Bicycle Safety Tips

Whether you want to cut down on pollution or you want to get in shape, riding a bike is a great way to get around. But your trip could end in tragedy if you don’t ride safely. Just like driving a vehicle on the road, cyclists must observe what’s around them at all times and make sure that other drivers see them too. Here are some safety tips and guidelines to help ensure your ride goes smoothly.

Safety starts before you even mount your bike. Before you ride:
  • Check to make sure that all parts are secured and in working order each time you ride.
  • Examine your wheels to check the tire pressure and inflate to recommended maximum pressure—look for damage and tread wear.
  • Keep spokes tight and replace broken ones promptly.
  • Examine the brake pads, cables and housings to ensure that all brake pads open and close together smoothly.
  • Next, check the chain for damaged links and keep the chain clean and well lubricated.
Once you have completed your safety check, take a slow ride in an area free of traffic to ensure that the bike is functioning properly and lightly bounce the bike on the ground while you listen for any loose parts that may need attention.

For maximum safety, outfit your bike with a bell, front and back reflectors, rear-view mirrors, fenders (for rainy rides) and a rack, basket or bike bag to help you carry items without taking your hands off the handlebars. Some municipalities will fine you if your bike is not equipped with a bell or other safety features so check your local bylaws before hitting the road.

Rules of the Road
Although they are not motorized, bicycles are considered vehicles, so you must know all traffic laws and safety hand signals, which tell motorists what you intend to do. Always signal with your left hand at least 100 feet before you turn but keep both hands on the handlebars as you make the actual turn.
  • Left turn: Extend your left arm straight out to your side (horizontally).
  • Right turn: With your elbow bent, hold your arm up in an "L" shape. (An alternative, but less common, right turn signal is to extend your right arm straight out to your side.)
  • Stop or sudden slow down: With your elbow bent, hold your arm down in an upside-down “L” shape.
Competing with heavy traffic is always dangerous, so take less traveled routes whenever possible and follow designated bike paths when available. Ride on the right side of the street in a straight line, in single file with other bike riders. Drive near the curb in the same direction as traffic but stay about a car door’s width away from parked cars in case someone tries to exit the vehicle in front of you suddenly. Keep your bike steady and ride in a predictable, straight line—never weave from lane to lane which forces drivers to guess what your next move might be.

Although you might feel uncomfortable doing so at first, always ride in the direction of traffic. Riding against traffic flow puts you where motorists don’t expect (or see) you. Use the two-second rule to help you keep a safe distance behind other vehicles—when the vehicle in front of you passes a fixed object (such as a tree or a house) begin counting. If you pass that object before you count out two seconds, then you are following too closely.

It’s always a good idea to ride defensively and to assume that drivers don’t see you. Expect the unexpected and keep both hands ready to brake. Be aware of the flow of traffic around you and pay particular attention to driveways and intersections, which is where many accidents occur. Keep an eye out for obstacles in your path, such as potholes, rocks and railroad tracks. If you have to go around an obstacle, take your time and make the move during a break in the traffic.

Be especially careful if you’re out in wet weather as riding on wet roads can make you slip and can impair your brake function. Visibility is also an issue when it’s raining, so always wear fluorescent or reflective gear to ensure that motorists can see you.

If you have to ride at night, equip your bicycle with a white headlight and a red taillight (both of which are required by law in some areas), as well as with front and rear reflectors. Wear reflective clothing or materials, especially on your ankles, wrists, back, and helmet. A reflective vest or reflective tape sewn on clothing makes you far more visible at night.

Dress to Be Seen—and Safe
Not every cyclist is making a fashion statement by wearing bright-colored jerseys and gloves. All of this cycling gear serves a purpose that even recreational riders can benefit from.

Long pants and long-sleeved shirts cut down on scraped elbows and knees. Clothes should fit snugly—use ankle clips or rubber bands to keep pant legs from catching in the gears, chain or on the bike (or wear specially-designed bike shorts). Wearing gloves will reduce hand fatigue caused by gripping the handlebars during long rides, but they also offer some protection in case of a fall. Shatter-resistant protective eyewear is also a good idea, not only to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, but also to cut down on wind or other debris that could hit you in the eye.

While these tips will help keep you safe, nothing protects you like a helmet. Studies have shown that wearing a bicycle helmet can reduce head injuries by up to 85%. Even if you just ride on bike paths or for a short distance, be sure to put on your helmet before you go—you don't have to be going fast or far to risk serious head injuries.

Buy a helmet that bears a label saying it meets the Canadian Standards Association standard CAN/CSA D113.2 M89; or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard Z90.40 1984; the Snell Memorial Foundation standard B 90,B 90S, N 94, or B 95; the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard F 1447 93 or F 1447 94. A clerk at your local bike store can help you find a proper helmet that fits.

In order for a helmet to work properly, it must fit properly:
  • A helmet should fit snugly on the top of the head and should not obstruct your field of vision. Most helmets come with adjustable padding to achieve the best fit. The front of the helmet should be about two finger widths above the eyebrows.
  • The "V" part of the chin straps should fit snugly with the "V" coming together right below the earlobe.
  • You should be able to fit one finger between the chin strap and under the chin. Always wear the helmet with the strap firmly buckled—make sure the chin strap fits securely and that the buckle stays fastened to provide impact protection.
  • If you’re buying a helmet for a child, don’t get one for the child to grow into— it must fit properly every time he or she uses it.
  • The best way to test your helmet is to shake your head back and forth—the helmet should stay in place. Try another helmet size or design if the helmet shifts significantly on your head.
Never use a helmet after it has been involved in an accident. Although the damage to the helmet may not be visible, even very small cracks in the helmet may greatly reduce its effectiveness in preventing injury. Either get a new one or have the old one inspected by the manufacturer, who will tell you if the helmet needs to be replaced.
Biking is a simple pleasure that allows you to enjoy the great outdoors, increase your fitness level, and get around at the same time. Put safety first and you’ll be able to enjoy biking (and feel more comfortable doing so) for years to come! For additional safety tips, check out the video below, courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.