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How To Ride a Bicycle Safely


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Published: October 9, 2009

Proper Gear and Practices

• A proper helmet can reduce head injuries by about 85 percent. Always wear a helmet with a label stating that it meets the Consumer Product Safety Commission standard. Select a helmet that fits snugly and sits flat on your head. Discard a helmet after it sustains a blow. Even a slight blow can affect impact absorbing foam.

• Take a safety course. One organization offering courses for all ages is the League of American Bicyclists at (202) 822-1333.

• Know and obey traffic regulations, signs, signals, and markings.

• Ride a bicycle that “fits” your body and riding needs. Learn about the proper fit for your style of bike in our “Detailed Info About Bicycle Types” section.

• Before riding, make sure all the parts are secure and working properly. Check your brakes before stepping onto your bicycle and keep them properly adjusted.

• Wear bright or fluorescent clothing during the day. Be more visible by flying an orange flag from the back of your bike.

• Never wear headphones.

• Use a rearview mirror.

Take A Balanced Approach

• Find a safe place to ride. Many cities or bicycle clubs have maps of recommended routes.

• Cycle defensively. More than 70 percent of bicycle accidents involving cars occur at driveways or intersections. Expect a car to pull out from a side street, or turn left in front of you.

• If traffic is heavy, walk your bike across an intersection.

• Make eye contact with drivers and signal your intentions.

• Cycle with the flow of traffic, and never against it.

• In a group, it’s best to ride single file, unless you are off the road, or on quiet, secondary roads.

• Don’t carry passengers or items that interfere with control of the bike.

• Stay alert at all times. Look out for hazardous surfaces or obstacles in your path, such as potholes, loose gravel, manhole covers, cracks, railroad tracks, or wet leaves.

• Leave at least three feet of distance when passing parked cars so opened doors don’t cause a crash.

• Be predictable. Maintain a straight line when you’re cruising your bike.

• Stay at least three feet to the right of cars if you can. If there is a wide, clean shoulder, use it.

• Watch for pedestrians, especially kids or animals that might dart in front of you. If a dog chases you, stop and dismount, then use your bike as a shield.

• Before turning, look back, check all directions for traffic, and use hand signals.

• Avoid provocative actions that might irritate drivers.

• When in danger, shout!

• The bike will be less stable with a child in a seat. A cart towed by a bike is far safer. Plan to go slower, take turns gently, and avoid busy streets.

• Carry loads at the rear of the bike in cases designed for bicycles.

Riding After Dark

• Avoid biking at night if possible. It is far more dangerous than riding during the day. Most bicycles need to be adapted for nighttime use.

• Add the brightest lights and largest reflectors you can find to the front and rear or your bicycle.

• Wear reflective clothing or material, especially on your ankles, wrists, back, and helmet. White or fluorescent are not good enough.

• Ride only in familiar areas. Streets with bright lighting are best.

• Always assume that a driver does not see you.

About the Author

John Myre is the author of the award-winning book Live Safely in a Dangerous World.

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