Riding in Heavy Traffic

Riding in Heavy Traffic

Dom speakBy Dom Mozzone, Safety Officer

We’ve all been stuck in heavy traffic, in particular during hot weather when tempers are short and people are preoccupied with cell phones, screaming kids, texting God forbid as well as zoning out and not paying attention. Imagine the vehicles surrounding you, crowding you, cutting you off. Imagine yourself monitoring closing speeds, reading street signs, noticing and anticipating traffic lights. Then imagine guessing what pedestrians will do, or how slippery that painted line might be and all those drivers with cell phones, newspapers or screaming kids to deal with. Imagine trying to guess what they’re going to do.  To prepare yourself there are 14 smart strategies for dealing with traffic-choked streets that we all need to do instinctively, they are as follows:

Watch drivers’ heads and mirrors
Watching the head movements of drivers through their windows and mirrors is an excellent way to anticipate sudden moves. Most drivers won’t lunge left or right without first moving their heads one way or another (even if they don’t check their mirrors).  Above all stay out of their blind spots!!

Trust your mirrors, but not totally
Your bike’s mirrors can be lifesavers, but they don’t always tell the entire story even if they’re adjusted properly. In traffic, always buttress your mirror-generated rear view with a glance over the appropriate shoulder. Do it quickly and you’ll add an extra measure of rear-view and blind-spot avoidance.

Never get between a vehicle and an off ramp
This one is a no brainer, but drivers who decide to exit at the last minute kill plenty of riders each year. The simple rule, then, is to never position your self between a vehicle and an off ramp. Passing on the right is generally a no-no; but, at times is necessary. So if you do it, do so between exits or cross-streets.

Cover your brakes
In traffic you must often react extra quickly, which means not fumbling for the brake lever or pedal. To minimize reach time, always keep a finger or two on the brake lever and your right toe close to the rear brake pedal. Always when crossing an intersection and for when that cell phone-yakking idiot cuts across your path trying to get to an exit you’ll be ready.

Job One: Be noticed
Make sure drivers and pedestrians can see you, even from a distance. Ride with your high beam on during the day (turn it off when sitting behind someone at a light), and wear brightly colored gear, especially your helmet and jacket.

Be ready with the power
In traffic, ride in a gear lower than you normally would so your bike is ready to jump forward instantly if asked.  Doing so gives you the option of leaping ahead instead of being limited to just using the brakes when that pickup suddenly moves over. The higher rev sound may also alert more people to your presence.

Traffic slowing? Stay left (or right)
When traffic slows suddenly, stay to the left or right of the car in front of you. This will give you an escape route if needed. It will also help keep you from becoming a hood ornament if the car behind you fails to stop in time. Once you’ve stopped short, be ready–clutch in, your bike in gear and your eyes on the mirrors. You never know you may need to pull over to prevent getting hit.

Practice the scan
Constantly scan your entire environment while riding–from instruments to mirrors to the road ahead to blind spots to your left and right rear–keeps you aware and in touch with your situation, and therefore better able to react.  Scanning as a matter of practice will prevent the dreaded zone out and surprises.


The Infamous Left-turn
When approaching an oncoming car that’s stopped and about to turn left, be ready. Your brights should be on so the driver can see you (during the day), but don’t rely on this to save you. Watch the car’s wheels or the driver’s hands on the steering wheel; if you see movement, be ready to brake, swerve or accelerate, whichever seems best for the situation.

Study the surface
Add road conditions to your scan. Be on the lookout for spilled oil, antifreeze or fuel; it’ll usually show up as shiny pavement. Also keep an eye out for gravel and/or sand, which is usually more difficult to see.  Always try to avoid those impediments but if you can’t and the situation arises don’t panic and above all don’t over steer or hard brake as bad stuff can happen.

Ride in open zones
Use your bike’s power and maneuverability to ride in open zones in traffic. In any grouping of vehicles there are always some gaps; find these and ride in them. Doing so will separate you from four-wheelers, give you additional room to maneuver and allow you to keep away from dangerous blind spots. And vary your speed. Riding along with the flow can make you invisible to other drivers, especially in heavy traffic.

Use your thumb
Get into the habit of canceling your turn signals often regardless of the traffic situation. A blinking signal might tell drivers waiting to pull into the road or turning left in front of you that you’re about to turn when you aren’t. So if you need to push it a few times each minute then so be it.  Better to keep other drivers from anticipating false moves.

Anticipate a way out
Don’t just brake hard in a sudden situation. There’s almost always is an escape route so you should always be anticipating what’s going on around you and what would you do if…… Swerving into someone’s front yard could be a lot better than center punching the Buick that turned left in front of you. Always have an escape route planned, and update it minute by minute.

Running interference
This one’s easy, and we’ll bet most of you already do it: Let larger vehicles run interference for you when negotiating intersections. If the idiot coming toward you from the left or right is going to blow the light, better they hit the box truck next to you, right? For the same reasons, don’t lunge through an intersection as soon as the light turns green. Be patient, and use the vehicles next to you as cover.

These items outlined are sensible, will become instinctive once fully understood and above all it will help us avoid the unthinkable from happening as we enjoy our passion: riding.  Read these 14 points often, practice them always and have a blast riding safely in all conditions.



bike in traffic