Also known as “life-savers”, shoulder checks are a super important (and hopefully pretty instinctive) tool in your safe-riding arsenal. In today’s post, we’ll look at the importance of taking a quick look back to "check your 6” and how to do that safely on your bike!
Just like driving a car, you should do a shoulder check anytime you’re going to depart from a straight line. Getting ready to merge across lanes to make a turn? Pulling into traffic to avoid some debris in the bike lane? Getting ready to pass another rider on the bike path? All perfect candidates for a shoulder check!
The goal is to get a quick look at what’s behind you, see if anything’s approaching that you need to be wary of, and to make sure your path is clear for whatever your next maneuver is. In traffic it’s sort of common sense, but you’d be surprised how many close calls can be avoided on the bike path with a quick look before making a move (in case someone’s passing you as you go to pass someone else, for example).
You also want to shoulder check every once in a while, even if you’re not going to be doing something out of the ordinary. That way if a something pops up unexpectedly (jay walker, taxi door, etc…), you know the safest direction to “dodge”, and you won’t be caught off guard by silent electric cars sneaking up on you either. Turning back in traffic also gives you the ability to make eye contact with drivers, which provides a huge benefit in terms of visibility. They see you, you see them, everyone’s happy. Plus, in my experience, drivers seem to slow down and give you room after they see you shoulder check – probably because they expect you to be getting ready to change lanes or the like.
Basically, you should take a peek over your shoulder fairly regularly, and certainly before any time you deviate from continuing straight ahead. So how do you do that?
Taking a quick peek over your shoulder is actually super simple. Just turn your head so your chin touches your shoulder, and turn your eyes back to get a full-view of what’s coming up behind you! It’s one of the first maneuvers you’ll learn in any safe-cycling class, and the only thing you have to work on is maintaining a straight line while you look back.
An easy tip for keeping the bike straight is to take your “turn-side hand” off the bars. As you ride straight, pull your left hand off the bars and place it on your left hip. Now turn to touch your chin to your left shoulder and take a quick look back. Your weight on your right hand will keep the bike straight even as you shoulder check, and having your left hand on your hip makes it even easier to get turned around quickly. Give it a few minutes practice on the bike path or a quiet street and you’ll have the hang of it in no time!
And once you do, just keep it up! It’ll be a handy tool for all your rides to come and you’ll probably find yourself shoulder checking all the time in “real life” too (crossing the street on foot, passing another shopping cart in the grocery store, even sitting in your desk at work). You’ll never regret it, though. And there will definitely be times you’ll be glad you looked.