Speed is a useful way for cyclists to assert ourselves on the road. When changing lanes or passing, it’s always good to give it a little extra juice, just to let drivers know what you’re capable of. We’re not all racers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep up.
Speed can also help to keep us safe in traffic. We’ve all had to get out in front of that truck that clearly doesn’t see us, or get past that car that’s suddenly turning right without a blinker. Being able to put the hammer down is an important skill for a biker to have, and it can prevent you from being boxed in or worse.
Just as critical: knowing when NOT to give it that extra boost. As helpful as a sudden burst of speed can be for cyclists, it can be incredibly dangerous if used in the wrong circumstance.
It can be particularly perilous when you’re approaching a yellow light. As any driver’s ed student can tell you, the yellow light is there to provide a buffer, in case you can’t safely stop in time (you can squeeze the lemon, just don’t squish the tomato.)
However, we all know that to most drivers, a yellow light just means “go like hell!”
It’s easy for bikers to think this way too. I’ve often found that my first impulse when a green light turns yellow is to dig in, pedal hard, and power through the intersection at top speed.
The thing is, part of riding a bike safely in traffic is being a little more cautious than you would be behind the wheel of a car. As cyclists, we need to remember that we’re not belted into a steel cage, surrounded by airbags.
Thanks to Ralph Nader, you could potentially walk away after getting T-boned in a car; that outcome is much less likely if you’re on a bike. The risk/reward analysis at a yellow light is just different, and it’s something that we all need to take into account.
I still sometimes have to put the hammer down at a yellow light, but only in situations where it would be unsafe to stop (e.g. there’s a car close behind me and no room to pull over). Otherwise, I treat a yellow light as a red light. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to test out the afterburners every chance I get — I just do it in the name of safety.
IMAGE via flickr