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Google co-founder Sergey Brin rides outside its California headquarters. The company has added bicycle routes to Google Maps for 150 U.S. cities.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin rides outside its California headquarters. The company has added bicycle routes to Google Maps for 150 U.S. cities.

A spring tune-up on cycling safety Add to ...

Whether you're behind the wheel of a motor vehicle or gripping the handlebars of a bike, this can be a challenging time of year on the streets of cities and towns across the country.

The snow and the slush are largely gone, that's true, and roads are for the most part dry. But the arrival of those bike-friendly conditions means drivers and cyclists may need to relearn how to peaceably coexist. Seasonal cyclists and the four-season warriors will have to get used to each other again too.

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The early part of the cycling season can see everyone a bit rusty on the ground rules for safe cycling and for sharing the road.

"I think what we consistently find is that when there are more cyclists on the road, it's much safer for all cyclists," says Zlatko Krstulich, president of the Ottawa-based advocacy group Citizens for Safe Biking.

"The big reason is that drivers see one or two and they start to get in their minds 'Hey, look out for cyclists.' "

Nancy Kendrew, a co-owner of Toronto's Urbane Cyclist, says the onus to be mindful of cyclists doesn't just rest with drivers.

Ms. Kendrew is a dedicated four-season cyclist, as are others who work at her store, a worker-owned cycle shop. She and her colleagues notice that at this time of year, the seasonal or recreational cyclists can be as much of a threat to their fellow cyclists as cars.

"There's a two-edged thing. We think the No. 1 danger is from motorists - I mean, it's true if you get hit by a car it's much bigger. But if you do something [and]you're clipped by a fast-moving cyclist, it can lead to a serious injury as well," she says.

"There are cyclists who go all season long. And they're very wary and they're very safety-oriented because they've gone through icy conditions and whatnot. …

"And it's sort of like the newbies that come along in the springtime and they're not predictable, they don't stop at lights, they're not obeying the rules, some of them."

Predictable. That word comes up a lot when you're talking to people knowledgeable about cycling safety. Being predictable is the key weapon cyclists have to protect themselves and others, Ms. Kendrew and Mr. Krstulich suggest. That means:

Bike where you are supposed to bike. Don't weave in and out of traffic.

Signal your turns. Signalling allows drivers and other cyclists to anticipate the directional changes you are about to make.

Obey the rules of the road.

Those include treating other cyclists with the respect you would a car. Ms. Kendrew says one of her colleagues was recently almost hit by a cyclist trying to pass on the right - a basic no-no.

"Space is really important. You have to have a sense of where you are on the road and what's around you. And other cyclists count," she says.

Cycling experts have some other safety tips for seasonal cycling commuters and recreational cyclists, both those who are resuming the activity and those just starting this year.

Be visible

That means lights for cycling at times when it's dark or even when it's dim. Clothing with reflective strips - or at least light-coloured clothing - adds to the safety quotient.

"If you should forget your two lights, you're invisible in the dark," Ms. Kendrew says.

"Make sure you have your proper lights with you because you may get caught out coming home. And if you're just a regular cyclist and you don't do all the gear, you won't have all that reflective tape normally on your jacket."

Wear a helmet

"The simplest and greatest tip that needs to be given and needs to be reinforced on a yearly basis - especially with adult cyclists because they don't have to - is the necessity of wearing a helmet," says Rob Werstine, a sports physiotherapist at the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic at Fanshawe College in London, Ont.

Be prudent and watchful

That means giving a wide berth to car doors to avoid what Ms. Kendrew calls "the door thing" and others ruefully call "the door prize."

"Be very, very careful around parked cars, because that's one of the more hazardous scenarios," Mr. Krstulich says.

A driver or passenger who opens a door without realizing a cyclist is right there can send a cyclist flying through the air, sometimes into the path of a moving vehicle.

These kinds of accidents kill - in fact, a cyclist in Toronto died after being "doored" in the summer of 2008.

That's why cyclists don't ride as close to a row of parked cars as drivers coming up alongside them might wish they would. But the threat doesn't just come from parked cars, Ms. Kendrew says.

"The worst dooring I've ever had has been on the inside, of someone jumping out, grabbing a newspaper, jumping back into the car. And they drilled me right across the sidewalk."

Ms. Kendrew says a safety course can teach cyclists to read the body language of car passengers and drivers so they can anticipate better when a door is about to fly open.

She suggests courses offered through Can-Bike (canbike.net /cca_pages/index.htm), a program developed and run in several parts of the country by the Canadian Cycling Association.

 

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