With the increasing popularity of cycling, it’s become even more important to prioritize bike safety and equip riders with the knowledge and tools to navigate the open road safely and confidently.
Accidents between bicycles and motor vehicles can lead to severe consequences, with cyclists being more likely to get injured in a crash. According to the CDC, although bicycle trips make up only 1% of all trips in the U.S., cyclists account for over 2% of people who die in crashes involving a motor vehicle on our nation’s roads.
Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to improve your safety while biking. Whether you’re an experienced rider or new to cycling, this article will provide you with essential bike safety tips and techniques that can be easily implemented in your cycling routine.
Table of Contents
1. Inspect Your Bike Before Riding
One of the quickest ways to get in trouble, or even hurt, when cycling is to ride a bike that isn’t in proper working condition. Here are some quick checks you should make before heading out on a ride:
Setup & Fit
It’s important to make sure your bike is set up correctly and that you’ve performed a proper bike fit. Not only will this enhance your overall comfort, but it’ll significantly reduce your chances of injury. Start by checking your saddle height and position. Your saddle should be at a height where your legs are slightly bent at the bottom of each pedal stroke. Additionally, you want your saddle’s fore/aft position to place the bottom of your knee directly over the ball of your foot when the crank arm is in the 3 o’clock position. Both adjustments allow for more efficient pedaling as well as improved balance and control.
Brakes are one of the most critical components on your bike as it relates to bike safety. Check that both the front and rear brakes are working correctly by squeezing the brake levers. When doing so, the brake pads should make full contact with the rim and, at the same time, shouldn’t touch the tire or spokes. You also want to inspect the brake pads for any wear and replace them if necessary. Lastly, make sure the brake cables are not frayed or damaged, as this can also affect your brake’s performance.
Because your tires are the contact point between your bike and the ground, it’s important to regularly assess their condition. Start by checking your tire’s tread. Worn-out tread can increase the risk of punctures and, more importantly, reduce traction. If you notice significant wear on the tire’s surface, it may be time to replace it. Additionally, always check your tire pressure before each ride. Maintaining adequate pressure will ensure a better ride, reduce rolling resistance, and decrease the chance of flats. Refer to the recommended tire pressure range on the tire’s sidewall and inflate your tires accordingly.
A properly functioning set of gears ensures a better riding experience and makes it easier to tackle different types of terrain. To confirm your bike’s gears are functioning correctly, start by shifting through them while stationary. Pay attention to any unusual noises, difficulties in shifting, or skipping. You may need to adjust the derailleur or replace your chain if you encounter any issues.
2. Wear a Helmet
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), cycling has the highest number of head injuries compared to all other sports and recreational activities. And it’s not just high-speed collisions or accidents involving a car that are to blame. Falling off your bike at slower speeds or even a standstill can also cause serious injury. The good news is studies have shown that wearing a helmet can significantly reduce the odds of head injuries, both severe and fatal.
When it comes to bike helmet safety, it’s critical that your helmet meets the CPSC bicycle helmet standard (16 C.F.R. part 1203). Helmets meeting this standard are designed to reduce the likelihood of serious injury from impacts to the head when cycling.
In addition to meeting safety standards, it’s essential that your bike helmet fits properly as well. A poorly fitted helmet will not only be uncomfortable but won’t provide adequate protection in an accident. To ensure a proper fit, first, check that you have the correct helmet size. Then, position the helmet so it sits level on your head. Next, adjust the fit by using the dial at the back of the helmet. Lastly, adjust the straps so they lay flat against your head, and the chinstrap is snug but comfortable.
It’s important to note that a helmet isn’t a one-time purchase. Always replace your helmet immediately after a crash or if involved in an impact. Even if there aren’t any visible signs of damage, the foam inside the helmet may have compressed or cracked. You should also regularly inspect your helmet for wear and replace it when necessary. The CPSC recommends replacing a bike helmet within five to 10 years after it was purchased. Over time, the foam in the helmet can degrade, and the helmet may no longer provide adequate protection. Additionally, a helmet should be replaced whenever it no longer fits properly.
3. Make Sure You’re Seen
Each year there are a considerable number of bike accidents that result in injury or fatality. The number one contributor to these accidents is the cyclist not being seen. The good news is there are some simple things you can do to increase your visibility:
Install Bike Reflectors
Installing bike reflectors is an easy way to ensure your visibility to motorists, especially during low-light conditions. When using reflectors, place them on the front, back, and sides of your bike. This will help alert nearby drivers to your presence regardless of the direction they’re approaching from. Also, always check your local traffic laws to ensure you follow the proper requirements when using reflectors.
Use Bike Lights
Bike lights are another way to ensure you’re seen both during the day and at night. Using a white front light and a red rear light will significantly improve your visibility. Adding flashing lights can help you stand out even further by grabbing the attention of other cyclists and vehicles on the road.
Wear Reflective Gear
It’s also wise to incorporate reflective gear into your wardrobe and equipment. This includes wearing a helmet and clothing with reflective properties and attaching reflective patches to your backpack. Like bike reflectors, reflective gear is beneficial at night and during low-light conditions.
