaller amounts more frequently.
- Staying Fueled.
You only have about two hours of primary fuel from your last meal. After that, you start drawing from secondary sources, like muscle tissue. Go long enough and you begin to bonk. This is when, even on level ground, every pedal stroke seems like a huge task. As you approach this state, your thoughts turn inward, and you pay less attention to your surroundings. You are no longer being safe.
Your best friends are the snacks you carry for energy. A banana is my first choice, because it replaces potassium, has bulk and energy, and comes in a disposable package. I also like granola bars (Sunbelt makes the best and cheapest) and chocolate peanut butter. I also carry a chocolate-mint Clif bar, when I can find them. Some people like oranges, fig bars, and GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts).
- On a bus or train, distractions are welcome. While pedaling, they can make you unsafe.
- Don't dwell on thoughts about an inconsiderate driver.
- Things that distract drivers, like accident scenes and wild animal viewings, are danger zones.
- Concentration hogs, like map reading and bug removal from your helmet, call for two feet on the ground.
- Your bike and gear can make you unsafe.
- A front tire with cord showing is unsafe.
- A chain that sucks is unsafe.
- A high load is unsafe.
- A loose load is unsafe.
- A bike/rider combination that appears gray or black is unsafe.
- A night rider without lighting is unsafe.
- Your environment can become unsafe.
- Debris you don't see can stop your bike faster than it stops you. See a clear stretch of road ahead before you get there. Roadkill doesn't just magically appear.
- It is generally safer to ride in the first two feet of shoulder. This area is generally cleaned of small items from the wind of large trucks. Larger items are pushed away by being run over. Beyond two feet, you may be riding through a debris collection.
- Busier roads generally have more eye, nose, and ear polution. Squinting, holding your breath, or tuning out sounds can make you less aware of potential threats. The back roads may be steeper, farther, and have fewer services, but they are safer.
- Dealing With Bad Drivers Behind You.
We've got two choices (not paintballs and tire chains):
a. Turn the decision for safe actions over to the drivers, OR
b. Take responsibility for the job of protecting ourselves.
You and I want to be safe. For that, we need to be seen. It is absolutely impossible for cars or trucks to see a bicyclist. If they could, it really wouldn't make any difference, because aiming the vehicle is the job of the driver.
What drivers see best are threats to their peaceful and urgent trip. I could attach a rod with an obviously sharp point projecting to my left. But what about damage I might do during an evasive maneuver of my own? It would also make riding with others a challenge.
You can turn your safety over to 99.9% of the drivers if you ride in a predictable manner. It's that other .1% you have to deal with. Problem is, how can you tell them apart?
Well, you have non-verbal communication with each and every one of them. Seriously! Just you, them, and your rear view mirror.
- Know they are there. This calls for monitoring your mirror on a regular basis, as well as listening.
- Determine if they are on a track that, if continued, will give you plenty of space. If so, just keep monitoring them.
- If you feel uneasy in your space, increase it. You must give the driver enough lead time to react properly. If there is a painted line, and you are to the right of it, move to your left, crossing the paint into the driving lane. As long as you are to the right of the paint, the driver will assume you have all the space you need. If you are already in the lane, or there is no paint, move a quarter-lane to the left.
- Monitor their reaction. They should either slow down or move to their left. If they do, they not only see you, but are behaving correctly.
- If they don't react, move another quarter lane to the left, and continue monitoring.
- If they still haven't reacted, it may be they haven't seen you yet, or they want to "throw a scare into you". In either case, you need to hold your position as long as you can. Why?
If they just want to scare you, they must eventually slow down, move over, or risk court time. They mean you no physical harm; they just want to bully you. If you move over too soon, they will probably slide by real close, anyway.
Sometimes, to get their attention, I'll pretend like I'm loosing control by wobbling, or swerving toward the center line. This works best on long hills, where I may not have much pretending to do. It's best in these cases that the driver not see that I am using my mirror - the perception should be that I have other things to think about. As soon as they respond by slowing or moving over, the act is over, and I become a well behaved biker.
- At some point, you will become uncomfortable with your position. Because you are out toward the middle of the road, you have a more reliable surface on which to slow down before you take to the shoulder.
You should only use this technique when you feel uncomfortable with the space allowed you by the driver behind you. If you do it with every driver, you will be a bad example for us all.