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  1. #1
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    Rural Cycling Safety?

    Hi everyone,

    I live in a rural area and am thinking of bicycling to work, which is 9.6 miles away. I have done quite a bit of googling for rural bicycle safety, and have really had little luck. If you think that rural cycling involves roads that always have paint or pavement on them, think again

    Here's my situation: Out of the 9.6 mile commute, a minimum of 2 miles will occur on sand/dirt/gravel roads, and a minimum of 1 mile occurs within the city limits (which I am not at all concerned about).

    The remainder could be on sand/dirt/gravel roads, or on paved roads, or some combination. The paved roads in question would include up to 2 miles on a 2-lane state highway (speed limit 65MPH, narrow paved shoulders, wide grass shoulders), and the remainder on a paved county road. The 2-lane county road has no shoulders whatsoever -- white stripe, 1 inch, then about a 3" drop onto grass. It also is somewhat hilly. Speed limit is 55MPH but I have frequently seen people going at least 80MPH there. Both roads are fairly well-traveled.

    The country roads are 2-lane in name only. In practice, if you are meeting another car on one of those roads, you're both slowing down to 30MPH or slower and putting your right tire off the maintained area. On the other hand, I only meet another car on the unpaved roads once or twice a month. People occasionally get killed on these roads because other cars are so rare that people don't look out for them. They certainly aren't expecting a bicycle.

    Cyclists are not common on any of these roads. Drivers are not really expecting to see them. I see cyclists maybe an average of once a month there, and I drive those roads every day.

    So, first question: what roads are safest for me to take? The country roads certainly have fewer people traveling on them, but they're probably less likely to be alert for a bicycle. Also, I often have to ride down the middle or even the left of the road, because there are large piles of sand, gravel, or whatnot where I'd normally ride. (Cars do this too) Sometimes getting over to the right so a car can pass involves me stopping and walking the bike through the thick sand.

    There are some visibility problems on all of the roads, mainly due to hills.

    It is considerably easier and faster for me to take the paved roads as opposed to the country roads. Pavement is much easier to ride through than is sand or gravel (though if I can find the unmaintained dirt roads, those tend to be pretty smooth). I got passed by probably 3 cars on the country roads, and maybe 15-25 on the paved county roads.

    Next question: what sort of safety accessories should I have? (Besides the obvious helmet). I'm thinking a mirror would be great. What do people suggest -- eyeglass or helmet mirror? Would I be able to tell if a driver is not going to pass with sufficient time to react? What should I do to make myself as visible as possible? I have seen some cyclists with tall flags attached to their bikes -- I imagine that they create some drag though, and the bike shop I went to didn't recommend them. Over at http://bicycling.about.com/od/howtor...uter-Gear-.htm, there is a suggestion for a reflective vest, but I don't see those readily available online or locally. The local bike shop also suggested strobe lights or reflective tape. Any thoughts?

    Finally, I am really a newbie at this. I have a Mongoose Crossway 250 (a hybrid) that I bought back in 2000 when I lived in Indianapolis. I only used it on dedicated trails (the Monon rail-to-trails), so this will be the first time I'll be riding on roadways. Any other suggestions would be great.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Banned. Bekologist's Avatar
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    mirror, high vis to the rear, daytime visible tailight like a Planet Bike Superflash, add a flag, add a safety triangle, wear a ANSI class II or III safety vest with contrasting orange and high vis yellow, and increase your awareness of traffic overtaking and consider it to road and traffic oncoming, and you'll be a lot safer.

    Safety flags are commonly used by cyclotourists, etc. Any shop that DOESN'T recommend a safety flag for rural riding like you described does not have your best interests in mind, nor a whit of sense regarding safety riding enhancements.

    Do you mind me asking what the bike shop employees DID recommend?

    Here's my safety setup for winter riding and rural tours. I ride plenty of roads like you describe, just not on my commute. My avatar is a photo of me riding a gravel country road, middle of the road.

    Safety triangle is on a spoke ziptied to the rear rack. It doesn't interfere with panniers going on or off.
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    Last edited by Bekologist; 05-19-08 at 11:46 AM.

