Cycling is more than just a sport, it is a hobby and a passion. You get to explore the world and reap a lot of health benefits in the process. Once you learn to cycle, it can become addicting and for many people is their preferred form of transport.
In recent years, cycling has been rapidly gaining popularity. This is due to its ability to keep people in relatively good shape, create incredible socializing groups, and be an eco-friendly means of transportation. Unfortunately, this increase in numbers means that there are always new and inexperienced cyclists on the road who don’t know how to ride safely.
While cycling is a fun and exciting activity, it is also something to be taken seriously. Safety is the most important part of riding a bike, and while it may seem basic, there are many hazards you need to look out for. For example, you need to consider the terrain, the traffic, and how large crowds are to ensure your safety and the safety of others.
If you are brand new to cycling, or even if you are an enthusiast, there is always a heavy focus on safety. No matter your age, cycling needs to be taken seriously, or else it is not fun and entertaining.
Most people learn a lesson after they have made a mistake, unfortunately in cycling that mistake can be fatal. So, we have created this guide on how to stay safe while riding a bike so that you will always be safe and avoid most accidents.
Wear A Helmet
This is a relatively controversial topic in the cycling community, but it is generally considered a good idea to wear a helmet. In many places, it is even against the law to cycle without a helmet.
Many cyclists dislike them because it discourages people from trying out cycling as they can look slightly silly, but a study showed that helmets can reduce the risk of fatal head injuries by 65%. So even if they do look odd, wearing a helmet can save your life and should be worn at all times.
In order to get the correct helmet for yourself, you must first measure your head. If your helmet doesn’t fit you exactly and isn’t snug against your head, then you are not getting the level of protection from it as you should be. It should sit directly on top of your head and not slightly back as you won’t get full protection for your face, which is arguably the part of your head you want to keep most protected.
You want to make sure that your helmet is of good quality. Different areas and countries have their own standards that a helmet should meet so make sure you do your homework beforehand.
To entice children to wear their helmets (and as a fun addition to cycling for adults) you can get helmets in a variety of colors and patterns. Some of them have reflective designs on them that make them easier to see in the dark.
If you are involved in a crash and your helmet gets damaged, you will need to replace it immediately. Helmets are designed to crack on impact in order to protect the head. Wearing a damaged and cracked helmet won’t be as effective if you crash again and can cause greater injury.
Wear Reflective Materials
No matter if it is day or night, you should wear bright and reflective clothing while cycling. This is to ensure you are visible to cars and pedestrians.
One of the best ways to do this is the wear bright cycle clothing, it is designed to keep you visible while also giving you a large range of motion. Ideally, you want to wear bright clothing on your upper and lower body so that every part of you is visible.
If you don’t want to get into the expense of cycling clothes, then you are able to wear a high visibility vest over dark clothing. You are also able to get reflective velcro straps to put on other parts of your body. The best places for these straps are in spots that are constantly moving like your legs and feet.
This clothing should be used in addition to lights on your bike, the more visible you can be the better.
Being visible is also not just about clothes or lights, it is also about being aware of vehicle blind spots. This means you should avoid being too close to lorries as they won’t be able to see you and give yourself some room to maneuver in case the vehicle couldn’t see you and is moving closer.
Use Dedicated Bike Lanes
Plan the route you are going to take before you leave the house, this way you are able to know exactly where you are going and the safest route to get there. Bike lanes allow you to avoid cars and most pedestrians, as that is where most bicycle accidents come from.
Most apps will give you the option to toggle whether or not you see the bike lanes, which will give you an easy way to plan your route.
In most areas it is illegal to cycle on the sidewalk, so bike lanes are the best option to be away from roads. You are only allowed on the sidewalk if there is no other route and then you must dismount and walk your bike until you get on a road or bike lane again.
While following a bike lane route may take longer, it is ultimately a much safer option. It was found that when bike lanes were installed and used, injury crashes for all road users dropped around 40% and possibly by more than 50% in some locations.
Also, cycling in an area specifically designed for cyclists allows for a quieter more relaxing journey as you don’t have to worry about cars or hear the sounds of loud engines.
