Bicycle Safety – 41 Tips to Stay Safe on the Road

Jan Poshenko
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Whether you have been riding for a while or you are just a beginner, tips for safety and comfort are always something everyone wants to know without having the bad experience by themselves first. That is why we are offering all the information you need to know to keep you safe while on the road.

Cycling Safety

Every year, thousands of cyclists are seriously injured and hundreds die in the United States.

That means there's tragedies happening every day.

The good news is, with a little knowledge, you can avoid many of those accidents. Regular communication with your kids, before they get on their bike for the first time, can be a powerful tool in helping to get them started in the right direction.

Your kids will learn how to be more confident cyclists with these tips as they explore the world around them.

Part I : A Roadworthy Bike

Before you hit the road on your new bike, make sure that it is properly tuned. Perform the following checks:

  • Every part of the frame should be straight and true. Do not buy a bike with even a slight bend in the frame or component.

  • Check that the fork is free of scratches and dents and that the construction of the fork is straight.

  • Check that the handlebars are straight without any twists.

  • Check that there is no play in the handlebars at the stem.

  • Check the wheels for cracks and looseness.

  • Make sure that the wheels and tires are properly inflated. Loose spokes can cause a lot of problems on the road.

  • The brake pads should be strong and bite into the wheels and the rims hard with minimal effort.

  • Check that the wheel bearings and axle nuts are tight.

  • Handlebars should be straight and firmly affixed to the stem.

  • Wrap your fingers around the handlebars and bring them to the stem. There should be one inch of handlebar left, between your fingers and the stem.

  • The saddle should be tilted slightly so that the nose points downwards.

1. Ride the Right Bike Size

One of the most important things to consider when choosing a bike is the size. Different frame sizes mean different heights of handlebars, different seat heights, and distances from seat to handlebars.

If you’re buying a children’s bike for a young rider, it’s important to check that the size of the child seat is appropriate. Chose a correctly-sized bike and you will dramatically reduce the risk of injury.

If you’re buying for an adult rider, most likely it’s because you’re worried about them being safe and comfortable. So look for the right size.

2. Check for Loose Nuts and Bolts

Is your bike in good condition? Do you follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines? If you’re not sure about the last question, these are the jobs you need to have done by a professional:

  • Brake check: Air, pads and cables need to be in perfect condition.

  • Wheel alignment: It shouldn’t be cambered or be out of line by a millimeter or more. Also wheels should not have any cracking or splitting.

  • Gear check: From chain to bolts, it should be in good condition.

  • Bike check: Every part should be fastened in place. There should be no loose nuts or bolts.

3. Check and Pump Up Tires

Most people ride a bicycle because they are looking for an inexpensive mode of transportation. Therefore, it’s important to remember that your bike is only as safe as its tires. Make sure your tires are at their recommended inflation level at all times. Also, before heading out, find a bike shop that can patch or replace a flat tire for you. Don’t face a ride with a flat tire.

Before you head out, check your tire pressure for the best results.

4. Check for Loose or Bent Spokes

Checking your spokes is a crucial part of bicycle maintenance. If a spoke is loose or bent, it could cause a serious accident and is something you need to take care of immediately.

To check for loose or bent spokes, you have to use a spoke wrench. There are a few tools that can do this, but they work in the same way.

They are designed like a box wrench, but with much shorter arms. One arm is slightly thinner than the other so it can fit into the space between the hub and the rim, while the thicker arm is held by the handle.

5. Ensure the Brakes are Working

Always ensure the brakes are working the right way by pumping them a few times before every ride.

Always try to pump your brakes as many times as needed in a safe place to get your bike under control. If your brakes make any noises that sound unfamiliar then you need to get them checked out right away.

Where possible, try to use your rear brake for stopping purposes. When you use the front brake, your tire might skid due to the handlebars turning, which will make controlling your bike especially hard.

Additionally, you should always ensure to wear your helmet, especially if you are riding a bike in the city.