  3. #3
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    What's a good online store to find these things? The bit I didn't mention is that the nearest bike shops are 40 miles away, so I like to go online as much as I can.

    Anyhow... I went to one local bike shop, described my conditions as I did above, and asked an open-ended "what kind of safety gear would you recommend?" They suggested a safety triangle, a tail light, and reflective tape (I think they suggested putting it on my helmet, but I'm not positive).

    I will never be riding at night or in the rain. (Can't ride in the rain because that means my first 2 miles will be in partial mud; it's hard enough to get a car over that). That Superflash -- you mention it's daytime-visible -- I take it that means it's *significantly* daytime-visible?

    None of the online bike shops seem to sell those safety vests. Does anyone make jerseys/shirts with that sort of high-visibility material? (I haven't seen them either) That way I would have the extra weight and drag of a separate vest, but obviously I'll take the extra drag over the extra danger.

    Thanks much for the tips.

  4. #4
    Senior Member gcottay's Avatar
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    Hello, Ray.

    One thing I've noticed on rural roads is that unless you are very fast or riding into a strong headwind, your ears are your best friend. You can hear traffic coming for long enough to be alert and, depending on the location, take appropriate action for your own safety.
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  5. #5
    Pat
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    I believe that very few motorists anywhere have any expectation of encountering a cyclist. Cyclists who ride in a legal and predictable fashion, are usually pretty visible. I don't think that most of the safety stuff works well during the daylight hours. I have been on tours where people used them and I nearly always saw the cyclist long before I saw the little flag. Fanny patches do help a bit though.

    I used to ride quite a bit on rural roads in Michigan. Slow moving and hideously large farm machinery on the roads kept the motorists a bit on their toes so that was a good thing.

  6. #6
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CosmicRay View Post
    The country roads are 2-lane in name only. In practice, if you are meeting another car on one of those roads, you're both slowing down to 30MPH or slower and putting your right tire off the maintained area. On the other hand, I only meet another car on the unpaved roads once or twice a month. People occasionally get killed on these roads because other cars are so rare that people don't look out for them. They certainly aren't expecting a bicycle.
    In addition to tips from Bek I think this is a case where I would use a high intensity steady beam headlight 24hr/day aimed parallel to ground.

    Al

  7. #7
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    Does your area have a lot of yahoos who would think it funny to throw beer bottles at cyclists from their pickup trucks?

  8. #8
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    Elkhound: heh, that's one danger I never thought of. But no, I don't think so.

    And Pat, I can totally identify with the hideously large farm machinery.

  9. #9
    robertlinthicum
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    Quote Originally Posted by gcottay View Post
    Hello, Ray.

    One thing I've noticed on rural roads is that unless you are very fast or riding into a strong headwind, your ears are your best friend. You can hear traffic coming for long enough to be alert and, depending on the location, take appropriate action for your own safety.
    I'm not connecting--how is hearing traffic approaching from the rear suppose to help him? What's he to do, swerve his way out of danger?

    Another red herring is the almighty rear-view mirror. In my opinion, it does nothing to make your ride safer. Turn your entire head and LOOK before making a move across a lane. Don't rely on a mirror. Or your hearing. Feh.

  10. #10
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robertlinthicum View Post
    Another red herring is the almighty rear-view mirror. In my opinion, it does nothing to make your ride safer. Turn your entire head and LOOK before making a move across a lane. Don't rely on a mirror. Or your hearing. Feh.
    No one in this thread is suggesting to merge without turning head. A mirror lets one monitor faster rear approaching traffic and the drivers reaction (or lack of) to ones presence. Alternately one can turn ones head a few times a minute which is far more disruptive to the smoothness of cycling on an open rural road.

    Al

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    Senior Member littlewaywelt's Avatar
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    Since driver's may close the gap on you very quickly at rural road speed, I think you need to concentrate on daytime visibility.

    At minimum on roads like that I'd want (rearward facing) a superflash on my helmet, one on the bike and a cateye LD1100 on the bike, along with an ANSI II fluorescent lime vest. Frontward facing I'd want a real headlight not some whimpy led.

