You never forget how to ride a bike. But if you’re like many adults, you might need a refresher course in bike safety. Perhaps you’re pulling that ten-speed out of storage for the first time in years. Perhaps a recent wreck or close call has made you suddenly aware of the hazards of the road. Or maybe you’re teaching your kid how to ride a bike and suddenly want to set a good example. Whatever your motivation, taking a moment to learn (or relearn) the rules of safe cycling can help you avoid a serious injury or worse. A study of cyclists who collided with cars found that severe injury and death become much more likely when cyclists fail to follow basic principles of safety.
Follow the rules of the road
As soon as your bike leaves your driveway, it’s a vehicle just like any other vehicle, and you’re the driver. OK, its lighter and smaller than most vehicles, but it still has to follow the rules of the road.
Wherever you ride, you should travel in the same direction as traffic. Many cyclists overlook this basic rule, but it’s important for at least two reasons. First, other drivers won’t be looking for bicycles or anything else moving the wrong way down a street, especially when they’re making a turn. Riding with traffic is simply the best way to be seen. Also, riding with traffic lets you see stop signs and traffic signals, which of course you should follow.
Always remember that you are just one vehicle among many. You’ll often have to give the right of way to cars and pedestrians. When possible, ride on the side of the road to give cars room to pass. Where legal, the sidewalk can be a reasonable place to ride. Just be sure to give pedestrians plenty of space and watch for cars entering and leaving driveways.
If it’s been a while since you’ve been on a bike, you might want to practice some basic skills before you ride anywhere with a lot of traffic. You should be able to look behind you while pedaling without wobbling or swerving. Remind yourself of the crucial difference between the rear brake and the front brake. If you’re really whizzing down the road, hitting the front brake first practically guarantees an end-over-end crash. Hit the rear brake first and start slowing down before gradually using the front brake.
Ultimately, there’s a lot more to bicycle safety than memorizing rules. When you’re on your bike, you need to use your head for more than just a place to keep your helmet. Pay attention to the traffic around you. The world is full of bad drivers, and even good drivers can occasionally fail to see a cyclist. Here are some other tips from seasoned cyclists:
- Wear some reflective clothing even during the day. You may feel a little silly, but it’s easier for drivers to notice you.
- Use a mirror and never move left without looking behind you first.
- Don’t pass on the right.
- If a car is already waiting at a red light, stop and wait behind it rather than beside it (this is often the driver’s blind spot).
- To avoid cars pulling out of side streets and driveways, honk your bike horn or hit the bell if you see one approaching or waiting. If you can’t make eye contact, slow down and prepare to stop if you need to.
- Ride far enough to the left to avoid crashing into a car door if it opens unexpectedly.
- Don’t wear an iPod in traffic. You need to be able to hear the cars around you. Watch the road for glass or other hazards.
And here’s something they didn’t tell you at your grade school bike safety lecture: If you’re too drunk to drive, you’re too drunk to ride.