Install Rear View Mirrors On Your Handlebars Or Helmet
Similar to in cars, getting mirrors on your bike allows you to eliminate any blind spots you may have. This can make you extra aware of your surroundings and in turn, allow you to react to hazards faster.
Having mirrors is also a great way to save your neck and back from having to turn as much, which is great for those who frequently get stiffness in those areas.
However, having mirrors shouldn’t make it so that you shouldn’t learn how to ride a bike without them. Knowing how to look over your shoulder without losing control of your bike is a key skill that every cyclist should know.
Keep Your Bike In Great Condition
You don’t have to be a well-trained mechanic to know how to do basic maintenance on your bike. The goal isn’t to upgrade your bike, it is simply to avoid any future malfunctions.
For this you will need a basic set of bike tools, there are many types so make sure you look at reviews before purchasing.
You want to check your bike before every ride, that way you can cycle with your mind at ease that you have done everything you can to mitigate malfunctions.
On top of making sure that your bike chain is clean and lubricated, here are some other areas of your bike you need to make sure are working properly.
Check For Loose Nuts And Bolts Before Setting Off
Overtime nuts and bolts can come loose by themselves, which is why it is important to check them before every ride. You need to check the handlebar, pedals, seat post, stem, and wheels’ quick release for any loose connections. It may be a good idea to shake your bike gently to see if you can hear any rattling.
In order to see if the headset is loose, simply hold the front brake and attempt to roll your bike.
Make sure that you have properly tightened anything you need to before taking off on your journey.
Carry A Patch Kit At All Times
Carrying a patch kit is a good idea for every cyclist to do. A punctured tire can leave you stranded in an unfamiliar place and make it so that you can’t get home. While you can call a taxi, it is much cheaper to remember to bring your patch kit.
It is wise to learn how to patch up a tire before you set out on your journey. You don’t want to do it for the first time while you are in an unknown location.
Check And Pump Up Tires
Many cyclists keep a floor pump at home for this specific reason, it allows them to easily pump up their tires whenever they need to.
In order to effectively pump up your tires, you need to know the recommended air pressure range for them. This is usually printed on the sidewalls of the tire. Do not exceed this recommended figure as it can cause tire blowouts, especially on hot days when the air in the tires expands.
It is a good idea to check your tires daily for any damage. See if they are worn down and if they have any cracks, cuts, or bulging. This could be a sign that you need new tires.
Also, make sure there is no debris stuck in your tires. This could cause future damage if you put pressure on the tires while there are items like rocks or twigs stuck in them.
Check For Loose Or Bent Spokes
You won’t need to do this often with the spokes only needing to be checked on a weekly basis. This is because they don’t get bent often and it essentially only happens after cycling over something very bumpy like a pothole.
To check your spokes, turn your bike upside down and spin the wheels, if they spin clearly and aren’t wobbling then they’re good.
If spokes need to be bent back slightly then you can do so with your hands, for larger bends you may need the use of tools or go to a bike repair shop.
Ensure The Brakes Are Working
Making sure your brakes work properly is an essential check before every ride. The first step is to see if the brake pads are rubbing against the wheel or disk rotor and then adjust it if needed.
Next, you want to check your brakes while a wheel is spinning to ensure the cables are working as they should.
Repeat these steps a couple of times before going on your ride. Your brakes are sometimes the only things stopping you from getting into an accident so you need to know they work correctly.
The best way to anticipate any and all hazards is to be aware of your surroundings. This doesn’t just include cars and people, but also animals and the terrain you are in. You always want to expect the unexpected so that you can quickly react to anything. Don’t just look in your immediate area either, be aware of what is coming up about 100 feet in front of you so that you give yourself ample reaction time to brake or slow down.
Your alertness level can be affected by weather, so you may need to adjust your hazard-spotting habits when it is raining or snowing. Certain weather can impair your vision or make the ground slippery. In these conditions, you should slow down so that you are able to brake better.
There are also hazards to be aware of where you wouldn’t expect them, one being parked cars. People opening their car doors on bikers is a common accident that occurs. This is more dangerous than it sounds with cyclists receiving serious injuries from riding into car doors.
Lights on your bike are essential for allowing you to be alert, you can’t be aware of your surroundings if you can’t see them. You want to have a headlight and a tail light on your bike, this is so that you can see and so that other people can see you.
