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EC Notebook #35: Anticipate the Road Ahead

by Crystal Allred, ECI #571

You’ve probably heard it said that when driving a car, it is best to anticipate the actions of fellow motorists. The same holds true when you are bicycling. Few skills are more important to your survival than “anticipation,” which means watching as well as listening for road and traffic hazards.

Ninety percent of all crashes involve conditions that are in front of you. So you need to look ahead. Does your travel lane narrow? Does the edge of the pavement get worse? Does your travel lane divide into two lanes or does it merge with another lane? Will that car up ahead pull out of its driveway? Are there any cars approaching on side streets?

You need to keep an eye on what’s going on and think about where you’ll be in 10 seconds, a minute, a couple of minutes. Often you can spot trouble well before it reaches you. And when you see potential hazards in time, you can avoid getting into trouble altogether.

If you pay attention to where you are on the road and what lies ahead, you can avoid falling or colliding. This is especially true when riding with other cyclists, as on club rides. Notice whether there are potholes, grates, sand, paint lines, etc. ahead.

If you see these hazards well enough in advance, you can do something to safely avoid falling and possibly taking another rider down with you.

You also need to keep an ear on what’s going on around you. Listen for audio clues that warn of approaching traffic and whether approaching vehicles are slowing down (an indicator that they may be turning). You need to hear when other riders give audible warnings – “Car up!” “Car back!” “Loose gravel!” “Dog approaching!”

You need to be able to hear what’s going on around you while you ride. That’s why it’s illegal to wear headphones in most jurisdictions. Beyond obeying the law, for your own safety, leave the headphones at home.

Being aware of potential road and traffic hazards gives you the opportunity to take appropriate action. Being predictable – following the same rules of the road as motorists – and being visible are your keys to safety – together with awareness of your surroundings.

Reprinted here by permission of Bicycle USA Magazine. Bicycle USA is a member benefit of the League of American Bicyclists. For further information on the League go to