6. Use A Headlight, Day and Night

A headlight is a must for both day and night cycling. Your headlight is a reflection of your responsibility as far as safety is concerned. If you get on your bike at night without a headlight, you’re expecting someone else to light the way ahead so you don’t have to. Which makes you irresponsible and disrespectful. Don’t be that type of rider; get a headlight!

How effective is your headlight? Check out our post on lights to find out.

7. Don’t Drink Before You Ride

Don’t drink when you ride. Ever. Why? When you mix alcohol and biking, the potential for trouble skyrockets. Why? Well, for one, you don’t have the mental faculties to think clearly. Two, you’re likely to swerve and fall. And three, although you often think you can hold your alcohol and ride at the same time, you’re wrong. Don’t put yourself and others in danger, just don’t drink when you bike.

8. Wear A Helmet

Injuries are inevitable when cycling so wear the helmet and be healthier, happier, and safer.

9. Use A Tail Light

You can buy glowing paint that lets you bike like a ghost. When you ride at night, you can stand out better from the surroundings because you'll be gliding smoothly through the dark. You can even stand out better and longer than with a tail light: It will be easier for drivers to spot you which increases your safety level.

10. Use A Bike Bell

If you are looking to get great protection from road accidents and want to protect yourself from other dangers, you must start using a bike bell for your bike.

If you are riding a bike, it is a must to install a bell on your bike. These bells are used to alert the other bikers, pedestrians, or any other vehicles in the area about your presence.

They are also just as important to be used in a group ride. With many different bikes present in one group, there is a high probability that someone might not notice someone else.

For this reason, keeping a bell on every bike will help ensure the safety of all the participants involved.

Part II: Cycling Gear

Get a Tail Light and a Bike Headlight – You’ll be most visible to traffic if you’re equipped with both tail light and a bike headlight. LED lights are best because they’re super bright. Here’s a quick overview of some of the best lights on the market.

A Bell – Sounding a warning bell helps you alert drivers of your presence. Even if it’s too dark for them to see your bike or bike lights. Because it’s free, it’s a no-brainer safety upgrade.

Ride Defensively – Defensive cycling can also help protect you from an errant ball, skateboard, walker, or dog.

Forget The iPods and MP3 Players – Listening to music through earphones when you ride is one of the most dangerous things you can do. It means you’re distracted by music, not properly aware of your surroundings.

Cycle With Friends – If possible, ride in a group. You’re more likely to be seen, plus it’s more fun.

11. Wear High Visibility Clothing

Most attention is focused on the extra visibility of the rear flashers and tail lights. But you can also grab the attention of other drivers just by wearing an article of bright, eye-catching clothing.

While high visibility clothing used to be reserved for safety workers, hunters, and cyclists, today it is standard wear for most sports enthusiasts. Stand out from the crowd in neon-colored tops, vests, or jackets. While high visibility clothing is generally not camouflaged, it does differ from other clothes in the way it’s made. So it not only makes you more visible to other drivers, but it’s also long-lasting.

12. Wear A Bike Helmet

A Bike Helmet is a MUST. This is by far the number one safety tip to keep in mind when you ride your bike.

No matter if you are commuting to work, riding your bike to school, riding your bike as a sport, or just for fun, always wear a helmet. It is the single most important thing that you can do to keep yourself safe on a bike.

A good bike helmet will be one of the more expensive purchases that you will make but it is the one that will have the greatest safety benefit.

If you have an old helmet that has cracked or is damaged in any way, you should replace it with a new one that meets the standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

You should also make sure that your bike helmet fits properly on your head so that it will protect your head and your brain for the greatest amount of time possible.

13. Wear Specialized Gear

The British Columbia Coroners Service (2015) recently published a report on 27 cyclist deaths that occurred in the province from 2009 to 2013. They found that 64% of deaths occurred on roads with posted speed limits greater than 50 kph, while 80% of the deaths occurred on roads with no cycling facilities (i.e. no cycling lanes or cycle-only routes). Of the 27 deaths under investigation, 16 were reported to have not been wearing a helmet.

