There are many ways a cyclist can improve his or her safety out on those shark-infested roads. In recent years, one of my mantras has become: HLM: Helmet, Lights, Mirror.
The research and literature about bicycle helmets is extensive, confusing and often misleading. In my opinion, the argument for the use of bicycle helmets by everybody and at all times is wholly compelling. End of story. Back in the mid-80s I wrote an article for the CCC newsletter entitled “Heads You Win – if you still have one” so I was preaching helmet-lore way back then. More objectively, a controlled study of the effectiveness of bicycle helmets published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that: bicycle safety helmets are highly effective in preventing head injury and are equally important for adults and children. This is one of many pro-helmet articles in the medical literature. Google all the oceans of data if you will but rest assured, they do work. All the ballyhoo about helmets promoting recklessness or decreasing the number of cyclists out on the roads is just that .…. smoke and mirrors. Nearly all helmets on the market in the US pass the minimum legal safety criteria so in my case I usually shop on price and color .…. it has to be blue.
I was a late convert to the use of day-time lights, especially a bright strobe on the front. I am truly astonished as to how visible a cyclist is who has good lights. The bike and the rider can be almost invisible in the shadows but the light keeps blinking away with a range of ¼ mile or more. Motorists can no longer say “Oh I am sorry, I did not see you”. The advances in lighting technology are remarkable. Rechargeable, highly-efficient lights are now fairly inexpensive to buy and run. No excuses. I use a Cigolite Metro 400/Hotshot 2W combo set for about $70 http://www.cygolite.com/products/index.html but you can get perfectly good ones for much less. You can also buy extra mounting brackets if you want to use them on more than one bike.
Mirrors are also invaluable. Not only can you see rear-approaching traffic but you can also keep track of your riding buddies (if you are ahead!). The argument against mirrors is that a rider might be less inclined to communicate with drivers by looking backwards before making a maneuver so it is important to keep this in mind and always signal your intent. Mirrors are usually mounted on the helmet, glasses or handlebars. The one I use is the Safe Zone http://www.efficientvelo.com/safezone/ Advantages: Built like a tank and should last forever, easily adjustable, large mirror surface. Disadvantages: looks like a tank, twice the cost of many others.