    After seven years of commuting without one, I added a rear view mirror. It took me about a month to get used to it, but I do believe it helped my overall situational awareness, I firmly believe it increases safety.

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  12. #12
    robertlinthicum
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    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam View Post
    A mirror lets one monitor faster rear approaching traffic and the drivers reaction (or lack of) to ones presence.
    I turn my head if I'm to make a move in traffic--it's not hard. For me, mirrors are worthless distractions. I don't trust them, and mirrors can't make eye contact with motorists.

    Do tell how this new commuter is helped by the advice that he " . . . monitor faster rear approaching traffic and the drivers reaction (or lack of) to ones presence . . ." He is riding in a rural setting. My sense is that overtaking traffic will be moving at a high rate of speed. This is useless (and perhaps unintentionally harmful) advice for him, sorry.

    This new commuter needs to focus on

    1) Being seen;
    2) Seeing;
    3) Developing skills that help him/her do 1 and 2.
    Last edited by robertlinthicum; 05-19-08 at 01:50 PM.

  13. #13
    robertlinthicum
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    Quote Originally Posted by littlewaywelt View Post
    Since driver's may close the gap on you very quickly at rural road speed, I think you need to concentrate on daytime visibility.
    Amen!

  14. #14
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robertlinthicum View Post
    I turn my head if I'm to make a move in traffic--it's not hard. For me, mirrors are worthless distractions. I don't trust them, and mirrors can't make eye contact with motorists.
    Apparently you didn't read my post. Who is talking about 'making moves in traffic'?

    Quote Originally Posted by robertlinthicum View Post
    Do tell how this new commuter is helped by the advice that he " . . . monitor faster rear approaching traffic and the drivers reaction (or lack of) to ones presence . . ." He is riding in a rural setting. My sense is that overtaking traffic will be moving at a high rate of speed. This is useless (and perhaps unintentionally harmful) advice for him, sorry.

    This new commuter needs to focus on

    1) Being seen;
    2) Seeing;
    3) Developing skills that help him/her do 1 and 2.
    A rural setting with fast approaching traffic is exactly the conditions where a mirror helps situational awareness - that is because with faster traffic one needs to monitor the rear more often and all it takes is a glance in the mirror a few times a minute. I know in such conditions (low volume fast traffic) the 'hassle vs. actually seeing something' of turning head means I monitor the rear much less. Do you really turn head and look behind you a few times a minute when on such a road?

    But I do agree if the OP is new to cycling or cycling in traffic they need to first learn to look back with head when ever required and not primarily rely on a mirror which could (depending on individual mindset) inhibit learning this important skill.

    Al

  15. #15
    Senior Member aRoudy1's Avatar
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    You can order a safety vest here: http://www.forestry-suppliers.com/dr...y.asp?cat=1111
    I have a lime green mesh one and it seems to work ok--haven't been hit yet!

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    Thanks everyone for the tips. Interesting discussion on mirrors. I'm glad I brought it up

    My concern isn't merging across lanes; all of these roads are only 2-lane so there is no lane changing going on.

    If I'm riding on sand roads, my bike -- and the wind -- makes enough noise that I may not hear vehicles approaching very early (especially if there is a headwind). Looking over my shoulder several times per mile will work fine some places, but not necessarily when it's hilly. Often times, on these sand roads, I found it takes quite some concentration to keep my bike out of the thick sandy areas left behind by road maintainers or cars, which could cause me to crash or suffer a lack of traction. Sometimes I've got about 6 inches to work with. I want to avoid looking over my shoulder to see if a car is coming, then promptly wipe out right before it arrives because I wasn't watching the road in front of me! Also, on those roads, there will often simply be no possible way for a vehicle -- whether approaching from the front or behind -- to get around me unless I move over.

    Several of you suggested a forward-facing headlight of some sort. I'm curious about that. I don't feel particularly concerned about oncoming traffic. I figure I will see the cars before they see me, and I ought to be able to pull over in time, whether encountering a single vehicle on a sand road or someone passing a car on a paved road. Am I being over-confident somehow?