Choose Bright Colors
Avoid wearing dark colors, as these can blend in with the surrounding environment and make you less visible. Instead, opt for brightly colored clothing and gear. Colors like fluorescent yellow, green, and orange stand out the most, making it easier for drivers to notice you.
Make Eye Contact
A simple yet often overlooked step to ensuring you’re seen is establishing eye contact with drivers whenever possible. This simple action confirms that the driver has seen you and creates a non-verbal communication that helps you safely navigate intersections and other potentially hazardous situations.
4. Eliminate Distractions
Another crucial aspect of bike safety is eliminating distractions that could lead to or cause an accident. Removing unnecessary distractions helps you stay focused and react more quickly to any unforeseen situations involving motor vehicles or other obstacles. Here are some easy ways you can eliminate distractions:
Plan Your Route
It’s always wise to take a few moments to plan out your route before getting started. Knowing where you’re going, including identifying any potential road hazards, construction zones, or busy intersections, will help you avoid getting lost or disoriented. By having a clear mental map of your route, you won’t need to constantly glance at your phone for directions, allowing you to focus more on the road ahead.
Avoid Electronic Devices
Using electronic devices like smartphones to chat, text, or browse the internet can distract you from your surroundings and impair your ability to react to potential hazards. Additionally, listening to music through headphones can make it difficult to hear approaching vehicles, emergency sirens, or even pedestrians. It’s critical that you maintain your focus on the road to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you. If you need to use an electronic device, pull over to a safe location before doing so.
Secure Loose Items
Before setting off, ensure that all your gear, such as packs, water bottles, or other bike accessories, are securely fastened or stowed. Loose items can shift or fall while cycling, leading to unexpected distractions or potential entanglements. By securing your belongings, you can minimize the risk of distractions caused by items jostling or interfering with the proper functioning of your bike.
Although the social aspect is one of the many benefits of cycling, engaging in conversations while riding can divert your attention and compromise your reaction time. Although it may be tempting to chat with fellow cyclists or friends, try to limit conversations while on the road. Instead, save discussions for designated rest stops or after your ride when you’re in a safe and stationary position.
5. Follow the Rules of the Road
Understanding and following the rules of the road is another essential element of bike safety.
First and foremost, always ride with the flow of traffic. Riding in the wrong direction can lead to confusion and increase the risk of accidents. Additionally, avoid using sidewalks meant for pedestrians and instead utilize designated bike lanes whenever available. These lanes are designed to create a safer environment for everyone on and around the road.
You also want to be predictable when riding in traffic. The best way to do this is to act like a car by maintaining a consistent speed, staying in your lane, and obeying traffic signals. Avoid weaving in and out of lanes as well, as this can startle drivers and make your movements harder to anticipate.
When passing, always try to pass on the left. Passing on the right can be particularly dangerous, as drivers and other cyclists might not expect a bike to come from that direction. It’s also important to give proper hand signals when you’re planning to turn or change lanes. This will help others on the road know your intentions and allow them to react accordingly.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that cyclists, like vehicles, are bound by the rules of the road. This means stopping at stop signs, yielding to pedestrians, and obeying traffic lights. Respecting the rules and rights of other road users is crucial for a safe and enjoyable riding experience.
6. Use Hand Signals
Using hand signals while riding can significantly enhance bike safety by helping notify cars and other cyclists of your intentions.
When turning, be sure to indicate your direction. To signal a left turn, simply extend your left arm straight out, parallel to the ground, with your palm facing forward. When signaling a right turn, you can use either the old-school method of bending your left arm 90 degrees at the elbow, with your fingers pointing up and palm facing forward, or the simpler method of extending your right arm straight out the same way you would for a left turn. Either way, it’s crucial that you perform these signals well before the actual turn, providing ample notice to those around you.
Hand signals are also an effective way to convey critical information to other riders in group rides. Pointing downward and slightly to the side can help notify others of a pothole or debris on the road. Waving your hand behind your back can inform riders behind you that you’re about to overtake someone or change lanes.
In addition to signaling turns and overtaking, you should also use hand signals to communicate potential hazards. For example, if there’s loose gravel on the road, point your arm down at a 45-degree angle and wiggle your fingers. If you’re preparing to stop, place a fist or the back of your open hand on the small of your back.
Hand signals are a straightforward and indispensable tool for ensuring bike safety. They not only make it easier to communicate with others on the road and help promote a safer riding experience.
7. Avoid Common Hazards
Awareness and avoidance of common hazards is essential to ensuring overall bike safety. By understanding these potential dangers and taking proactive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of accidents and injuries while cycling.
Unsafe Road Conditions
Poorly maintained roads, potholes, loose gravel, and wet surfaces can pose a significant risk to cyclists. When possible, choose routes that are dry and well-paved. If you’re forced to ride in unsafe road conditions, slow down and be sure to scan the road ahead for any potential obstacles.
Hitting a Pedal
Another common hazard for cyclists is hitting a pedal on the curb or an uneven surface. To avoid this, always practice good pedal position, especially when cornering. Keep the inside pedal in the 12 o’clock position and the outside pedal at 6 o’clock. This will ensure your weight is effectively distributed and balanced.
