Safety on the Road for Cyclists Part 3

Figure 1. Proper road positioning is important for safety
Applying Riding Skills in Traffic and Proper Road Behavior

There are established rules (by legislation) that govern the behavior of all road users, motorized as well as non-motorized. Someone who wants to get a driver’s license has to know the rules and must pass a test on them before a license is issued. A bicyclist does not need a license and often, unless he or she also drives, is not familiar with those rules, which can be a disadvantage. However, equipped with solid riding skills, a cyclist can quickly pick up the rules of how to ride on the road in a safe manner, whether through learning by doing or by learning from the example of others. Learning to ride on the road by going on group rides with experienced cyclists is a great way to learn proper road riding behavior. Actual experience also teaches you not to depend on other road users following the rules religiously. You learn how certain drivers, depending on the vehicle they drive, behave in or react to certain situations. For example, bus and jeepney drivers may swerve and stop suddenly to pick up passengers so one must be alert to such “bad” behavior. However, even private car drivers can suddenly change lanes without warning so one must be always be aware and wary of quickly changing traffic conditions. This requires the cyclist to constantly focus on the road—on what is happening ahead, behind, and to both sides—which requires considerable effort. One tip that I’ve found helpful is to talk to yourself, even aloud, and describe what is happening around you to yourself. It’s not as easy as it sounds but it is helpful.

As an example, one rule of the road is that slower vehicles should ride on the inner lanes (i.e., those nearer the curb or sidewalk). Proper positioning on the road depends upon your speed. And while bicycles are considered slow vehicles in terms of absolute speed, they generally go faster on the road compared to public transport vehicles that tend to slow constantly to load and unload. Generally then, a bicyclist should keep public transport on his or her right. I have seen many inexperienced cyclists constantly trying to keep as close to the curb possible, probably thinking that that is the safest place on the road; they then get dangerously squeezed against the sidewalk (and people waiting for a ride) when a bus or jeepney drifts right into your lane to load and unload. The proper behavior when you notice a vehicle ahead and to your left starting to drift into your lane is to let it in as you pass on its left. (Actually the lawful behavior for the vehicle on your left and slightly ahead that wants to change into your lane is to wait for you to pass before doing so.)

Mon explains: "Good riding skills are important because of the nature of stop-and-go traffic. While one of the charms of bicycling is keeping up a constant flowing pace on an open road, that is impossible to do in urban traffic."


Good riding skills are important because of the nature of stop-and-go traffic. While one of the charms of bicycling is keeping up a constant flowing pace on an open road, that is impossible to do in urban traffic. On city streets, a cyclist needs to cover the brakes as he or she rides; that mean being ready to brake hard when the need arises. On the other, slowing or stopping is not always the right idea of escaping from danger. Accelerating out of a threatening situation is also an option, but knowing how to do so requires experience in being able to “read” the traffic and having the skill and wherewithal to pedal quickly out of danger. Acceleration is also needed when overtaking a slow vehicle and at times when having to change lanes in order to move into proper road position with other vehicles around you.

When people say they fear riding in traffic, they generally mean that they fear being hit by other road users, particularly those driving a 2,000 kilogram vehicle that can literally crush them. Some bike advocates claim that collisions among road users is a sign of the competition for road space. However, competition is not the fundamental principle that governs road use; if that were so, then there would literally be chaos on the streets and only the biggest and baddest vehicles would rule. In fact, there is relative order on the roadway that allows people to travel and commute daily. This is possible only because road users generally tend to cooperate rather than compete, and this is made possible by trusting in other road users to behave responsibly. What this means is that drivers are not out to get bicyclists who “dare” to ride on the road (where else would they ride?). And they are certainly not out to get you from behind because the most common collisions happen at intersections, as the chart below shows.

pie chart car bike

Figure 2. “The pie chart couplet (above) shows that even though car-bike crashes comprise the minority of cases where bicyclists hit the ground, when expanded to a full pie (at the right side), the crossing crashes comprise about 5/6 of the total number of crashes. In examining these crossing crash types, we can learn a great deal about behavior and the facilities and laws that enable or restrict behaviors, influence how successful cyclists will be at negotiating urban roads” (

Collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles happen because someone acted inappropriately, did not follow road rules, and violated basic safety principles on road use. The fact that many cyclists ride on the road to commute daily and safely is proof that the cooperative principle works. (Pedestrians “walk” and do not use a vehicle so they use the sidewalk, and not the roadway, to travel. The unfortunate disappearance of sidewalks because off road widening projects is testament to the stupidity of our political leaders and managers.) And this is fundamentally why knowledgeable bike advocates do not regard bike lanes as the right way to promote safety in bike commuting. (A topic that is the subject of a future installment of this series.) your social media marketing partner