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Bike Safety Tips for Every Ride

Tips on how to choose the right gear for day, night, rain or snow; proper hand signals and even how to fall properly
Written by 
Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
October 17, 2013

More and more people are choosing to cycle because of the health, environmental and money-saving benefits of being on two wheels, making bike safety more important than ever. Following some common rules not only protects you but fellow cyclists, too, and taking some simple precautions can be the difference between a pleasant ride and one gone awry.

Brush Up Your Street Smarts

It’s a great time to be a biker—and to make safe cycling a priority. Here are the rules of the road you need to know.

  • Right is right. Unlike walking or running, cyclists should travel with car traffic on the right-hand side of the road.
  • Obey traffic laws. Stoplights and stop signs apply to you as a cyclist, just like they do when you’re driving a car. So do speed limits, incidentally (but you’re not going that fast, right?).
  • Claim your space. It may feel safer to ride as close to the curb as possible, moving out only to go around parked cars, but doing so can actually make it harder for cars to see you. Position yourself far enough into the lane that you can continue in a straight line (and ideally far enough from parked cars that if someone opened their door you won’t get clotheslined).
  • Signal to drivers. Hand signals are the best way to communicate to cars when you’re going to turn or stop. Here are the essentials:
·         Right turn (with your left arm) Hold your left arm up at shoulder height and bend it up 90 degrees (like one side of a goal post).
·         Right turn (with your right arm) Extend your right arm straight out to the right at about shoulder height, pointing in the direction that you’re about to turn (right).
·         Left turn Reach your left arm straight out to the left at shoulder height, pointing in the direction you’re about to turn (left).
·         Stop Hold your left arm out to the side at shoulder height and bend your elbow 90 degrees so that your forearm hangs down.

Dress for Safety

While casual biking is king—60 percent of bike trips are a mile or less—triathlons and cycling races are selling out in record time. Whether you’re biking to work or biking for fitness, make sure you’re outfitted for a safe ride.

  • Wear a helmet every time. Helmet laws vary from state to state, but regardless of the law, don’t leave home without one. In a New York City report, 97 percent of people who suffered a fatal biking accident weren’t wearing helmets (and three-fourths of deaths involved a head injury). Meanwhile just 13 percent of cyclists who were seriously injured were wearing helmets.
  • Rein in pant legs. Even if you’re not comfortable riding decked out in Spandex, it’s important to keep your pant legs away from your bike chain where they can get caught. Tuck them into your socks, roll them up or try cuff clips or elastic bands designed to slip around flapping cloth and keep it taut against your calf.
  • Use reflectors. Bright clothing isn’t just for nighttime. Adding a reflective vest or orange reflective triangle can make you more visible to drivers day and night. At night, add a blinking light to your bike. In Florida, as many as 60 percent of bike collisions have been caused by cyclists riding without lights after dark.

Carry Your Tools

Many bike shops offer group rides and classes, which are a great way to learn the basics of cycling—including how to handle basic bicycle repair and breakdowns. Ask a shop worker for a tutorial, or have a cycling-savvy friend teach you what you need to know. Then get these tools.

  • Must have: A flat tire can happen to serious cyclists or Saturday joy riders. Having the tools to fix it can mean the difference between a quick pit stop and a long walk home. Look for a lightweight seat bag with everything you’ll need to fix a flat: C02 cartridges, an inflator, tire levers and a patch kit. A folding wrench set can also come in handy.
  • Extra credit: Got extra space in your bag? Add a few bandages and antibacterial gel, just in case, as well as a small container of sunscreen, for those every-two-hour reapplications.

 

Weather the Storm

More than half of bicycle commuters ride to work year-round. While there’s no shame in being a fair weather cyclist, here are some tips for cycling through the elements.

Cycling in Rain
Wet-weather biking isn’t for everybody, but it can be done safely and with relative comfort—as long as you have the right gear.
 
  • Outfit your bike. Equip your bike with fenders and a front mud flap to protect yourself from splashing mud and water when it’s wet out.
  • Outfit yourself. If it’s rainy and over 50 degrees, a lightweight water resistant jacket will do the trick. (There’s no need to splurge for waterproof). If it is below 50 degrees, you may want to add a pair of waterproof pants as well.
 
Cycling in Snow 
If you’re serious about biking all winter long—and you live in a snowy climate—follow these tips for safe and comfortable biking.
  • Outfit your bike: Sturdy mountain bikes will do better than road bikes on packed snow and ice. If you don’t have one, or don’t want to buy one just for the season, adding studded tires is another option.
  • Outfit yourself: Layers are the law of winter cycling. Expect to be a little chilly when you first head out (your body will heat up with exertion). If you plan to stop, bring an extra layer to add on top. 
  • Stay visible: Making sure cars see you is the number one way to avoid accidents. All 50 states require a white light on the front of your bike for nighttime riding. Use it during low light days as well, when it’s raining or snowing. Follow this rule of thumb: If cars have their lights on, you should too.

How to Fall Safely

Wearing a helmet can help to protect you from a devastating injury, but it won’t stop a fall from happening. Once you know you’re going to topple, it’s safer to control the fall rather than try to stop it. Here's how:

1. Push off in order to stay clear of the bike.

2. Tuck your chin into your chest to avoid hitting your knees.

3. Roll into a crouched position with your elbows bent so you can use your hands in push-up position to soften your landing, if possible.
 

Make sure to pack snacks if you’re going on a long ride. Pre-packaged energy bars are convenient and are a great source of fuel.
Reference(s) 
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
BikesBelong.org
New York City Department of Transportation
About the author 
Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie is a Syracuse, NY–based health and fitness writer, an American Council on Exercise–certified personal trainer and the author of Tone Every Inch (Rodale).