14. Use Appropriate Amount of Sunscreen

Using the proper amount of sunscreen can prevent skin cancer, but the reality is most people do not apply enough sunscreen for sufficient protection. A good rule of thumb for adults is to use about two tablespoons (30 ml) of sunscreen, enough to fill a shot glass. Use enough to generously cover all exposed areas. Adults should put sunscreen on children under six months of age as well. Everyone is vulnerable to sunburns, so cover all exposed skin areas to prevent them.

Part 3: Route Selection

It should go without saying that you should never ride a bicycle in poor conditions or through potentially hazardous areas. But you might be surprised at the number of people who do just that regularly. If you are planning to ride a bicycle and you haven’t done it much before, take a few minutes to assess your route before you go. Consider the following before you set out:

Are you familiar with the area?

This isn’t a question of whether or not you’ve been there before. It’s a question of whether or not you’ve done more than drive through the area. Take a slow look around before you start riding. Try to familiarize yourself with the best places to turn if you need to turn, the best places to stop if you need to stop, and any potential hazards that might be in the area. Take this time to see if there’s a better route you can take.

15. Map Out the Route Before Leaving Home

When you’re on a bike, you are the most vulnerable to the dangers of the road. You must know what you’ll be riding through and highlight potential problems that you could encounter. If you’re not sure what the traffic will be like, do some research. When you’re planning a route, pay attention to the types of intersections, high-traffic areas, and more.

16. Avoid Busy Intersections

Use this tip to avoid collisions. Intersections are the most dangerous place for a cyclist. An intersection is a four-way intersection between two or more streets, a driveway, or a parking lot entrance. Don’t forget that driveways are as important as intersections in this case.

Try to use wide streets ‒ the wider the better. Taking a turn on a side street is more challenging than on a narrow one. Cyclists who ride on the center of the road are more visible to drivers because they are not hidden by the parked cars. The Center of the road is the safest place for a cyclist to ride.

17. Choose Wider Roads, Bike Trails, or Biking Lanes

If you are riding with traffic, always avoid riding on narrow residential roads and choose wider roads, bike trails, and bike lanes. The importance of choosing a wider bike lane cannot be overemphasized.

If you are new to biking, always avoid urban areas with narrow streets and high traffic. Like in the picture to the left.

The narrow streets and heavy traffic do not provide enough space for you to pedal your bike without the risk of scrapes and crashes.

In addition to the safety hazards, riding on the road with high volume traffic next to you can also be nerve-wracking.

Instead, choose a bike trail or a biking lane with wide bicycle-only or bike-and-vehicle lanes.

Riding on either bike trails or bike lanes with a physical barrier for separation is the safest way to ride a bicycle. A physical barrier is a wall, a concrete barrier, a concrete median, or a strip of grass, bushes, or trees anything that physically prevents cars from entering the bike lane.

So if you are not confident about riding on the road, choose a bike trail or a bike lane with a physical barrier for safety and peace of mind.

18. Avoid Peak Hours

Until you are experienced enough to drive with confidence in heavy traffic, avoid peak commuting hours, both on weekdays and weekends. The chances of a minor accident are high during such periods, while the chance of a major accident in severe conditions is also greater. Try to minimize your driving during these times, especially in the morning and evening. Most experienced riders try and avoid peak hours altogether. The streets do clear up after a while, as more and more people turn to other modes of transport. Depending on the speed of your commute, you may choose to take longer routes in the mornings and shortcuts in the evenings.

19. Don't Ride on the Sidewalks

Not only is this against the law in most cities, but it's also really dangerous for you! Stay as far away as possible from the curb. Painted lines at crosswalks that indicate you should stop once you reach them are especially important. Pedestrians will be crossing the street and might look to see if there are cyclists around before stepping into the street.

