Cycling is fun whether it’s done alone or with friends; you can use your bicycle to commute short distances, while some of us cycle for exercise. Whatever your reason for getting on a bike, you must always keep in mind tips for bike safety.
Most adults got their first bikes when they were just small children. At such a young age, a bike was treated as a toy, not a vehicle to get from one point to another. This is fine; most families are very careful about where their children ride and would never let them anywhere near busy traffic.
As we grow older we use our bicycles to venture further, and we end up on busy roads that are filled with vehicles. It is very important to maintain the right safety precautions if you want to be safe at all times. You need to know how to ride a bike in traffic without getting into accidents.
This article will look at 10 tips for bike safety as well as bike safety for kids, and best practices for safe cycling.
Tips for Bike Safety
Before we get into the tips, I would like to outline important preparations you should make before you go out on your bike each time. You should make sure that you have the following:
- A bike that’s suitable for the kind of terrain you are riding on. For more information on this, you can read our Guide to Types of Bicycles.
- A good helmet. There are different helmets in the market. You should buy the best that you can afford. Remember, if you are in an accident a helmet will likely save your life, so don’t skimp on this purchase.
- Proper cycling gear.
- Proper lights on the bike.
- A bike lock.
- If you aren’t familiar with the neighborhood, have a bike map with you so that you can know what lanes are set aside for cyclists.
- A bike pump.
- At least one tube in case of a puncture.
- Basic bike fixing tools.
- A phone handlebar holder or mount.
- Wear a helmet. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this safety tip. Whether you are riding to the neighborhood store or going on a cycling marathon with friends make sure that you have on a proper helmet.
- Ride as if you are driving a car. There are certain things that you wouldn’t do if you were driving a car. You wouldn’t weave through lanes, you wouldn’t go around blind corners, you would signal each time you want to turn and so on. You should observe the same precautions when you are cycling.
- Make sure you’re visible. A lot of drivers who hit cyclists swear that they didn’t see them until the last minute. You should ensure that drivers can see you by wearing proper cycling gear. If you ride at night wear reflective clothing and make sure your bike has proper lighting.
- Stay focused. This is one of the most important bike safety tips. Getting distracted by your phone when you are cycling can have disastrous effects. If you have to answer your phone, get off the road, stop, talk and then get back on.
- You shouldn’t use headphones when you are cycling. You should be able to hear traffic around you so that you can react in time.
- Be alert. Don’t go on the road if you are feeling distracted, angry, hung-over or are in any way distracted. If you are alert you can see obstacles in time and avoid them. Be aware of surrounding vehicles at all times.
- Obey traffic rules. If you aren’t familiar with traffic rules in your city it’s time to polish up. If you follow the same rules as ordinary vehicles it helps keep you safe.
- Make sure that your brakes are working properly before you set off, and if along the way you realize there is a problem stop and find an alternative means to get to your destination.
- Be on the lookout for parked cars. One of the most common causes of bicycle accidents is drivers who fling open car doors without looking out for cyclists. If you are alert you will see such a car on time and can swerve to avoid them.
- Use hand signals. Never assume that a driver knows what you want to do. Use your hand to let them know if you want to turn left or right. Where possible establish eye contact so that drivers can know to give you enough room.
These are vital tips for bike safety, but there are some additional issues that I think are important to address in this article.
FAQ on Bike Safety
1. Do you bike with or against traffic?
If you’ve ever been driving and then seen a bicycle coming towards you, you know how disorienting it can be.
In most US states and Europe, the law requires that you ride with traffic, not against it.
You will still find some people who choose to ride against traffic, not knowing that they put themselves in great danger.
When you ride against traffic drivers don’t expect to see you there, and it’s much harder to be on the lookout for something you aren’t expecting. If, for example, you intend to turn into a road, you can easily be run over by a driver coming from the opposite direction because you are the last thing they expected to see.
There are other reasons why you should always ride with traffic:
- You give drivers enough time to react. When you are riding towards drivers they cannot see obstacles that may lie beyond you, and they cannot react on time. You are endangering their lives.
- If you cycle in the opposite direction you cannot see road signs and traffic signals. It will only be a matter of time before you are in serious trouble.
- When you drive towards oncoming traffic you are blinded by headlights, especially if you are cycling at night.
In some states and in many European countries there are designated lanes for cyclists. If you are fortunate enough to have these you should use them at all times, unless you get to sections where they aren’t present.
When there are bike lanes motorists don’t expect to see cyclists in the traffic, so the odds of an accident happening are higher. If you have to come on the road for any reason make sure that you are visible to vehicle drivers and obey traffic rules at all times.
Along with the issue of whether to bike with or against traffic, another frequently asked question is “what side of the road do you bike on?”
2. Should you bike on the left or the right?
I can see why people are confused by this issue. Since we were kids we were taught to walk on the left, with the traffic coming towards us. In fact, many of us can recall cycling slowly behind our parents as they walked – always on the left.
The answer is that you should cycle on the right, in the same direction that vehicles are driving.
Walking and cycling are different. When you are walking you are more or less stationary and you have full control of your body. If you see a car coming towards you you can jump out of the way completely.
When you are on a bike you are on a vehicle of sorts that requires steering and control. Unfortunately, in times of panic, you may freeze and not steer your bike out of the way in time.
If you are cycling on the right, in flow with traffic drivers are aware that you’re there and they can avoid you whenever necessary.
Bike Safety for Kids
Kids’ bike safety rules are a bit different from adult bike safety tips because they don’t ride on busy roads:
- Ride with your children until you are confident that they have mastered the basics of bike riding. Talk about basic safety rules and what they can and cannot do on the road.
- Buy your child the right bike for their age and height. Our Kid Bike Sizes Guide is a good place to start.
- Children should wear a bicycle helmet all the time even if they are cycling in the backyard. Make this a rule in the home.
- They should keep to the sidewalk at all times. If they to ride on the road they should ride in the same direction as other road traffic, and they should be aware of a few road safety rules such as:
- Teach your child to use hand signals when they want to turn.
- They should not swerve between cars or dart out of lanes
- Teach them to slow down every time they come to an intersection.
- If your children ride to and from school, or in a busy neighborhood they should have reflectors on at all times.
Additional Tips for Bike Safety
- Have a door safety zone, and never assume that a parked car is empty.
- Pedestrians have right of way; stop and allow them to cross.
- Observe traffic lights.
- Avoid blind spots, especially those created by large vehicles such as semis and other large trucks.
- Be extra-careful when you get to intersections; they are notorious for cycling accidents.
- Plan ahead: if you can know your route beforehand your ride is likely to be easier and safer.
- Make sure that you have enough air in your tires to avoid inconveniences along the way.
- Have a water bottle handy and stay hydrated as you ride.
While it’s true that road accidents aren’t that uncommon among cyclists, you can stay safe if you observe simple tips for bike safety.
Many cyclists will start off careful, but as they get more and more into the practice of cycling they get careless and may neglect to do basic things like wearing a helmet or use hand signals when they want to turn at an intersection.
You should never become a complacent cyclist; the one day you neglect to wear a helmet could be the day you are in an accident.
If you want to be safe at all times you should learn how to ride a bike in traffic and observe the rules at all times.