Spokes & Soles // Bicycling safely in and around Minneapolis

Bicycling in Minneapolis has never been more popular — or safer.

According to City of Minneapolis data, while bicycle trips in Minneapolis hit an all-time high in 2011, the city’s bike crash rate — the ratio of reported crashes to bike commuters — has declined by more than half in the past 15 years.

Minneapolis’ gains in bike safety are great news overall, but they’re small comfort if you’re ever a bicyclist involved in a crash. With bicycling season now in prime time, here are 10 tips for keeping yourself safe on local roadways: 

1. Ride a properly sized, serviced and equipped bicycle. As a general rule, your legs should not be fully extended when pedaling, and you should be able to easily reach the ground when stopped or slowed. 

2. Be sure your brakes are in good working condition, and that you have at least a front headlight and a red rear light/reflector (legally required) for nighttime riding. Always do your ABC Quick Check before each ride: check the Air in the tire; that the Brakes work; and that your Chain/Cranks roll smoothly.

3. Ride in the correct position. On the road, ride in a generally straight path — don’t weave in and out of parked cars — and as far to the right as is safe. Be vigilant around parallel parked cars; ride 4 feet away to avoid being “doored.” Don’t ride too close to the gutter line, or where debris is piled up, because it makes it tougher for drivers to see you. If it’s not safe to ride to the right of motorized traffic (because of narrow lanes or debris on the road or even a long, fast downhill stretch), it is legal to “take the full lane,” and ride approximately where a car’s passenger wheels roll, especially if this means other vehicles can more easily see you. If a line of traffic builds up behind you, be courteous; if the opportunity arises, pull over to let vehicles pass.

4. Watch for the “right or left hook.” Even if you have the right of way, exercise caution when entering any intersection, especially if you’re coming off of a sidewalk or bike path. Pay particular attention to cars or trucks coming up beside you intending to turn; even if you think you’re visible, the turning driver still may not see you. Also, watch for oncoming traffic making turns.

5. Be alert. Continuously scan the roadway and look for potential near-term roadway impediments, like potholes, as well as those down the road, like a driver who has just parallel parked his car and will presumably be exiting soon. Before making any lane change, scan to your rear and then, if safe, signal your intentions before making your move. Scanning the roadway communicates to motorists that you are serious about keeping yourself safe. 

6. Reduce or remove distractions. Save your iPod or mp3 listening for after your ride, not during, and never try to ride and use your cell phone at the same time. In addition, carry your items in a backpack or bike rack, and not in your hands. You need your entire mind and body engaged at all times on the task at hand: getting to your destination safely.

7. Get to know different lane markings. There are many new bike routes around the Twin Cities, including bike lanes, bicycle boulevards, buffered bicycle lanes, advisory bike lanes and cycle tracks. Visit the City of Minneapolis Bicycling Web page for videos and charts describing the new road features.

8. Wear proper clothing and equipment. Besides a bicycle helmet (always), wear visible garments, such as light-colored clothing, and/or a reflective jacket or reflective strips to help motorists see you during low/no-light conditions.

9. Know sidewalk riding standards and safety. While bicyclists have the right to ride on Minneapolis sidewalks, except in business districts, know that doing so is typically less safe than riding on the roadway. Sidewalk sightlines are shorter and narrower, and pedestrians and motorists do not typically watch out for sidewalk-riding bicyclists.

10. Be cautious around trucks and buses. Drivers of trucks and buses have a hard time seeing bicycles in their mirrors, so allow extra space if possible. If you are riding in a lane next to a truck or bus, be particularly cautious; the ends of long vehicles often cross into adjacent lanes when turning.

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Bike Walk Twin Cities (bikewalktwincities.org).