UPDATED: Oct 22, 2019
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It’s generally faster to ride a bicycle on the street rather than walk, but you must be sure you’re safely sharing the road with vehicles. Depending on your residence, your city may already be making n effort to improve cyclist safety; still, much of your safety depends on your own actions to protect yourself.
Ten Core Rules
No matter how often you ride on the streets, there are ten core rules to follow every time you start biking:
- Stay Protected: Put on a helmet.
- Act Like a Car: Drivers know how other drivers act; just because you can doesn’t mean you should weave through different lanes. If you’re predictable and check around for traffic, you will be much safer.
- Keep Visible: If a car can see you, the driver is not as likely to accidentally hit you. If you must ride at night, wear reflective clothing and lights.
- Keep Focused: Don’t chat on the phone or wear headphones on a bicycle.
- Look, Signal, Look: Use your hand signals to inform drivers where you intend to move next. Be sure to make eye contact as you signal, and watch before making your turn; never assume the driver will stop.
- Obey Traffic Laws: This one goes hand-in-hand with acting like a car. Obey the same laws and signs as the car would.
- Avoid Obstacles: As long as you’re alert, you’ll see obstacles ahead of time to avoid.
- Check Bike: Is the bicycle properly comfortable and set up for your ride?
- Stay With Traffic: If you will ride your bicycle like a car, you must move in the same direction. Moving against traffic will distract you and other drivers.
- Double-Check Bike: Make sure your wheels and breaks are fine.
Properly Locking a Bicycle
When locking your bike, if possible, try not to leave your bicycle locked up to a stop sign or a hand railing. Instead, look for a street sign in an area with high traffic or a bike rack; bicycles that are left in low-traffic areas are more likely targets for thieves.
As the most expensive and sturdiest parts of the bike, the rear tire and frame are the best targets for locking your bicycle; however, take care when placing the lock to prevent any unnecessary damage.
- How to Properly Lock Your Bike
- Suggested Locking Techniques
- Locking Your Bike – National Bike Registry
Tips for Safe Commuting
Avoid the Door Zone
You’re generally allowed to use the entire road, so be sure to allow at least three feet of space when riding beside parked cars, even if there is traffic abundant. Never assume that a parked car is empty, and never assume the driver will first check for a cyclist prior to opening the door. Drivers who open the door into traffic without looking can be fined in most cities.
Yield to Pedestrians
Pedestrians have the right of way, and a bicycle is considered to be a vehicle. As a road vehicle, you’re expected to follow traffic laws, which includes yielding to pedestrians. In a business district, avoid sidewalks. Obey all stop signs and all red lights. Wait for a green light. The walk signal is not intended to be used by cyclists; you must wait for a green light before moving on through the intersection. Ignoring traffic laws only creates perilous situations. Not yielding to a pedestrian may also result in a fine.
Stay Out of Blind Spots
Keep out of blind spots; buses, trucks and other oversized vehicles have particularly expansive blind spots, especially on the right side. Try not to overtake a large vehicle if you can avoid it. Always be visible to the drivers; remember, if you are unable to see the driver in the mirror, then the driver is not able to see you. The right hook in particular is dangerous; it is possible to get seriously injured when a large vehicle turns to the right while the driver cannot see you. Always be careful around an intersection.
Use Lighting and a Helmet
Check with your city’s local laws on light usage for nighttime cycling–then make sure you have at least that minimum. Wear bright, reflective clothing and use lights to make sure you can see and be seen. A white light must be in the front, and a red light must be in the back. Your pedals and ankles in particular should have reflectors, though there’s no limit to how many you can wear. Children are required to wear helmets, but any sensible cyclist will wear one.
Plan Your Route Ahead of Time
The parks and streets of your city likely offer separate paths and lanes for bicycles, kept out of traffic. Therefore, you can and should select a route that best utilizes your riding skill and makes you feel the most comfortable while riding. There are a few different ways to map out your route, starting with the familiar Google Maps options; depending on your city, there may also be official apps available for smartphones.
Check Your Ride
It’s always important to maintain your bike to ensure it is always working correctly and is in good condition. As a part of this, you’ll need to give it a full examination prior to starting your route. If anything isn’t working as it should, don’t ride the bike; if you’re renting, switch out for a different one.
It is easy to adjust the height of your bicycle; it’s likely you’ll need to make an adjustment unless the previous renter was the same height. Release the side clamp and adjust the height of the seat as needed, re-tightening the clamp when it’s at the desired level. Be sure the clamp is very tight; if the seat can twist, it can start falling while you sit on it. Generally, the seat is correct if you can nearly straighten your legs while pedaling the bike.
Push both tires firmly against the curb. If there is flattening, you’ll need to pump extra air into it.
Slowly spin either wheel such that the pedals don’t move while the wheel spins. Be sure the wheels can spin without coming into friction contact with the brake pads or something else on the bicycle. While spinning the tires, check them carefully for bubbles, cuts or any other blemishes where air could escape.
Finally, be sure to squeeze the levers for the brakes; they should be firm and strong, indicating they’re functional.
Where Should I Ride?
Riding On The Sidewalk
Drivers know how drivers act on the road; the more predictable you are on the road with them, the safer you will be. Here are a few tips to help keep safe in traffic:
- Avoid weaving between different lanes.
- Always get eye contact with a cyclist or driver and perform hand signals.
- Avoid the door zone by riding at least three feet away from where cars park on the side of the road.
- Never ride while you are distracted. You should never text while biking nor ride with headphones on.
- If your bike has a bell, use it to alert someone nearby of your presence; maintain visibility at all times.
- When available, go for separate bike lanes, unless it’s unsafe. If the road you’re traveling is too narrow to safely travel on the sidelines, it is your right to ride in the center of the lane.
Some major cities like Seattle, New York and Boston offer a new innovative type of transportation: bike share. With this, cyclists can take a short trip without purchasing a bike or walking. Durable bikes are provided and should be inspected prior to use. These programs are generally intended for shorter trips that take only a few miles, though specific rules vary.
- Bike Share Programs – Pedestrian & Bicycle Information
- Cities with Shared Bikes
- Infographic: Bike sharing sweeps the U.S.
The following resources can provide additional information about urban cycling safety:
- Bicycle Safe: Great tips for specific commuting situations.
- A Guide to Urban Cycling: A simple illustrated guide to urban cycling
- VCU Bike Safety Diagrams: Additional diagrams for specific commuting situations.
- Bike League Resources: Has additional cycling resources.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Useful Information for Bicyclists from the NHTSA
- MarinBike.org: Economic Benefits of Bicycling
- CitiBikeNYC.com: City Riding Tips
- Active Transportation Alliance: Everyday Biking Tips
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