Dooring accidents occur when a parked car suddenly opens its door in the path of an oncoming cyclist. It’s recommended that you ride at least three feet away from parked cars to allow room for potential door openings. Be particularly cautious when passing parked vehicles with occupants inside, as they may not always check for approaching cyclists.
Traffic can be unpredictable in urban areas, with vehicles and pedestrians moving in all directions. It’s also not uncommon for drivers to be distracted by their phones or other activities. Because of this, it’s critical that you stay focused and vigilant. Always obey traffic laws, and be ready for vehicles or other cyclists to stop, turn, or change lanes suddenly.
Blind spots are areas around a vehicle where the driver is unable to see you. To reduce your risk of not being seen, avoid positioning yourself in the typical blind spot locations, such as just off and slightly behind the driver or passenger side doors. Additionally, always try to make eye contact with drivers when approaching an intersection, changing lanes, or turning to ensure they’re aware of your presence.
8. Improve Your Riding Technique
Improving your riding technique will not only lead to better bike safety but will increase your confidence and enhance your overall riding experience as well. Here are some helpful tips to get you started:
Effective bike handling is fundamental to maintaining control over your bicycle. To enhance your bike handling skills, practice the following:
- Maintain a relaxed grip on the handlebars for better control and responsiveness.
- Keep your weight balanced and centered over the bike, especially when navigating turns or obstacles.
- Practice riding in a straight line, maintaining a steady, smooth cycling cadence.
- Develop the ability to ride with one hand so you’re able to signal and make necessary adjustments when needed.
Proper braking technique is vital for maintaining control and stopping efficiently. Consider the following tips to improve your braking skills:
- Gradually squeeze the brakes instead of abruptly applying full force. This technique prevents skidding or flipping and allows for better control.
- Familiarize yourself with the difference in braking power between the front and rear brakes. Generally, the front brake provides more stopping power but requires more skill to use effectively.
- Anticipate braking situations by scanning the road ahead and applying brakes early when necessary.
- Practice emergency braking maneuvers in a safe environment to become more comfortable with sudden stops.
Understanding how and when to shift gears can optimize your riding efficiency and overall performance. Consider these suggestions for better gear shifting:
- To shift gears efficiently, lighten your pedal pressure right before shifting to reduce the strain on your bike’s chain.
- Learn to anticipate gear changes by observing the terrain ahead. When approaching a hill, downshift early into a lower gear for easier pedaling. Conversely, on flat or downhill sections, shift into higher gears for increased speed.
- Avoid cross-chaining (positioning the chain at extreme angles). This can cause excessive wear and inefficient power transfer.
- Familiarize yourself with your bike’s gear system. Experiment with different gear combinations to find the most suitable options for various riding scenarios.
Mastering the art of cornering allows you to navigate turns smoothly and safely. Here are some simple ways to improve your cornering skills:
- Approach corners at a reduced speed, allowing you to maintain control throughout the turn.
- Lean your bike into the turn while keeping your body relatively upright. At the same time, shift your body weight to the outside pedal, which should be in the 6 o’clock position. This will optimize traction and stability.
- Look through the turn and focus on your exit point rather than the ground directly in front of you.
- Practice cornering in different conditions, such as gravel or wet surfaces, to develop adaptability and confidence.
Proper bike safety relies on a number of factors, including but not limited to practicing responsible cycling habits and following the rules of the road. By incorporating the tips and advice outlined above, you’ll not only improve your safety when riding, but your overall enjoyment as well.
Lastly, one of the best ways to improve your riding experience is to ensure you have the right bike for your situation. Check out our article on the different types of bikes and we’ll get you pointed in the right direction!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it necessary to have a bell on my bike?
Having a bell can enhance your overall bike safety. A bell provides an additional way to alert pedestrians, other cyclists, or even motorists of your presence. It can be especially helpful in situations where verbal communication might be challenging or insufficient.
Can I wear headphones while cycling?
Headphone laws can vary by state. Even when allowed, it’s generally not recommended to wear headphones while cycling, as they can significantly reduce your awareness of your surroundings. The ability to hear approaching vehicles, emergency sirens, or other potential hazards is crucial for your safety on the road. If you choose to wear headphones, consider using a single earbud or headphones that allow you to hear ambient sounds as well.
What should I do if I get caught in bad weather while biking?
If you encounter inclement weather while biking, follow these bike safety guidelines:
– Reduce your speed to maintain control on wet or slippery surfaces.
– Increase your following distance behind vehicles or other cyclists to allow for longer braking distances.
– Avoid painted road markings and metal surfaces, as they can become more slippery when wet.
– Consider seeking shelter or waiting out severe weather conditions if necessary.
What’s the best way to deal with drivers who aren’t paying attention?
One of the biggest threats to cyclists on the road is drivers who are distracted by their phones or other activities. Stay vigilant and be cautious of vehicles that exhibit erratic behavior. Maintain a safe distance from them and whenever possible, try to make eye contact with them to ensure they see you.