Eyes in the Back of Your Head  

November 1st, 2016 by Kaitlyn Patterson

–By Aric Dershem, Team OAM NOW Cyclist

As road cyclists, we love the feeling of the wind in our face (and even better, the wind at our back). We love the way the road rolls below us as our feet push and pull the pedals. We love seeing the countryside pan by us as we cover mile after mile under our own power. We love the sound of a quiet drive train propelling us forward. We love all these things about road biking and so many more. We find it difficult to imagine why anyone would not love road cycling and hard to explain why we love it so much.

Unfortunately, we have all heard stories about close calls or experienced firsthand confrontations between motorists and cyclists. This year seems worse than ever with far too many of these confrontations ending tragically.

We love to be on the road, but we must also recognize that a real element of risk exists every time we roll down our driveway and into the street. There are some things that research is telling us that we can do to dramatically improve our safety on the road. A recent study sponsored by a major bicycle manufacturer found that there are three primary actions we can take as cyclists to protect ourselves. They use the mnemonic, A+B+C to help us remember these.

A)    Always on lighting – 80% of bike accidents happen during daylight. Having lights on even during daylight hours attracts the attention of motorists and helps us stand out.

B)    Biomotion – When we highlight the motion of our bodies using reflectors, this makes us more recognizable as humans to drivers who might be otherwise distracted.

C)    Contrast – High visibility and reflective gear helps us stand out day or night.

Even before this recent study came out, I made the commitment to run lights every time I take the road. I am one of those cyclists who usually rides alone and most often early in the morning (before sunrise). For me, riding with lights is essential both for me to see and be seen. One morning as I waited at an intersections at 6 am, a woman pulled up next to me and rolled down her window. I was naturally expecting the worst, but was pleasantly surprised by the interaction. She leaned over to the passenger side window and said, “I could see your lights a half-mile up the road. Thank you for being so visible.” Interactions like this only confirm the value of being visible to motorists. Now, I never hit the road, day or night, without lights.aric lights

I personally recommend the Bontrager Ion 800R headlight and Flare R rear light. Both are small, compact, come with a versatile (and interchangeable mount) and are rechargeable using a standard microUSB cable (included). These lights can be purchased at great trek dealers like Speedmerchants Bike Shop. While you can often find less expensive light, the 800 lumen front light provides a strong enough beam to ride at night while the Flare R is bright enough to be highly visible even in full daylight. The only problem with the Flare R is that on its high setting, some people may not want to ride behind you because it’s so bright.

marie lights

In addition to making ourselves visible, there are other relatively new technologies that we can use us safe. RoadID, maker of the prolific ID bracelets, offers a free app for your mobile phone that will text a link to anyone you designate when you leave for a ride. The link takes the recipient to a map showing where you are on your ride and will automatically notify them if you stop moving for more then 5-minutes without turning the app off. My wife and I use this constantly to make sure that we can be notified if something happens to either of us while out on the road.

Perhaps my favorite piece of safety technology is my Garmin Varia rearview. I received this as a gift ast year for Christmas and had no idea how valuable this would be. The Varia is a rear light with multiple flashing modes. While it is not as bright as the Flare R, it is still part of my everyday setup because the Varia rearview essentially give me eyes in the back of my head. That’s right, the Varia is rear-facing radar that alerts my Garmin head unit when a vehicle (or vehicles) are approaching me from behind. This allows me to keep my focus on the road ahead of me while still being aware of what is coming from behind me. I have found this to be especially useful when I’m riding on busy roads with high traffic speeds or roads with especially narrow shoulders. Having used this technology for the past year, I have to say that on those rare occasions when I don’t ride with my Varia, I miss it. The ability to know when traffic is approaching allows me to ride defensively without constantly looking behind me to see if anything is coming. It makes my rides both safer and more enjoyable.

garmin lights

At the end of the day, 99.9% of us ride for the fun it offers us and the challenge it presents to us. Like any activity, it comes with some inherent risks, but we can take some deliberate steps to reduce that risk. Over the past year, I have become increasingly aware of my role in staying safe on the road and I’m grateful for technology that allows me to be more visible to the drivers I’m sharing the road with and have eyes in the back of my head. Let’s all do our part to make the road safe for everyone so we can all enjoy the benefits of the road together.


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