If there are no marked crosswalks, make a point of looking for those places where pedestrians are most likely to cross (intersections, bus stops, etc) and prepare to stop. Most of the time, pedestrians are concentrated around these areas and are not looking for cyclists so staying alert will help you avoid an accident. Make sure to slow down before reaching these places.

Part 4: Good Cycling Habits

After you become a cyclist, the best way to stay safe on the road is to practice good habits and build up experience.

For instance, it’s a good idea to ride on the far right side of the lane to make yourself as small as possible and to increase the time drivers have to see you. If you’re in the city or if traffic is heavy, it’s also a good idea to ride in the middle of your lane. You can also ride in the middle of the lane to make room for cars that are trying to pass you.

Although it’s a good idea to make yourself as small as possible and to avoid riding in the middle of the lane when possible, you need to make sure that you’re visible. Do this by wearing both reflective material and bright colors so that you can be seen by vehicles at all times. According to research, wearing a helmet makes you 14 times less likely to be involved in a crash, but 44 percent of cyclists use no form of protective headwear.

20. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

First and foremost, whether you’re out for a leisurely ride or in a race, be aware of your surroundings. By riding in a visible position, you have the advantage of being seen. Other drivers will be able to give you lots of room, so they won’t have to pull out to the curb when you pass, which is much safer for you.

21. No Headphones

Although you’re not supposed to be wearing headphones while cycling, the truth is that many still do. If you happen to be one of them, please take a minute to read through this post.

It might just be the key to preventing an accident.

Always keep your ears open while on the road.

You don’t want to be the next victim of the latest craze among cyclists: “earbud-distracted-cyclist-goes-crashing.”

If you’re the type that puts on your earphones as soon as you start pedaling, this article is for you.

No matter how good your music is, the sound of the busy road is your best early-warning system for cars around you.

Sounds like the car horn, the breaking of the engine, and the squealing of tires are vital so that you have advanced warning of an impending collision. Studies show that cyclists using headphones sustain more frequent injuries and severe injuries than cyclists not using headphones.

So if you’re one of them who think that listening to music is the way to a bike safety rush, think again and use your ears whenever you go biking.

22. Leave the Phone Alone

Most of us use our phones for more than just talking to people. We use them to send messages, take photos, check the weather – you name it. And while it’s awesome to be able to do all of these things on your bike, the phone can be a distraction.

When you’re on a bike, your phone can distract you from what’s happening around you for a few reasons. First, to see your screen, you’ll need to take your eyes off the road. The other reason your phone is a distraction is that using it can cause you to slow down or stop riding. So, if the phone is an issue for you, try using it when you reach your destination and keep it off when you’re riding.

23. Ride in A Predictable Manner

It seems like the easiest piece of advice to give, but it’s also the hardest to follow ride in a predictable, careful manner.

Even the most skilled, experienced rider can’t anticipate everything that might happen on the road. That’s why it’s important to always assume that other drivers aren’t paying attention. Even if you come upon a vehicle with its lights on or its hazards blinking, slow down and assume that the driver isn’t paying attention.

24. Both Hands on the Handlebar

It’s very easy to get distracted when riding a bicycle. We are always finding something interesting to look at. Of course, a bicycle needs both hands to stay upright. It’s better to ride with both hands on the handlebar or at least one hand on the handlebar and the other on the brake system.

25. Don't Ride at Speeds You're Uncomfortable With

Riding a bicycle should never be a race. If you feel like you can’t control your bike well, slow down! Cycling, like life, is all about pace. It’s never a good idea to ride faster than your ability allows, especially on a bike path or a bike trail. Keep your speed steady and stay in touch with the trail. If you want to ride faster, take a more appropriate route. If you don’t like the speed you’re biking at, don’t ignore it.

26. Don't Drink and Ride

You're not invincible just because you're on a bicycle. The number one rule of thumb is to never ride with actual or consumed alcohol. That warning holds for your passengers as well; passengers of any type or size are highly dangerous, and should not be allowed behind the wheel.