    The other thing I'm quite interested in is thoughts on riding on the sand roads vs. the 2-lane paved road. The sand roads are slower traveling, but have far less traffic. On the other hand, there are some risks there -- like piles of sand, dirt, etc. -- that could cause more than a minor accident if I hit them right when there is a vehicle passing. What do you think -- is it safe to ride on a 2-lane paved road with some hills, no shoulders, and (automobile) commuters and semis? How far to the right should I be riding there? On my test ride (a Sunday afternoon, so less traffic than I'd normally see), I rode pretty much on the white line the whole time, and only one driver passed me uncomfortably close.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by CosmicRay View Post

    The other thing I'm quite interested in is thoughts on riding on the sand roads vs. the 2-lane paved road. The sand roads are slower traveling, but have far less traffic. On the other hand, there are some risks there -- like piles of sand, dirt, etc. -- that could cause more than a minor accident if I hit them right when there is a vehicle passing. What do you think -- is it safe to ride on a 2-lane paved road with some hills, no shoulders, and (automobile) commuters and semis? How far to the right should I be riding there? On my test ride (a Sunday afternoon, so less traffic than I'd normally see), I rode pretty much on the white line the whole time, and only one driver passed me uncomfortably close.
    I'm not as experienced as some on this list in these conditions, but these are my impressions. 2 lane paved roads with high speeds/low traffic/unpaved shoulders are not so bad, as long as you can see what is happening (mirror is good), and you can control an escape to shoulder when, say logging trucks are passing each other at your location. That is: if the 'shoulder' is a cliff face of hard granite, or 1000 ft drop, it's probably a bad idea (especially if cars go suicidally fast). But if the frequency of traffic is low, and the hills are such that you can see and hear oncoming and passing traffic reasonably well, you should have a pleasant ride.

    Other factors to consider are dogs, wildlife, and weather conditions. It might not be so much fun if it is frequently foggy and rainy, due to reduced visibility and traction.

    FWIW I would probably try the paved road for a while and see how comfortable I felt. Riding in sand is a lot of work.

    If you ride at the same time every day, the drivers will likely get used to you, and look out for you as they go by (I'm guessing that these roads are mostly used by locals).

    Good luck.

  18. #18
    robertlinthicum
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    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam View Post
    Apparently you didn't read my post.
    You aren't getting it--my point is that monitoring what is going on behind you, UNLESS you are about to "make moves in traffic", is a distraction and waste of time, and you are recommending just that to a new commuter, who has stated that lane changes aren't on the menu.

    But you will persist, so who buys it, eats it.

    Nothing necessarily wrong with it, but I can imagine that yours is the school of thought that advises that one must be able to "hear real good" so that one can hear motorists trying to "warn" us with their horns.

    Thus endeth my participation (and interest) in this thread. Happy and safe riding to all, especially the OP. (Best course for you is to read the latest edition of Effective Cycling . . .)
    Last edited by robertlinthicum; 05-19-08 at 05:54 PM.

  19. #19
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    High-vis vest - absolutely positively utterly mandatory. If you have to chose between a high vis vest or a helmet, chose the bare head every time.
    You can get them from Harbour Freight or whatever, if your sporting goods type place doesn't have them, ask to order some. Get the yellow ones with reflectivity material (Not the 'melted glitter' kind). Here's a link to one: http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/cta...emnumber=94701

    Mirror - I've tried a helmet mirror, I couldn't see a damned thing through it. Ever see one of those puzzles where they take a picture of something, then make you try to identify it by looking at some little fragment of a booger of something in an obscure portion? That's what a helmet mirror is like, except that if you guess wrong or take too long figuring it out, you wreck. Don't do it. Get a bar end mirror, a big one. Convex if you can find one. You need this mostly so you can check to see if someone is coming up on you easier, for lane positioning reasons. Just glance at it if you think you might need to take a little more lane to avoid a hazard, or if passing width seems to be getting sketchy.

    Lights - the best you can find. Dinottes or similar, probably.

    Then chose roads so that you have high visibility front and rear.
    Current stable: Sun Atlas X-type (mine), Trek Navigator 3 (wife), two Sun Revolution cruisers (wife, daughter)

  20. #20
    Been Around Awhile I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robertlinthicum View Post
    You aren't getting it--my point is that monitoring what is going on behind you, UNLESS you are about to "make moves in traffic", is a distraction and waste of time, and you are recommending just that to a new commuter, who has stated that lane changes aren't on the menu.

