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League of American Bicyclists offers tips for avoiding road hazards

This is an excerpt from Smart Cycling by League of American Bicyclists.

Avoiding Hazards

Riding safely on the road requires knowledge and understanding of traffic laws and the principles that determine and govern these laws. However, even when you ride predictably and occupy your proper place on the roadway, situations may arise that necessitate maneuvering to avoid hazards or collisions. The ability to execute an evasive maneuver could mean the difference between a close call and a crash. Be sure to practice these often. For any of these maneuvers to work when you need them, it must come naturally. Practice these moves in a no-traffic area.

Quick Stop

When you are riding in traffic and something stops suddenly in front of you, you need to bring your bicycle to a quick stop, keeping your bike under control and stopping in a short distance. There is an art to stopping a bicycle in an emergency.

When you apply the front or rear brake, the bicycle begins to slow down, and your weight transfers forward. The more weight on a wheel, the more effective the braking and the less likely it is to skid. Most of the time you can stop your bike comfortably without skidding or sliding. If you need to stop in an emergency, you may need to make a quick stop to avoid hitting an object or entering a dangerous situation. However, if you brake too quickly, the hard braking can pitch you over the handlebars.

When braking hard, slide toward the back of the bike to counteract the weight shift. Braking with the front brake about three times harder than the rear and shifting your weight back over the rear wheel will help you achieve a safe, rapid deceleration (figure 5.4). If the rear wheel starts to skid, ease up slightly on the front brake. Such a rapid deceleration is not the safest way to stop under normal conditions. In normal situations, it is better to apply brakes well in advance and signal your intention to come slowly to a stop without skidding. Skidding wears your tires, increases stopping distance, and deprives you of control of the bike.

Quick Stop

Here are tips for an effective quick stop:

  • For a fast, safe stop, use both brakes. This produces the optimal deceleration. If the rear wheel starts to skid, ease up slightly on the front brake. With practice, you will use the front brake harder (up to three times harder) and the rear brake more lightly to decrease your stopping distance.
  • Braking with the rear brake alone will help prevent pitch-over, but it is not very effective.
  • In theory, you can stop fastest with the front brake, but an error will pitch you over.
  • When braking hard, slide your body back on the saddle as far as possible. You can transfer even more weight to the rear wheel by moving your rear end straight back and placing your stomach on the seat.
  • When carrying a heavy load on the rear of your bike, you will be able to brake harder with less danger.

Rock Dodge

A rock dodge is a maneuver for avoiding any small object in the road. It is an essential skill for any cyclist to master (figure 5.5). To execute a rock dodge, keep riding straight until you are very close to the object. Just before you reach the object, turn the handlebars suddenly to the left—without leaning—so the front wheel goes around the object. Immediately straighten out and keep riding.

Rock Dodge

When you steer to the left of the rock, you automatically lean right. When you straighten up, you bring the bike back under you. Your front wheel snakes around the rock, your back wheel passes on the other side, but your body and handlebars have barely moved. The motion is subtle and the entire action happens in a split second.

You can also perform a rock dodge by turning the handlebars suddenly to the right. Turning to the left is more instinctive and probably safer, but the maneuver works either way. The quick turn is the trick, not the direction in which you turn.

The rock dodge maneuver will feel unnatural at first, but with practice, you will be able to use it in an emergency. Practice by placing a sponge or half of a tennis ball in an open area, such as a parking lot or paved surface without traffic. Ride straight toward the object until you are very close, and just before your front wheel hits it, turn the handlebars quickly so the front wheel goes around it, then quickly move the handlebars straight again. Do not worry if your back wheel hits it. Remember, the key to maintaining control of your bike is to keep the front wheel stable. You need to be able to move around obstacles quickly to avoid a fall.

More Excerpts From Smart Cycling