Always be alert to your surroundings, and eliminate distractions as much as possible. Put down the phone, and keep both hands securely on the bars in a safe position.

Your helmet is your first line of defense. Make sure to strap your helmet snugly, but not tightly, every time you ride.

If you're riding at night time, remember to keep yourself well lit up. Wear light-colored clothing, and make sure that you have two different colored lights on each side of your bicycle.

Don't be afraid to practice emergency maneuvers. When you're comfortable with the same exercises, tackle sloped hills. Practice taking corners and running over railway tracks.

Make sure that you're always looking out for the other cyclists. Don't pressure them into a turn, and never ride closely behind them. Give them space, and keep them safe.

Cyclists without lights should be aware of what vehicles around them are doing. Drivers may not be able to see them coming, and may not be ready to move over before attempting to pass them.

27. Act like A Vehicle

Whenever you ride a bicycle, you need to be aware that you are a vehicle. You can run stop signs, stop lights, and red lights. You need to follow the same traffic laws and you need to ride with traffic.

When you are riding on the road, always treat the road like a vehicle. You should look twice as far ahead as you look while driving a car. You need to look at intersections, road curves, cars, and what other cyclists are doing.

You should not be distracted by anything. A lot of accidents happen because of earphones, cell phones texting, etc. Text, email, or talk on your cell phone once in a while, but don’t let it become an everyday thing.

Also, you need to ride with traffic and not against it. When you are riding with traffic, you can see others approach you rather than you running into them.

28. Always Stop at Red Lights

Stop at the stoplight, whether you are alone or in a group of others. If you’re on your bike, you need to follow the same traffic rules as cars, including stop signs and red lights.

If you’re with others, make sure that everyone is ready to stop with you. Slow down in advance if you are approaching a busy intersection or if the light changes quickly.

29. Don't Ride Near the Curbs

Drivers use the right lane to turn right. Do not pass on the right. Ride near the middle of the lane to avoid being hit by a car door swinging open in the next lane over, or by a car pulling out of a side street or driveway. Look carefully for doors opening and cars pulling out, especially immediately after passing parked cars.

30. Don't Ride on the Sidewalk

Always ride on the street. If there are no bike lanes, ride in the same direction as traffic, except when turning left.

31. Stay Out of the Vehicle's Blind Spot

Vehicles have blind spots when they make turns. The driver can't see what's next to them and on the sides when they make a turn. Stay out of the vehicle's blind spot. A driver turning right can't see what's on the left.

Bicyclists should ride in the middle of the lane when being passed by motorists to avoid that blind spot. If there is no room for you to split the lanes, you can move closer to the right side of the road to avoid the blind spot.

32. Always Use Hand Signals

If you’re biking on the road, it’s extremely important to always use hand signals. It’s the easiest way for other vehicles on the road to know where you’re going. For example, if you’re going left, that means you’re going to cross all the cars in front of you unless, of course, you find an opening in between and then proceed with more caution. This is the main reason why hand signals are so important. Other vehicles will assume that you’re doing what you’ve indicated and they’ll be more cautious and watch out for you.

The other reason why you should always use hand signals is for your safety. If you don’t use hand signals, you may miss your turning and have to make a dangerous U-turn. Or you may be going straight and have to merge into another lane at a moment’s notice. Either of these scenarios may result in getting hit by an oncoming vehicle.

33. Slow Down at Intersections

Intersections are the most dangerous places for bikers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends always being prepared for a car to cross your path when you approach an intersection. Ensure that you are visible to drivers both in front of and behind you and make sure you slow down and make your intentions clear to other drivers.

If you are concerned about other vehicles trying to cut in front of you, place yourself in the middle of your lane and then gradually move to the side of your lane as you approach the intersection. This is so that drivers behind you can see that you are moving over, just so they can see what you are doing.

34. Watch Out for Parked Cars

One of the most common causes of cycling accidents is being hit by a parked car. Usually the driver will try to squeeze through a narrow space between two cars. Just avoid that scenario altogether by staying away from car doors at all times.

