The SIPDE Process: Five steps to keep you safe

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.
  • 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.

Just in the last couple months, there have been a couple of tragic cyclist deaths involving very large trucks turning right into the cyclist’s path. Unfortunately it was too late for Decide and Execute for these people when the accidents occurred. It’s possible that better Scanning, Identifying, and Predicting may have saved their lives. 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!

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0 thoughts on “The SIPDE Process: Five steps to keep you safe”

  1. doug says:

    the best rider’s guidebook i’ve read is robert hurst’s “the art of urban cycling.” its main point is very similar to this: constant vigilance and awareness is what it takes to ride safely. also: ignoring the blame game, moving beyond vehicular cycling in a sensible manner, and the importance of learning from one’s mistakes. it’s a great read too.

    unfortunately it’s out of print and the price is going up rapidly: i bought it a few months ago for $8 and already the price has shot up into the $50 range on Amazon.

  2. Quinn says:

    Great tips! I learned those from my professional bus driving mom and again when I got certified to drive emergency vehicles. I think its awesome some one brought it up with bike commuters.

  3. Fritz says:

    Of course, one of the rules of the road is to NEVER PASS A TRUCK ON THE RIGHT.

    Hursts’s book is now titled The Art of Cycling: A Guide to Bicycling in 21st-Century America , and I second Doug’s endorsement of the book. $11.21 at Amazon. I interviewed Robert here.

  4. SCUMFISH says:

    Another tip is to remember the number one traffic rule used in third-world countries; right-of-way is determined by size. The larger the vehicle, the more right-of-way.

    Also, always assume that no one sees you, even if you have made eye contact with them.

  5. Anonymous says:


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