Preventative Cycling

January 2, 2014

Stay safe on Boise’s streets.

By Kirk Walton
Photography John Webster

You may have seen the white bicycles around Boise, reminders of tragedy for cyclists in our community. In the wake of three recent cycling deaths, Boiseans are starting to rethink the way they ride. This city has committed cyclists, yet some who take to the roads on two wheels are doing so unsafely, perhaps without even meaning to. “I see people riding unsafely all the time. Sometimes without a light, sometimes riding recklessly or against traffic,” says Dallas Trople, a high school teacher and an avid cyclist.

Trople has been commuting by bike from his home in Boise’s North End to his job in Meridian for years. Although he actively protects himself, he says he has had a few close calls. He has learned to avoid main roads, especially during heavy traffic hours, and he always does his best to stay visible, a sentiment Josh Travis echoes.

“Cyclists need to get away from the mentality that they belong everywhere,” Travis says.

Travis works at George’s Cycles on State Street and has been commuting by bike to work since he moved to Boise in 1996. “Just because you legally can ride there, doesn’t mean you necessarily should,” he cautions. “Take the time to plan out your route. Pick side roads, the Greenbelt, or streets with clearly designated bike lanes.”

Both Trople and Travis agree that in addition to picking your route carefully, visibility is a top safety priority for cyclists, especially those who commute during the early hours of the morning or later at night. A recent study from the Queensland University of Technology found that cyclists greatly overestimate how visible they are to drivers, and they often overlook important areas that need to be illuminated.

The visibility problem has gotten so bad that the Boise police have started handing out free lights to cyclists caught riding without them at night, but Travis says you should go further than that. “You need to invest in a good tail-light. Your tail light is your most important asset when staying visible during darker hours. You should be prepared to spend as much as $40 on a good light,” he says. “Always assume the motorist isn’t looking for you.”

Trople agrees, adding that in addition to a good set of lights, wearing a reflective vest can greatly increase your chances of being seen by passing motorists. He recommends adding reflective elements to other areas such as your knees, ankles, bike frame, and wheel spokes.

Travis also thinks education is vital. “The most important area for improvement with bike safety lies in educating the public,” he says. Many people who bike often have no idea of the rules that they are expected to follow, and many motorists are often confused as well. There isn’t just one party responsible; instead, it is a mixture of both driver and motorist ignorance. Travis recommends picking up a handbook at George’s or checking out the League of American Cyclists to refresh your memory on the rules of the road. Accidents can happen to even the most experienced of cyclists, so always remember to ride predictably, flow with traffic, and most importantly, be courteous to others.