Five Steps to Keep You Safe on Your Bicycle

There was a recent story over on about a girl that got hit while riding in a Carson City bike lane. Although bike lanes give cyclists room to ride on the road, especially for those riders that don’t like being part of traffic, they must still be vigilant. Possibly more so, since they are riding outside the flow of the auto traffic. The driver in the news story above simply didn’t see the cyclists and pulled out in front of her. This is typical…driver’s eyes are trained to look for other auto traffic, not the slower moving bicycle off to the side.

Musser Street
East Musser Street – A lot to think about

The picture above is of East Musser Street near the capitol building. Although there is not heavy traffic on this street, there is much going on. What should a cyclists be watching for in this picture? There is a parking lot on the right, with people filtering out between the cars to cross the street. There are car doors that could open in a cyclist’s path. There is a cross walk and street coming in from the right that are both obscured by the parked cars. Traffic ahead and behind. Tourists and office workers frequently cross here. This section of road reminds me of the old 80’s video game, Frogger.

So how does a cyclist stay safe on a road with so many random things going on? Arleigh Jenkins, aka Bike Shop Girl, recently acquired the Commute by Bike website, and allowed me to republish this article I wrote back in 2008. Here are some tips to keep you safe on the road.

The SIPDE Process: Five Steps to Keep you Safe
Originally published on Commute by Bike , January 2008

Years ago, I occasionally commuted by motorcycle. In some ways it was a lot like bicycle commuting. I was the little guy, and very vulnerable without the protection of a steel cage, air bags, or seat belts. At times I felt like nobody even saw me! This vulnerability was accompanied by high speeds on the highway, and being part of traffic in the city. Although my motorcycle commuting days didn’t last that long, I learned some valuable traffic skills that I still use when cycling on the road.

I took a weekend long motorcycle safety class, and one thing they stressed heavily was the SIPDE Process. As we ride through the city, there are hundreds of things going on around us. In a single city block there may be pot holes, car doors opening, pedestrians crossing the street, traffic from the rear, and traffic exiting parking lots. The SIPDE process helps you deal with the unpredictable nature of urban cycling. Here’s the breakdown of the SIPDE acronym:

  • Scan – Constantly scan the environment around you. If you focus on only one thing, like a pedestrian crossing the street, you may miss other hazards like the person getting ready to open their car door next to you.
  • Identify – As you’re scanning, identify all the potential hazards. “Filter out the noise”, and identify what’s important. Don’t forget to identify potential problems approaching from the rear as well!
  • Predict – You’ve identified the potential hazards, now predict what the outcomes will be if certain scenarios play out. Focus on the worst case scenarios. You may be able to swerve around a pedestrian, but probably won’t survive tangling with a garbage truck. Prioritize accordingly.  Cover your breaks with a couple fingers to minimize reaction time.
  • Decide – Decide on a course of action that you would follow, should one of the scenarios you predicted plays out.
  • Execute – Execute the course of action you decided on.

As cyclists, we have better than average motor skills than most, so naturally we do a pretty good job with the Decide and Execute parts of SIPDE. Where we run into trouble is the Scan, Identify and Predict portions. These are skills that take experience, practice, and constant attention.

It’s very possible that better Scanning, Identifying, and Predicting may have prevented the accident mentioned at the beginning of this post. Since we cyclists are so vulnerable, we must never take for granted the actions of those around us. Never assume that cars are going to follow the rules or properly signal their direction. Sometimes people just change their minds at the last second. Use your SIPDE, and stay safe on your commute!

11 thoughts on “Five Steps to Keep You Safe on Your Bicycle

  1. Great article. Makes perfect sense.

    One tip I read somewhere was “get eye contact.” Look the drivers directly in the eyes to get a sense of their direction. Eye contact keeps your attention on the task at hand, and if you can’t get their eyes, then you (the biker) are in trouble.

    (Along those lines, I hate tinted car glass.)


  2. Eye contact is great, but take it a step further. Make the driver acknowledge you. Make them smile or wave, that way you know they have seen you.

  3. Never assume you have made eye contact; If you do, you make an ass out of Uma Thurman (or whatever the saying is). Better to be safe and assume they don’t see you, be polite and let them go first, and be around to finish the ride.

    Ultimately, all right-of-way is determined by mass – those with the most mass have the most right-of-way. Ride/walk/motorcycle with that in mind and you will stay out of trouble.

  4. I have learned to assume that the driver is going to do the wrong thing and put me in jeopardy. I want to get there unharmed and hopefully ride the next day or the day after that. I agree with you Jeff that the driver often looks as they are leaving the stop light or sign which really bugs me. As drivers we where taught to look to the left and then the right and then the left again before proceeding into the intersection that way you see the traffic closes to you is clear before going. I almost always see people looking right and then looking left as they are going. This really bugs me, but what can you do? And so few people know hand signals. I guess maybe 80% or higher don’t know right and left hand signals. I rarely if ever use stop or slowing down but I should.

    As for the accident in front of Walmart on College Parkway, the driver should have been cited for failure to yield to the right of way for the bike. If the tables were reversed you know the cyclist would get one. It just happened a few days before.

  5. Dan Allison made an excellent point during one of the Bike to Work Week clinics. While not all motorists (and cyclists for that matter) know all the hand signals, sticking your hand out to signal gets drivers’ attention. Even if they don’t don’t know “what” you’re going to do, they probably assume you’re about to do something and will pay closer attention.

    I believe the motorist in the story was cited…

  6. I use the right turn signal all the time and drivers usually have a confused look on their faces but I agree it gets their attention that I’m doing something.

    I saw the Colllege Parkway accident on channel 18 news with Dave Morgan and he didn’t state that the driver was cited and he usually does. Dave said the driver said that they simple didn’t see the rider. That does not excuse them from not yielding. I hope the driver was cited. A lot of drivers don’t look in the area that’s covered between their windshield and their side window as they proceed into an intersection. Sometimes people give me this motion like “I couldn’t see you between my windshield and side window”. I’m not a skinny person and I should be hard to see and I think this is their laziness when driving. Driving and bike riding require complete focus and attention to assure your safety and others.

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