Cycling Safety Tips: Universal Guide For New Riders

Cycling is fun but can also be risky if you’re not being careful — especially when you’re riding on a busy road. Not only can you pose fatal dangers to yourself; you may also harm car drivers, fellow cyclists, pedestrians, and all the other road users around you.

Don’t be another careless cyclist. Check out the following cycling safety tips, and give yourself a more responsible and safer ride.

Familiarize Yourself With The Rules Of The Road

Different cities impose different laws on bicycle riding. But there are similar and sometimes “unspoken” rules of the road that every cyclist needs to follow.

Let’s explore some of these cycling guidelines.

  1. Bike along with the traffic. Bicycles are still considered road vehicles, so stay on the “right” lane. If you’re in the US, that’s literally the lane on the right. (Take this lane assignment as our reference throughout the rest of the article).
  2. If your city has designated bike lanes or bike paths, use them. Such bike lanes are plentiful in Europe. And compared to cases in the US, they’ve got lower fatalities related to bike riding.

Luckily, some US cities have begun to adapt protected bike lanes, and these include Philadephia. As expected, the number of biking-related fatalities and severe injuries dropped to as much as 49%.

  1. In most states, biking on expressways, highways, thruways, and interstate routes is illegal.
  2. Obey traffic signals. Act like you’re driving a car, and stop at stop signs and red lights.
  3. Observe and use hand signals.
    • To turn left, extend your left arm to your side. Position it straight and parallel to the ground.
    • Before turning right, extend your left arm but with the elbow bent. Point your left hand straight up so that your whole arm is forming an “L” shape.
    • Before you slow down, form your left arm into the same “L” shape as when turning right — but this time, point your hand downward.
  4. Yield the right of way to pedestrians. Slow down when in their areas. If you have to go through sidewalks, walk your bike.
  5. Do not ride on the sidewalk (unless you’re a kid or your city allows it).
  6. If you have kids, teach them the rules of the road. In most areas, it’s legal for kids under 12 to 13 to bike on the sidewalk. But while they’re still in their most teachable years, it’s best to teach them road safety. Show them how by riding with them.
  7. Ride in a single file. If there are other cyclists with you, don’t stay abreast of each other.
  8. No tricks, please. Reserve those hands-off-the-handlebar stunts somewhere safer. Never do them on public roads. Even if the street appears empty at one moment, you’ll never know when a swift ambulance would dash on your way.

Use Proper Safety Gear

While you could have been diligently following the above rules, you might still face some road hazards through other people’s recklessness.

In that case, you’ll need to arm yourself with safety equipment. Most states actually require cyclists to wear or set up the following safety gear:

Helmet

Consider the fact that 75% of fatal bicycle accidents involve major head injuries. Needless to say, you need to protect your noggin. You can do so by wearing a properly fitting and reliable helmet.

Choose a helmet that has easily adjustable straps and a fitting dial. Make sure the helmet sits appropriately on your head so you can stay comfortable instead of getting distracted by it. Wear it at all times when you’re cycling.

Headlights & Taillights 

If you plan to ride around sunrise, sunset, or in the nighttime, put on a white headlight and a red taillight. These will increase your visibility on the road and therefore decrease your chances of getting hit by other vehicles.

Reflectors

Add reflectors on the front and back of your bike. A reflector reflects light at night or in darker surroundings so that other road users become more aware of your presence.

Check if your bike already has reflectors on the pedals, wheels, under the seat, in front of your bike’s front fork, and on the back of the luggage rack. Most road bikes already incorporate these reflectors. If your bike lacks reflectors on some of these areas, head out to a bike shop to have the others added.

Bell

Put a horn or bell on your bike. You can sound it in order to warn a pedestrian and other road users of your presence and eventually prevent a collision.

The state of New York has, in fact, made the inclusion of a bell in bikes as a legal requirement. With a good bicycle bell, you can send a more efficient audible warning signal than if you were to only yell.

Rear-view Mirrors

A rearview mirror allows you to look behind yourself without having to turn your head around — you just have to move your eyes a bit towards the mirror.

Despite being smaller than the ones in cars and motorcycles, bike rearview mirrors can show you a useful part of that road behind you. So, mirrors can advise you if you should move a little to the right or to the left. They can also warn you if something is approaching from your back.

Maintain Your Bike

Your bicycle must always be in good condition for it to give you a safe ride. Before heading out, check your bike thoroughly for any part that might send you to a crash.

Check the tires and ensure they got enough air. Try your brakes and see if they’re working well. Also, see if the brake pads haven’t worn out yet.

Then, inspect your chain and gears to make sure they wouldn’t suddenly break loose down the road.

And just before you hit the busy road, try a test ride just outside your home.

More importantly, though, maintain your bike on a regular basis. Clean it up after a heavy and “storm-tossed” ride so that the parts won’t build up dirt and gunk. Lube the chain and other metal gears to ensure they’re running smoothly and not yielding to rust.

