Bicycle Safety 101
This entry was posted on January 16, 2013.
One of the biggest considerations for bicycle riders is safety. Hundreds of cyclists are hurt in crashes and collisions every year. Unfortunately, most cyclists are not well briefed on safe riding. A few basic riding techniques could prevent the majority of these injuries.
The methods of safe riding are easy but take practice and forethought. Most riders do not know these methods intuitively. It usually takes many years of regular riding to develop a good sense of traffic safety, but with this set of tips you can speed the process along and learn from more experienced riders.
Cars are the biggest threat to cyclists, and you are in great danger if drivers cannot see you. Making yourself visible to everyone on the road is thus one of the highest priorities for safe cycling and can be the difference between a great ride and a trip to the hospital.
One way to make yourself visible is with clothing. Choose bright colors and wear clothing with reflective strips. Most bike clothing is designed with safety features like this. The same standards can be applied to your helmet and any backpacks or pannier bags you bring along.
Visibility is especially important at night, which is why reflectors and lights are legally required when cycling after dark in most states. Reflectors and bike lights should be clean and operational. A strong, red colored blinking light can be bought for less than $15 and contributes a great deal to safety. Front lights are more expensive and make night riding on dark streets not only legal but safe.
It is also important for you to be able to see the cars around you, which is why we recommend that everyone cycling on the road use a mirror to be able to see to the rear. Being able to quickly learn about what is behind you can greatly reduce the risk of an accident. It is important to be aware that most bike mirrors, like car mirrors, have blind spots. Use them with caution and turn your head for a manual check behind you.
Alertness & Position
How you position and maneuver your bicycle is another critical component of safety; many accidents only occur because the cyclist was in a bad position. Be aware of what is around you at all times.
The first lesson, and perhaps the most important, is in regards to riding position relative to the curb (or parked cars). Contrary to the first instinct of most new riders, it is actually safer to ride a good distance away from the right edge of the road. Allowing proper spacing -- some 3 feet being a minimum -- has many safety benefits.
The most obvious benefit of allowing this space is that it keeps you away from the region of the road most likely to contain rocks, sticks, storm drains, broken glass and other obstacles. In the event that you see a car approaching behind you (you’ve got a mirror, right?), having space to the right of your bike allows you to swerve if necessary to avoid a collision.
There are many situations where the safest riding position is actually to take the whole lane. For example, when you approach a stop light or stop sign, it is much safer to look over your shoulder and move into the center of the lane. The alternative -- staying to the right while traffic comes to a stop around you -- could lead to a crash if a driver makes a sudden right turn in front of you.
As when driving, it is important to never pass on the right hand side of a car in your lane. Drivers don’t expect this and could easily take a right turn directly into your bike. When you do pass a car, bicycle or pedestrian, pass on the left. In this situation, or in any other situation where you are moving to the left on the road, it is very important to look behind you.
Turns & Intersections
Many cyclists neglect the important (and legally required) turn signal hand positions. When turning or moving, always signal with your hands to make your intentions clear to the drivers and pedestrians around you.
For left turns, simply point your left arm straight out to the left; for right turns, hold your left arm bent at the elbow with your fingers pointing upwards (from behind, it will look like a capitol letter “L”).
Getting hit by the opening door of a parked car is a cyclist’s worst nightmare, because even the fastest reflexes are useless. Luckily, this type of accident is relatively simple to avoid. As noted above, the solution is spacing; allow at least 3 feet between the right side of your bicycle and parked cars.
When you first begin riding in this manner, it will feel awkward. It is common to feel as though you are intruding upon drivers and generally making a nuisance of yourself, but remember that your safety is worth small inconveniences for others on the road.
Sidewalk or Street?
Driveways, pedestrians and other potential dangers make sidewalk riding a bad idea in general. While street riding can seem more intimidating, studies show that sidewalk riding contributes to a higher rate of accidents.
One tip that can make street riding more attractive is to simply avoid major streets; nearly all cities have neighborhood layouts that allow back street routes to reach nearly any destination. If back streets are not a good option, choose the widest streets available to allow you enough riding space.
Wearing a bike helmet can help protect you from head injuries in the event of a fall or a crash. Make sure your helmet fits well and that you replace it in the event of an impact.
Falls & Crashes
It is likely that most riders will experience falls or minor crashes at some point in their cycling career, but with the tips presented here, the impact of crashes will be minimized and riders will be as safe as possible. Remember to ride carefully, pay attention to your surroundings, and keep an eye out for any dangers! Enjoy your ride!