You never forget how to ride a bike. But if you’re like many adults, you may need a bike safety refresher course. Maybe it’s getting that ten speed out of storage for the first time in years. Perhaps a recent accident or close call has made you suddenly aware of the dangers of the road. Or maybe you’re teaching your child to ride a bike and suddenly want to set a good example. Whatever your motivation, taking a moment to learn (or relearn) the rules of safe cycling can help you avoid serious injury or worse. A study of bicyclists who have collided with cars found that serious injuries and death are much more likely when bicyclists do not follow basic safety principles.
The most important piece of safety equipment for any cyclist is the bike itself. If your bike doesn’t fit or ride properly, it could be a two-wheeler accident waiting to happen.
People are also reading…
Next, make sure your bike is ready for the road. Before each trip, check if the tires have enough air. The tire should be firm if you give it a good push. Press on the brakes to make sure they actually stop the wheels. Flip the bike over and give those tires a spin. They should turn straight and straight without rubbing the brakes. If you have quick release wheels, make sure they are attached correctly. The last thing you want when driving is an unplanned quick release. If in doubt, take your bike to a garage for a professional tune-up.
If you ever ride at night or in low light, make sure your bike is visible. The law requires that you have red lights or reflectors on the rear of your bike and a white light on the front. Use a flashing taillight at night. Some reflective clothing is also a good idea.
Wear a tight-fitting helmet
Every cyclist knows that helmets are essential for safety. (However, they don’t always put that knowledge into practice.) According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, a helmet will prevent a head injury in a serious crash nine times out of ten.
But just hitting something on the head is not enough. For real protection, you need a well-fitting helmet that actually fits your head. The helmet should be comfortable but tight; if it sways when you move your head, it’s too loose. The hull should be level, not tilted up or down. When fitted, the front of the helmet should be one or two finger widths above the eyebrows. When choosing a helmet, be sure to look for the Consumer Product Safety Administration label.
Follow the rules of the road
As soon as your bike pulls out of your driveway, it is a vehicle just like any other vehicle, and you are the driver. Okay, it’s lighter and smaller than most vehicles, but you still have to follow the rules of the road.
Wherever you travel, you must travel in the same direction as traffic. Many cyclists overlook this basic rule, but it’s important for at least two reasons. First of all, other drivers won’t look for bikes or anything moving the wrong way down a street, especially when they’re turning. Driving with traffic is simply the best way to be seen. Also, riding with traffic allows you to see stop signs and traffic lights which, of course, you must follow.
Always remember that you are just one vehicle among many. You will often have to yield the right of way to cars and pedestrians. When possible, drive to the side of the road so cars have room to pass. Where legal, the sidewalk may be a reasonable place to ride a bicycle. Just be sure to leave plenty of room for pedestrians and keep an eye out for cars coming in and out of driveways.
If it’s been a while since you’ve been riding a bike, you may want to practice some basic skills before riding anywhere with heavy traffic. You should be able to look behind you while pedaling without wobbling or drifting. Remember the crucial difference between the rear brake and the front brake. If you’re really speeding down the road, hitting the front brake first pretty much guarantees a bumper to bumper. Apply the rear brake first and begin to slow down before gradually using the front brake.
Ultimately, there is much more to bike safety than memorizing rules. When you’re on your bike, you need to use your head for more than just a place to store your helmet. Pay attention to the traffic around you. The world is full of bad drivers, and even good drivers can sometimes miss a bicyclist. Here are some other tips from experienced cyclists:
- Wear reflective clothing even during the day. It may feel a little silly, but it’s easier for drivers to notice.
- Use a mirror and never move to the left without looking behind you first.
- Do not pass on the right.
- If a car is already waiting at a red light, stop and wait behind it instead of next to it (this is usually the driver’s blind spot).
- To prevent cars from pulling out of side streets and driveways, honk your bike horn or ring your bell if you see one approaching or waiting. If you can’t make eye contact, slow down and be prepared to stop if necessary.
- Drive far enough to the left to avoid hitting a car door if it opens unexpectedly.
- Don’t use an iPod in traffic. You have to be able to hear the cars around you. Watch the road for glass or other hazards.
And here’s something they didn’t tell you in your grade school bike safety lecture: If you’re too drunk to drive, you’re too drunk to ride a bike.
The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration has produced this video on adult bicycle safety:
National Administration of Highways and Road Safety. Seven smart routes to bike safety for adults.
National Administration of Highways and Road Safety. Simple steps to properly fit a bicycle helmet.
Kim JK et al. Severity of bicycle injuries in bicycle-motor vehicle accidents. Accident Rate: Analysis and Prevention. 2007. 39(2): 238-251.