Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Rules of "Butt Preservation"

The previous blog post on the Top 10 situations for a bicyclist to avoid reminded me of another post from the The Illinois Bicycle Lawyer regarding the "8 Rules of Butt Preservation." These rules are the basis of the biking wisdom gained by the Chicago Tribune's Kevin Williams over 26 years covering 280,000 miles on his bike. Here's Kevin's 8 Rules, as published in the Chicago Tribune, followed by 5 extra for a "baker's dozen" of tips to keep you safe while riding in and around the Windy City:

Eight Rules of Butt Preservation:
  1. Establish best practices. Do everything in a safe, defensive manner. Obey traffic laws—period. Signal your intentions with hand gestures, and never be the first one into the intersection (cars run red lights too).
  2. Never be where you aren't expected. No zipping between cars, scooting by on the wrong side of turning traffic or riding on the sidewalk, which is illegal for anyone past the age of 12, by the by. Wrong way down a one-way street? You know better.
  3. Be smooth and predictable. Ride as straight a line as possible, no weaving, no swerving. Most drivers are as freaked out about you as you are about them. Predictability helps everyone.
  4. Be a politician. Make contact, from saying "good morning" or nodding if you make eye contact to looking at drivers as you maneuver in traffic. Stump for votes and bonhomie as politicians do. No, cyclists shouldn't have to. So suck it up.
  5. It isn't you. Motorists don't hate you. They want to get from Point A to B as quickly as possible, and hate any impediment to that progress, which is everything else on the road, including you. Not taking it personally will make the following tip easier to manage.
  6. Never, ever engage. If an angry driver does something dumb, chill. Let that person find someone else to fight. If the problem escalates, you could lose—ugly. Being right won't console you as you're lying on the pavement.
  7. Manage your space. Place yourself in the road in a way that defines your space. This includes things such as riding on the left edge of the bike lane to leave space for car doors, and moving a foot or so to your left when approaching an intersection to prevent the right turn across your front.
  8. Be vivid. Unnatural colors are highly visible. Use head and tail lights from dusk on; go supernova if you have to. (See: post on this issue).
Five more Rules of Butt Preservation from
  1. Take the safest route. Only birds fly in a straight line. If there is a route that involves a few more turns or a little bit of a longer ride, but gets you out of heavy traffic or into a bike lane, error on the side of safety and take the safest route. A couple of minutes of time isn't worth a couple of days in the doctor's office.
  2. Signal your intentions. Sometimes I think the most commonly used hand signal involves solely the middle finger. The Illinois General Assembly recently amended the laws to make signaling a lot easier to recognize. Take advantage of it. (See: post on this issue).
  3. Use your "height." Even the smallest of stature are taller than a car when on a bike. Use this to your advantage. "Look alive" as they say in sports; keep your eyes active and moving and stay aware of your surrounding. Also remember that just because you see a car doesn't mean they see you in return.
  4. Take a brake. Remember the "Two Second Rule" from Driver's Ed in high school? Utilize it on your bike. Always be aware of how much room you will need to stop. Ask yourself, "if that car slams on its brakes, can I stop in time?" Under the law, you have a duty to be able to stop. If you rear end a car, no matter what the car did, chances are the police and the insurance companies will view you as the one who was wrong.
  5. Trust your instincts. That "gut feeling" you get or the "little voice in your head" are actually your instincts at work. Your instincts have been honed over thousands of years of evolution, fine tuned during times when your ancestors faced life and death risks every day and your body and mind evolved to meet these challenges. These instincts are now part of your hard wiring. Use your instincts to your advantage. If that truck "feels" like it is acting weird and creeping up on you unnecessarily, it probably is. Does that car "look" like the driver is driving drunk? Might be the case. Never tell yourself you are overreacting; it is better to be safe than sorry.
If you have any questions regarding this post, bicycle law in Illinois, or even personal injury law in general, please contact Attorney Mike Keating at or 312-208-7702. All initial consultations are free.