Note that no matter how expensive or fancy your bike, if not maintained, it’s also going to risk your safety.

Additional Reminders

Most of the best practices for bike riding are borne out of common sense. And whether they’ve been outlined into laws or not (yet), they’re meant to keep you safe.

Take in the following reminders to minimize your risks to accidents whenever you’re on a ride.

Wear Appropriate Shoes & Clothing

Keeping yourself visible is one key ingredient in ensuring your safety against road accidents. So wear reflective or brightly colored clothing. A reflective vest will also do.

Keep your feet protected with cycling shoes. Make sure it has a nice fit for you so you can have a better grip.

Your shoes should also match the kind of pedals you have on your bike. Sneakers are mostly fine but they’re not the toughest and won’t be as efficient in holding on to the pedals.

Cycling-specific shoes give you a greater connection to your bike, and they usually have a system that allows for a more secure attachment to “clip” and clip-flat-combo-type pedals.

Don’t Use Your Phone

It’s not appropriate for you to use your phone when driving a car. Now, how much more if you’re riding a bicycle?

While this reminder sounds unnecessary, some cyclists may just be too confident to check their phones while on a stop. I hope you’re not one of them. Think of the fact that you’re still on the lane.

If you’re still too caught up on your phone when the traffic light’s already shifting, you’re making yourself unprepared for any surprises that a driver on a rush might hand over to you.

If you really need to text or make a call, pull over to the side and conduct your business off the road.

Avoid Using Headphones

If you think headphones are fine, you’re still quite wrong. Wearing headphones (and listening to music) while cycling just keeps you from being fully aware of what’s going on around you.

You simply can’t hear the honks from cars or the dings from other cyclists.

And even if you’ve upgraded to a headset that uses bone-conduction technology, it’s still unsafe to purposefully get yourself distracted.

Don’t Bike While Intoxicated

To ride a bike, you need balance. But when you’re intoxicated or drunk, you can’t even walk straight. How much harder would it be for you to go for a ride?

Just never drink and bike.

If you still think you can do that, just note that more than 20% of the cyclists who have been killed in traffic accidents (in 2014) had alcohol concentrations in their blood at over 0.08 — and this figure is over the legal limit.

So just, don’t.

Avoid Being Distracting

Just as you wouldn’t want to be distracted, you have to do your part and avoid distracting others as well.

And you can do that by riding in a straight line. Try to be that predictable, so that cars can pass you safely and without having to worry they might hit you.

In cases when you may have to slow down or turn, make use of those hand signals that we’ve discussed above. Those signals will help the other drivers prepare for your next move, and so they could adjust accordingly.

Always Be Visible, Learn About The Driver’s Blind Spot

Dress your bike and yourself to become more visible. Take the pieces of advice that I have given you above concerning visibility. More importantly, learn about the driver’s blind spot.

Vehicle blind spots are areas a driver cannot see even by using a mirror or by looking directly. These spots are often defined by the vehicle’s design, i.e., the design itself can create a blind spot.

So, despite a driver’s expertise, he simply cannot see what his vehicle’s mirrors don’t show him.

What you need to do to keep yourself safe is to be aware of the extent of vehicle blind spots. And ride defensively.

To accomplish that, you always have to assume that drivers haven’t seen you.

When you’re with a large vehicle, don’t pull up on its left side.

If a large truck is turning in front of you, escape immediately to the footpath. If a large vehicle comes alongside you, don’t shrink into the gutter as it only makes you less visible.

Finally, if a large truck is turning, don’t attempt to overtake. 

Be Mindful Of Others

Be polite to other cyclists. Do not ever jerk on them on the road. Not only can you get hurt if you collide with another biker — you can also compromise their safety and put their lives at risk.

One way you can warn fellow riders in case you have to pass by them is to yell, “On your left!” While a bike bell’s “ding” or the sound of a horn can do this, it still pays to make it clear that you’re about to get close and swiftly carry on. It’s actually for your safety, as well. The other rider would now know better and would no longer swerve suddenly to the left.

Just announce your presence as efficiently as you can. And if you can avoid it, then keep yourself moving forward without going through a zigzag.

Don’t expect to show off how fast you can bike when you’re on a public road. Remember that everyone’s safety is of utmost importance.

Enjoy Your Ride Safely

As a rider myself, I understand that feeling of wanting to be more adventurous. But we still have to be responsible for the safety of others and our own, don’t we?

So, if we want to see ourselves cycling till we’re 70 — or even past that — then we should keep ourselves alive on the road.

I hope you agree.

Now ride safely. Know your limits. And let those limits allow you to have even more future miles.

Perry
Perry
Hello, my names Perry and I've been a freelance writer for the past 5 years and a cycling enthusiastic since I can remember. I love the road, but my main passion is mountain biking.