How to Ride a Bike Safely
Riding your bike can be very fun, but also very dangerous. If you do a safety check of your bike before you start riding, you can eliminate most potential problems.
- Check your equipment. This means:
- Air -- are your tires inflated?
- Brakes - do they work, are they clean?
- Chain - is it clean, free of debris, and able to turn with no problems?
- Check your brakes. Wheel your bike around a flat surface, pulling the brake levers on and off. If they do not work, contact your local bike shop and ask them what to do.
- See if it is the right height for you. This is very easy as all you need to do is sit on your bike and make sure that the tips of your toes touch the ground (and nothing else).
- Check your bike's tires. Put the whole tire in some water and see if there are any bubbles coming out. If there are any bubbles, it means your tire is punctured and you can get it fixed by a bike shop or do it yourself.
- For roads that have traffic speeds under 35 MPH and/or a large shoulder (for example, many of mid- and up-state New York's 2-lane highways have shoulders that were designed for safe biking), ride on the road, in the direction of traffic. Share the road, however: If the road is wide enough that traffic can pass you, stay to the side and make it easier for the drivers to leave you room. Generally, it is illegal to ride your bike on a sidewalk unless it is a marked bike path. Additionally, roads are generally smoother, making the ride easier, quicker, and more comfortable.
- Obey traffic laws. Although the driver hitting you is technically at fault, you are the one who will most likely be injured. Stopping for stop signs and watching for traffic greatly reduces the chances of a collision. Ride with the traffic signals; and if you are turning left, use the left turn lane. If you are not comfortable with this, walk or cautiously ride your bike through an intersection based on the crosswalk lights. Watch for cars turning right; drivers generally check only for cars when turning right, not pedestrians or cyclists.
- Wear bright clothing, a reflective vest, or have flashing lights. These all increase your visibility. Motorcycles are required to have a front headlight on at all times, because their vehicles are smaller and harder to see. A bicycle is smaller yet. Night time riding usually requires a front white light.
- Wearing a helmet is always a good idea when cycling. Consider wearing a bike helmet (local laws may require this) to augment your safety. See http://www.cyclehelmets.org.
- Use appropriate lighting at night. In the front, when it is dark out, turn on your headlight. During the day, a flashing front light is good because it attracts more attention, but at night, a constant front light is more appropriate, and it will provide adequate visibility to drivers. At night, a flashing front light is annoying. Also, put a red LED strobe or beacon on the back of your bike. It is OK for it to flash or have special patterns, because it disrupts night vision less than the white front lights, and because drivers do not count exclusively on your rear light to gauge their distance.
- Use hand signals if you are going to turn. This is especially important for left turns, because they involve crossing traffic. Ignore what you were told in elementary school, instead, if you are turning left, extend your left arm; if you are turning right, extend your right arm. The signals that are all based on the left arm were devised for driving a car, a situation where only the left arm can reach out the window.
- When you are passing pedestrians or other cyclists, it is essential that you warn them of your presence. Not only is this polite, but it reduces the chance of collisions, because they are less likely to suddenly swerve into your way, and they may move over, keeping you out of traffic. A bell, or a loud voice "On your [Left / Right]", "Passing" are good ways to attract attention.
- Cycling at night can be extremely dangerous. Always travel on a well lit road or path with no debris or potholes. Go slower then you would in the daytime, as you still need enough time to react to danger and the lower visibility makes night cycling dangerous for this reason.
- Check if there are Bike Education classes in your area. These will teach safe, effective cycling.
- When getting on your bike, it is safer to wheel it to a sidewalk and get on from the sidewalk side.
- Follow all the precautions you would follow if you were on foot.
- Teach Your Kids how to ride safely in a completely safe place.
- Let kids learn at their own pace and offer lots of encouragement.
- Make it known to older kids that riding at high speed could seriously hurt them.
- Some bikes don't have brakes on the handlebar. Usually, you can brake by pedaling backwards.
- It is essential that you recognize the dynamics of handling a car, so you can better avoid situations where a driver has to make emergency maneuvers to avoid hitting you.
- Most collisions are at intersections. In heavy traffic, it is better to stop and wheel the bicycle through the road, even if there's a traffic light. You never know if a driver will try to run a red light.
- Do not ride side-by-side unless you are going the speed limit. If you don't have a speedometer, make a good guess but it's better to be under than over the limit.
- If you are uncomfortable about riding on the right side of the road because of traffic coming from behind, ride on the sidewalk but YIELD to pedestrians. Never ride against traffic, as you will then be dodging cars head-on.
- If you are riding on a bike path or the sidewalk, keep in mind your speed relative to other users of that path. Once you think you are consistently going above 10 MPH, or you find yourself in a sidewalk with many pedestrians, it is probably a better idea to ride on the smooth, wide expanse of the street.
- Some roads are completely unsuitable for riding a bike safely. The López Mateos Highway in Guadalajara, Mexico, for instance, is a very, very dangerous place, with buses and fully loaded trucks running at 60 mph (100 km/h), and cars speeding by at 120 km/h. Be on the lookout for such roads, avoid them if possible, and if you absolutely have to ride your bike through these roads, then ride on the sidewalk but yield to pedestrians.
- Many cities and towns in Europe have bike paths right along the streets. The lane closest to the street is reserved for bicycles; the other lane is for pedestrians. Drivers expect you to stay in these paths and might not be on the lookout for bicycles on the road.
- Highways could be dangerous for anyone unless if they ride on the side.
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