These lights aren’t just for nighttime, they can also help you be seen during the daytime.
Battery-powered lights are okay as long as you ensure that the battery is always charged or frequently replaced, you don’t want your lights to suddenly turn off halfway through a ride.
Most bike lights allow you to switch to a flashing mode. This is ideally what you should use as it draws attention to you and allows motorists to spot you easier.
Make sure you have a functional bell on your bike so that you can alert other people of your presence.
Don’t Wear Headphones Or An Earpiece. You Need To Hear Everything You Possibly Can
While the idea of a relaxing bike ride with music is a good idea, it is not safe in practice.
Using headphones can limit how much you can hear, and as a cyclist, you need to be able to hear any hazards. This includes car engines, horns, or other cyclists’ bells.
Some vehicles aren’t very loud, but you still need to be able to hear them. Trucks are very important to keep an ear out for because they are very large and have a lot of blind spots, they may not see you so it is your duty to get out of their way when you hear them.
Even on roads that are usually quiet, you need to be able to listen. While they may not have a lot of traffic, you need to be prepared for any traffic that does come your way.
The safest option is to listen to your favorite music or podcasts in the comfort of your own home.
Avoid The Use Of Mobile Phones
Using a mobile phone shifts your attention away from the path you’re cycling, this can be dangerous. If you are too busy looking at your phone then you may not see a pedestrian or bump in the road.
If you have to use your phone for a call or to navigate, find a safe area where you can pull over and use your phone. Make sure you are looking at your surroundings before pulling in.
If you are using your phone while cycling then you don’t have both hands on the handlebars. This can cause you to lose balance and either fall off or turn into something you didn’t wish to.
If you need constant navigation from your phone, then you can have it on a phone mount on your handlebars so that you can look at your mapping and the road at the same time. Have the speaking function turned up on your mapping so that you are made aware when a turn is coming up.
Ride With Traffic, Never Against It
Not only is it sometimes illegal to cycle against traffic, but it is extremely dangerous. Around 32% of cyclist accidents are from going against traffic.
Not only are you more likely to get in a head-on collision if you go against traffic, but you are also unable to see any road signs that tell you how to safely navigate the roads. Knowing the layout of the roads is pivotal to making safe and easy turns.
When cycling on the roads, try to avoid busy intersections as much as possible. No matter how fast you pedal, you will not have the speed to keep up with a car, and a busy intersection is an area where a lack of speed can cause injury. Also, due to the busyness of the intersection, drivers are distracted by other cars so won’t be on the lookout for cyclists.
As previously stated, you will never be able to keep up with the speed of cars, and you always need to cycle at a speed you are comfortable with. Being forced to cycle too fast can cause poor reaction times or a loss of control.
In order to keep a comfortable speed you should avoid times when there are many cars on the road. This is around 7 am to 10 am and 4 pm to 7 pm as these are the times that people are usually commuting to and from work. Since they are traveling for work, many drivers will also have lower patience during these times and may not drive as safely as they should around cyclists.
When planning the route you will take, try to use wide roads. This will allow you to be seen easier by cars and also give them ample space to pass you.
If you are riding against traffic and end up in an accident, it will be seen as your fault. This could lead to little financial recovery. You also don’t have airbags to protect you as the car would so it is in your best interest to avoid collisions with them.
Keep At Least One Hand, Preferably Both, On The Handlebars
Having 2 hands on the handles is all about control and balance, without that you can find yourself in a self-inflicted accident. Even if you have perfect balance and are able to cycle with no hands, this is not a good way to ride and is dangerous.
Having 2 hands on the handles also gives you immediate access to your brakes, it should be your natural instinct to pull on the brakes when faced with a hazard and if your hands aren’t near them then you are decreasing your reaction time.
Reaction time is pivotal to getting out of a hazard in time, that second it takes to put your hands back on the handles can be what makes you get hurt.
There are some circumstances where you may need to remove one hand when cycling such as signaling. Before signaling, ensure you have complete control and balance of your bike so that you don’t fall off while turning or stopping.