    But you will persist, so who buys it, eats it.

    Nothing necessarily wrong with it, but I can imagine that yours is the school of thought that advises that one must be able to "hear real good" so that one can hear motorists trying to "warn" us with their horns.

    Thus endeth my participation (and interest) in this thread. Happy and safe riding to all, especially the OP. (Best course for you is to read the latest edition of Effective Cycling . . .)
    I should have guessed that the Read the Book mantra was imminent from this poster after his references to off the wall head turns and merging into lanes ranting . Good Bye!
    On the OP's road with few cars coming the best bet for his peace of mind just may be too pull off the road when the occasional car approaches unless there is a clear indication that the driver will give the OP sufficient room. The mirror and listening can be very helpful tools without any great effort for being aware of those few approaching vehicles.

    www.Alertshirt.com for very visible, inexpensive apparel for suitable for the OP's needs.

    I agree with Bekologist's skepticism about a bike shop that would pooh-pooh the use of a visibility flag for this purpose. I suppose it doesn't fit the Tour de France image, or there isn't sufficient markup on it. Maybe the LBS will promote them when the pole is made of carbon fiber.
    Last edited by I-Like-To-Bike; 05-19-08 at 07:12 PM. Reason: correct URL address

  21. #21
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    Be obvious.
    Be predictable.
    Be assertive.

    A mirror is helpful to monitor the road behind and much easier than turning your head every few seconds. I like a big, handlebar mounted mirror like the Blackburn Multi Mirror or Blackburn road mirror, depending on which bike I am on. With other vehicles traveling at highway speeds, you will want to know as early as possible if there is a vehicle approaching from the rear. If you have the sight lines, you will be able to see another vehicle approaching long before you will be able to hear it. And at the speed most people drive rural highways, they can be up to you very quickly. Also, the noise of a vehicle approaching from the front will mask the sound of a vehicle approaching from the rear. You don't want to get caught by surprise this way.

    One of the reasons I don't wear a helmet all the time anymore is that the wind noise in my old helmet sounded like a car approaching from the rear. So wearing that helmet, I constantly had the sound of a ghost car approaching.

    Would I be able to tell if a driver is not going to pass with sufficient time to react?
    In my experience, usually not if they are traveling highway speed. The exception to this is the drivers that change lanes way early.

    I don't use a safety flag either, but I do wear a shirt that greatly contrasts with most of the background, usually woods, as would be seen by an observer looking at me. I like white, yellow, bright green and bright orange for this. Normally, in warm weather, I wear a white, cotton undershirt.

    Active lights are a plus even if you don't plan to ride at night nor in the rain. At night I run 3 taillights; a Cateye TL-LD1000 with one bank of lights steady on, the other bank on rapid flash; a Cateye TL-LD500 steady on as a backup to the 1000 and because it is a CPSC certified reflector, which is required by FL state law in addition to a light; and a Mars 3.0 clipped on the back of my helmet, steady on.

    For headlights I run a Cateye HL-EL530 mounted on the handlebar and a Optronics Nightblaster 6000 mounted on my helmet.

    On overcast or rainy days I run both banks of the TL-LD1000 on rapid flash, and the HL-EL530.

    I have found that the darker the road (the less ambient light from sources other than your own), the less light you really need to see or be seen. In the absence of street lights, stores, houses, etc. any light you generate will stand out like a beacon.

    On sand roads in this area I have found that usually only the packed tire tracks are ridable. This typically requires me to pull over and stop for every vehicle approaching from either direction. But it is what it is. Usually these sand roads are so narrow that there is no way for a motor vehicle to get past me if I remain in a ridable road position. This is why I use paved highways as much as possible. Of course some of them just don't go to some of my desired destinations.

