Bicycle Safety: Smart Guide for Every Beginner Cyclist
Like with any activity, bike riding comes with safety risks. From simple cuts, scrapes, and bruises to much more serious injuries, there are some serious consequences to the risks of not riding safe. Yet there are ways to mitigate these risks. The best way to do so is to first learn about what bicycle safety is, what it entails, and what you can do to make your next ride just that much safer. Here’s our smart bicycle safety guide perfect for beginner cyclists.
All About Bicycle Safety
With more Americans getting on their bikes and riding to work, to school, or even just for exercise or fun, the number of accidents that cyclists experience has been rising steadily. In fact, there were a total of 857 fatalities in bicycle accidents in 2018 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, 2019).
What Causes Cycling Accidents?
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to get into an accident on a bicycle, especially one that involves a car. In fact, more than half of all bike and motor vehicle accidents happen because of the actions of both the cyclist and the vehicle driver, according to the National Safety Council (Mears, 2017).The most common causes from a cyclist’s point of view include cycling too fast for the road conditions, cycling against the flow of traffic, making an improper turn, failing to yield right of way, and disregarding traffic signs and signals.
There are plenty of other factors that contribute to cycling accidents as well. According to the Association of American Family Physicians, risk factors for cycling accidents include what time of day you’re cycling, whether you’re wearing a helmet, and even your age and gender – young boys between the ages of 9 and 14 are, apparently, the most likely to be in a cycling accident (Rivara, 2001).
What to Do If You Are Involved In an Accident
It can be traumatic if you’re involved in a cycling accident, even if you don’t suffer serious injury or harm. However, it’s important to remain as calm and level-headed as possible. Here’s an important checklist of what you should to in the wake of a collision, as provided by Consumer Reports (Weisburgh, 2015):
- Get off the road. You should always move to the shoulder or the sidewalk to minimize the chances of another accident occurring.
- Exchange Contact Information: Just as you would with a motor vehicle accident, get the contact information from everyone involved in the accident, as well as anyone who witnessed it. You can record this info in your mobile phone via text or email. If you can’t do this yourself because of an injury, enlist a bystander to help.
- Take Photos of the Scene: Use your phone camera and take pictures of the accident scene. Include your bike, the license plate number of the vehicle, and any injuries you might have suffered.
- Don’t Admit or Accept Blame: Now is not the time to negotiate with the driver. You don’t want to say something that might make you liable later, and a driver that apologizes now may change their mind later if they think they might be on the hook for the accident.
- Call 911: Even if you’re not injured, call the police and have them arrive at the scene of the collision so you can file an accident report. You might not even realize you’ve been hurt until much later, after all. If the police tickets the driver for the accident, that can also help you settle any insurance cases later.
- Write Down Everything: Make sure you write down every detail of the accident from your point of view. Include what happened, when it happened, and why it happened. Then email or text it to yourself to create a record of it.
- Leave Your Bike Damaged: Don’t repair your bike or throw away any equipment that got damaged. Also, keep the clothing you were wearing at the time of the accident separate and don’t wash or clean it. You’ll need to hang on to everything as-is until the accident has been resolved.
- Record Any Injuries After The Fact: Make a note of everything, even if it seems minor. Headaches, muscle pains, anything out of the ordinary should be documented by going to your doctor and having them examine you.
- Consider Consulting an Attorney: if you were injured, you should take steps to protect your rights. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up in court over the accident; sometimes getting a letter on legal stationery can resolve an issue before it begins. Additionally, many personal injury cases never make it to court but end up settled beforehand.
- Learn From The Experience: Odds are you might have contributed to the accident you were in. Use this as a learning experience and make it an opportunity to do things differently the next time you’re on the road. Use hand signals, wear visible clothing, equip your bike with lights, and make eye contact with drivers whenever you stop at an intersection. You may not eliminate the chance you’ll be in another accident, but you’ll reduce the chances you’ll contribute to one!
Even More Ways to Avoid Accidents
Being more cognizant of the road is a great way to avoid subsequent accidents after you’ve been in one. Even better, though, is to prevent an accident from occurring at all. Here are even more ways to avoid bike accidents as a cyclist.
Check Your Equipment Before Riding
Inspecting your bike’s mechanical operation before getting on it is the best way to ensure you won’t have a problem in the middle of your ride, according to the National Safety Council (NSC, n.d.). This includes ensuring your bike seat is adjusted to the proper height and that it has then been locked in place, that your tires are inflated to the right pressure, that you have reflectors in the proper places (front, back, and on the spokes of your wheels), and that all other parts are secure and working properly. Pay close attention to your brakes, as you should be able to come to a safe, smooth stop within 30 feet at a speed of 15 mph. The NSC also suggests adding a horn or a bell, equipping your bike with a rear-view mirror, and a bright, battery-operated headlight as well.
Protect and Register Your Bike
It’s an absolute must to wear proper protective gear when you go for any bike ride. But this goes much farther than just a simple bike helmet – there are other types of protection you should have whenever you get on your bike. Most importantly, you should be able to protect your bike even when you’re not riding it. In fact, more than 15,000 bicycles are stolen every year, according to the American Center for Bicycle Registration (Mears, 2017).In order to prevent thefts, it’s important to ensure you use at least one or two bike locks whenever it’s unattended. You should also consider registering your bike with the ACBR in order to make it easier to recover in the event that it’s been stolen. Having photographs of your bike, etching your name into the frame, and keeping a copy of your name and address in a plastic bag hidden in the seat post are all ways to supplement your registration.
Follow the Rules of the Road
Just because you’re not driving a motor vehicle doesn’t mean that you’re not required to follow the rules of the road. You need to follow the flow of traffic and cycle on the same side of the road as a car and obey all traffic signs and signals at all times. If you’re riding with friends or in a group, always ride single-file; if there is a designated bike lane, always stay in this lane. When crossing intersections, dismount your bike and walk it across the crosswalk. This is also the preferred way to turn left while riding a bike as well. Finally, stay alert – you’re not only sharing the road with other cars, but you’re also going to have to watch out for road hazards. You might be able to weather a pothole in a car, but hitting one in a bike could send you flying.
Use Hand Signals Properly
Unlike motor vehicles, bicycles don’t have turn indicators or brake lights. This means that there’s no mechanical way for drivers or pedestrians near you to know whether you’re about to turn or slow down. Instead, you need to use hand signals.
These signals are straightforward and make use of your left hand. For turning left, hold your left hand out sideways, either with all your fingers extended, or with one finger pointing left. For turning right, hold your left arm out sideways and bend your elbow 90 degrees up so that your forearm points up and your palm is facing forward. For slowing down or stopping, extend your left arm straight and then bend your elbow 90 degrees down so that your palm is facing backward. Remember, this is the only way other drivers or pedestrians will know what you intend to do next!
Be a Responsible Rider
Finally, the last way (and possibly the most important way) to avoid accidents is to be a responsible cyclist. You can’t rely on vehicle drivers to always be aware of you as a cyclist, and neither can you rely on pedestrians to look both ways before crossing a street. This means you have a duty to stay alert at all times and do your best to avoid accidents – don’t ride your bike while listening to music or doing anything else that might distract you from the environment. Share the road safely and with care – the life you save might be your own!
- Mears, R. (2017, May). Bicycle Safety Information | Safety – General | Amherst College. Amherst College.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2019, October 24). Bicycle Safety. NHTSA.
- Thompson, M. J., & Rivara, F. P. (2001). Bicycle-related injuries. American family physician, 63(10), 2007–2014.
- Weigburgh, K. (n.d.). What to Do If You Get in a Bike Accident. Consumer Reports.