If you need to take a drink while cycling, then you would ideally safely pull over to the side before taking out your drink. If you are unable to safely pull over then you can take a quick sip with one hand while cycling. If you are doing this then make sure your path is completely clear and that it is flat up ahead. If you are taking a drink of water and then you go over a bump you may end up getting yourself soaked which is not ideal. Your cycling water bottle should be easily operated with one hand because of this.
When going over bumpy terrain, you always need 2 hands on the handles. This is because you need complete control to deal with all the curves and dips in the road. Falling off your bike on a bumpy trail can also lead to worse injury than if you were to fall on a perfectly flat surface.
If you are prone to sweating or losing your grip then it may be a good idea to invest in some cycling gloves. They allow you to get a better grip on the handles to ensure you don’t slip off and always have complete control.
Obey Traffic Lights And Signs
When cycling on a road, your best course of action is to act like a vehicle. You want to be as predictable to other cars as possible to create harmony on the road and avoid accidents.
This means you should cycle in a straight line and follow any directional signs. Stop at traffic lights and accurately follow junctions. Slow down at any intersections but only break if you need to. Follow all of the road rules you can to ensure the safety of yourself and others.
While it may be tempting to not, you should always stop at red lights. Not only will this annoy other drivers if you don’t, but it can put you in a dangerous position where you are in the way of oncoming traffic.
When entering roundabouts, look twice before entering. Cars can take turns very fast so you need to make sure that none are coming.
Be aware that while you may turn a signal while cycling, not every driver does. You may need to anticipate a car turning even when they haven’t signaled to do so.
The best way to make sure that a driver has seen you is to make direct eye contact with them. Although, just because you made eye contact with a driver doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wary of them. Some drivers are reckless even when they are aware of the presence of a cyclist.
As we briefly touched on, if you don’t follow the laws of the road then drivers will think negatively of you. This in turn can give a negative opinion of all cyclists and your actions can affect the whole community. The goal is to encourage people to cycle, not turn them away with dangerous behavior.
Sometimes you are fortunate enough to be able to follow signs that are specifically for cyclists. These are usually found on bike lanes or trails.
Know Your Hand Signals
Hand signals are the universal language that cyclists use to indicate what action they are going to take. This is also understood by drivers. They are used so that those around you can prepare for your actions and slow down for you.
They are a great place to show that you value your own safety as well as others. Just make sure you signal clearly so that it can be understood by everyone.
The actions you should take while turn signaling is to lightly break and then begin to signal. You want to signal ahead of your move and not during it so that everyone has time to react properly. Only make your move when it is safe to do so.
Left Turn: To Signal That You Wish To Make A Left Turn, Stick Your Left Arm Straight Out To The Left. Make Sure You Do This Well In Advance Of Your Turn.
Right Turn: To Signal That You Wish To Make A Right Turn, Stick Your Right Arm Straight Out To The Right. Make Sure You Do This Well In Advance Of Your Turn.
Stop: To Signal That You Wish To Stop, Stick Your Left Arm Out To The Left And Bend Your Elbow So Your Hand Is Facing Down. Keep Your Palm Open. Make Sure You Do This Well In Advance Of When You Need To Stop.
Hopefully, this guide will help keep those new to cycling safe, and those who a picking up cycling again and need to refresh their skills. Remember, you can do everything you possibly can to stay safe but that isn’t a guarantee that nothing will happen. You can try to do everything to stop incidents but you can’t control the actions of other people.
When on a long bike journey, remember to carry some cash and your ID, and also have a list of your emergency contacts. The cash is for if you get stranded and need to get a taxi and you need to keep your ID and emergency contacts in case something does happen and services need to get in contact with people.
Ensure that you are always cycling sober, while it may seem like a better option than driving home drunk it is still dangerous. If you are under the influence then you should walk home or call a taxi.
A study showed that 25% of cyclists who died in 2019 had a blood-alcohol concentration of .01 grams per deciliter or higher. This is because alcohol slows your reaction time putting you in danger as well as others.
In some countries, it is also illegal to cycle drunk and you could be issued a DUI.
So, next time you go on a bike ride, remember to do all of your necessary checks beforehand, be constantly aware of your surroundings while cycling, and follow the laws of the road to the best of your ability.