Also, never go near a car door if a car is about to open it. Give it a wide berth so you have the room to maneuver if a vehicle suddenly opens a door. The car could make a sudden turn or even accelerate to drive away. You could be pulled in with it and hit the car, injuring yourself or someone else.

It’s not just parked cars you need to watch out for, either. Cars that are parallel parked close to the curb or another vehicle are also posing a threat. They could suddenly decide to back up and slam you into the car in front of them. There is nothing you can do to avoid this situation but to stay a safe distance from the rear of the vehicle.

Another scenario is when a pedestrian opens their car door while walking in the road. In this case, it’s important to pay attention so you can avoid the door. Use extra caution at intersections where some people may still be in the street after the stoplight has changed and others are driving.

35. Look and Look Again Before Entering Roundabouts

Roundabouts, which are smaller than traffic circles, are coming up in increasingly larger numbers on North American roads. In many areas of North America, they’re just another kind of intersection – just a big "done" sign with a smaller sign that reads "yield" instead of "stop" at the bottom.

In the UK and the Australian Capital Territory, however, roundabouts are the norm and are more common than signals, stop signs, and stoplights. People riding bicycles are required by UK law to look in all directions when approaching a roundabout and use the hand signal that’s given by the blue and yellow sign at the bottom of the roundabout.

This is a habit that all cyclists should acquire before they ride on a roundabout because the intersections require a bit of a change of thinking. It’s not just about looking forward – you also need to look to the side and behind you.

Part 5: Important Things to Bring

Now that you’ve got your bike all set up, it’s time to take a ride. Before you get on the saddle, make sure you have all of your important items with you.

36. Water Bottle

Like it or not, riding a bike for a long distance can be dehydrating work. There’s just no way around it. Bringing along a reusable water bottle can help you stay hydrated while you ride.

Bonus tip: Flatwater bottles are surprisingly easy to refill while you’re on the move. When you’re finished drinking, just remove the cap, fill up the bottle with water, and put it back in your saddlebag.

37.Extra Clothes

Not all of your rides will be a potluck (or as fun or easy) as others. Certain days or parts of the year may be colder than others. If you want to cool down, you’ll need to bundle up.

38. Bring Spare Cash

One of the best things that you can do to stay safe and bike safe is always ensuring that you have good information readily accessible in case an emergency arises.

For example, if you’re on your way to work, you don’t want to end up caught in the rain with nothing to protect yourself but a small towel in your locker. A spare change of clothes will come in very handy in this situation. If you’re going for a bike ride with friends on a sunny day, pack a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with one or two towels or small blankets.

If you are planning on going for a long hike, or you’re out camping in the mountains, then make sure you bring more towels and blankets than you need (so you have extras for others who might need them).

Another important thing to keep in mind is that it’s always smart to pack some healthy snacks, a water bottle, and some water purification tablets in case you’re stranded and nobody’s around.

39. Have Your Emergency Contact Details on Your Mobile Phone

Keep the details of someone that you trust stored on your mobile phone. Ideally, it should be someone with a car that isn’t traveling too far away. Having this contact number stored on your mobile device may just save your life and that of an injured motorist. In the event, you need to call for assistance or if you find a motorist in an accident, you will have someone handy to call.

40. Wear An ID

In case of an accident, having your name, contact number, or address on your body is the best thing you can do. Road IDs are cheap and last a long time so get one today.

41. Have A Saddle Bag

Cycling in the city can be a little dicey at times because of all the other traffic on the road. It is important to have a saddle bag with a few things in it. It can be anything you need to avoid bumps and bruises. Some of the things you could have in the saddlebag include a water bottle, a tire pump, some tools, a snack, and an extra shirt.

Conclusion

We hope you found these tips helpful and made you feel a bit more prepared for your daily adventures. Share these 41 Tips to Stay Safe on the Road with your cyclists friends to spread the word.