    Several of you suggested a forward-facing headlight of some sort. I'm curious about that. I don't feel particularly concerned about oncoming traffic. I figure I will see the cars before they see me, and I ought to be able to pull over in time, whether encountering a single vehicle on a sand road or someone passing a car on a paved road. Am I being over-confident somehow?
    Not to bust on you, but I think so. It has been my experience that the biggest hazard you will face is not traffic approaching from the rear, as long as you are in a lane controlling and highly obvious lane position, but traffic approaching from the front when one driver decides to pass another as they are approaching you. You want to make it plainly obvious to approaching drivers that they cannot pass until they are past you. For me this means taking the middle of the lane in the presence of oncoming traffic.

    Although some of it may sound counterintuitive, the information found here: http://www.bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/
    is excellent. Particularly Chapter 2.
    Last edited by CommuterRun; 05-19-08 at 07:08 PM.

  22. #22
    Senior Member st0ut's Avatar
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    If you are going to use the ROAD get a ROAD BIKE. If your are going to use the country roads get a hard tail.. Since this is rual could you get away with crossing a field or wood? Shorten the distance AND aviod all cars?
    Cars make you weak.

  23. #23
    kipuka explorer bkrownd's Avatar
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    A mirror is a must-have item. I much prefer my glasses-mounted mirror, but my specific brand isn't made anymore. You should always be aware of the vehicles around you as much as possible. You can't watch them constantly, but when you do see a vehicle on your tail who obviously isn't going to pass you safely then you can take evasive action and ride off the side of the road. Failing to watch them is asking to get rear-ended - there are plenty of drivers out there who wouldn't notice a bike if it was in the middle of the lane, covered with flags, and lit up like an xmas tree.
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  24. #24
    kipuka explorer bkrownd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JusticeZero View Post
    Mirror - I've tried a helmet mirror, I couldn't see a damned thing through it. Ever see one of those puzzles where they take a picture of something, then make you try to identify it by looking at some little fragment of a booger of something in an obscure portion? That's what a helmet mirror is like, except that if you guess wrong or take too long figuring it out, you wreck. Don't do it.
    My glasses mirror took me about a week to get used to. After that, adjusting focus and head position for it was an instant reflex. It provides a clearer, more detailed, more stable and wider angle view than a handlebar mirror. Of course, some people's eyes might not work well with them. I also have a convex handlebar mirror for those times when I can't lift my head to use the glasses mirror due to rain, but the handlebar mirror gives a far lower quality view, and requires me to take my eyes off the road ahead for longer.
    --
    -=- '05 Jamis Nova -=- '04 Fuji Absolute -=- '94 Trek 820 -=- '77 Schwinn Scrambler 36/36 -=-
    Friends don't let friends use brifters.

  25. #25
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    Think about training. Need that emergency escape all the time. Eventually some yahoo will start a pass into oncoming traffic and you'll need the escape to be there already, rather than having to figure it out. Learn your route so you know where to go. The no escape neck down areas bother me. I make sure to pace myself so I can't hear anyone close as I go through the danger zones.

    On visibility, I keep thinking panniers with rain covers in yellow would be great. Haven't gotten around to it!

    I got an illuminite vest at Performance cheap that is way visible. I also got closeouts on a bright green vest, a bright green jacket, and a bright illuminite green helmet cover for winter use.

    I should have a triangle etc. I have lights. But today I rode home in civies with a baseball cap and a single flasher, some green tape on my fenders. Everyone passed me perhaps better than usual - maybe the helmet gets you passed closer as has been hypothesized.

    The passing into traffic thing is the most dangerous aspect on the fast roads. People really will risk their lives to save 4 seconds. It's stupid, but you'll see it. Helps to practice big "WAIT" hand motion and big "WAVE AROUND" motions, as if you're dealing with idiots. Most people aren't, but enough are.

    I'd also study other posts and train your mind for what to do at stops and other situations. You'll have the guy pulling up to the stop in the left lane as you're at the stop. I attract attention and inform the fellow that I've seen cops ticket that move for reckless driving, big fine, and indicate cyclists will be out of the way in a second. That way they're appreciative, rather than pissed.

    Make friends, too. You'll see the same people. Wave to everyone. Raise a hand to the cars. Do the hand out and down to the bikers. Say high to the people by the road. Stop and help everyone.

    On the route - hey, I just don't ride where I'm scared. I'll ride anywhere else and vary my route.

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