The Cardinal Rule of Bike Safety


To the Editor,

As a Manchester resident and a cyclist, I was delighted to see those cyclist-friendly directional markings on School Street after the road surface was completed.  Yet, within a few days of their appearance, I saw multiple instances of people (mainly kids) blithely pedaling down the wrong side of the road. 

People often ask me if I worry about getting hit by a car when I’m out on my road bike.  No, I tell them.  Motorists generally follow the rules of the road; their behavior is predictable.  It’s the fair-weather cyclists who scare me.

It would be a good idea to ride in the same direction as traffic even if it weren’t the law.  For example, picture yourself pulling your car out of a blind driveway to make a right turn.  Which direction do you look?  Left, of course.  That’s where the traffic is coming from.  Now, imagine a cyclist riding on the shoulder on the wrong side of the road toward that driveway.  The cyclist risks running into your car, or, in the difference of a split second, you risk hitting the cyclist.  It wouldn’t be your fault.  But that’s cold comfort if you were involved in such an accident. 

Cyclists riding on the wrong side of the road put themselves at much greater risk of serious injury or worse.  Tragically, this was what happened when a teenager was killed in a collision with a pickup truck in Ipswich two years ago this month. 

In 30 years of road biking around Cape Ann, I’ve only had one accident.  I was moving at approximately 20 mph when a 14-year-old boy on a mountain bike emerged from between two parked cars and turned into my lane.  I had no time to react.  On impact, I was catapulted over my handlebars, ass-over-teakettles.  I hit the pavement, breaking my helmet, separating my right shoulder, and tearing tendons in my left hand.  I vaguely remember the boy apologizing to me as I was loaded me into an ambulance.  The boy, who was not even wearing a helmet, was somehow left unscathed.

But the most instructive part of that story is what happened later when I spoke to the boy’s mother.  Like all parents, this mother feared that when her son began riding a bike he might be hit by a car.  But the nightmare scenario of her son, through his own negligence, putting a grown man in the hospital had never crossed her mind.

Parents, please share this Cardinal Rule of cycling with your children: ride in the same direction as the traffic.  And if you’re an offender yourself, please stop.  The new directional markings on School Street are a welcome reminder to follow a simple rule meant for the safety of all of us.

Jim Behnke


transport infrastructure, tramp bike, pedal-powered vehicle, cyclist, cape ann, jim behnke