Biking is an awesome way to stay fit — and explore the world while you’re at it. Cycling regularly helps to develop a strong cardio system, strengthens your legs, improves your core strength, and enhances your ability to concentrate. The key is to do it properly. Bike safety should always come first, regardless of the terrain.
Even if you’re just biking in a very casual neighborhood, you’re still exposing yourself to various elements and other vehicles which can possibly lead to accidents. Make sure to follow all the bike safety tips and local regulations outlined in this guide to stay safe and avoid the worst.
Why Bike Safety Matters
Before we get into the specifics, let’s first talk about the importance of bike safety. Depending on where you’re from, your area might be subjected to certain bike riding laws that require you to wear safety biking gear at all times. These could include a helmet, reflective materials, active lights, and the like.
Also, some bike riding laws will impose a penalty if you don’t follow the rules. In most cases, it can involve a hefty fine or several hours of community service. Then of course, bike safety can help prevent road accidents that can put your life at risk.
According to statistics by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, around 3,300 cyclists suffered from “serious injuries” on the road, with 102 of them being killed in 2016. However, another 14,798 suffered from minor injuries – and these are just the documented numbers. There are a lot more cases that were not reported to the authorities.
This simply goes to show that observing proper bike safety can significantly reduce the odds of suffering either slight or serious injuries on the road.
Bike Safety Rules & Fundamentals
Now that we’ve had an overview of the importance of bike safety, let’s now go over the following do’s and don’ts of bike safety:
Do’s of Bike Safety
1. DO wear protective gears at all times
While you might think that it’s “cool” to ride a bike without wearing a helmet on the road, banging your head on the ground in the event of an unexpected accident won’t be so cool at all. Even though wearing a helmet is not a 100% guarantee that you’ll be injury-free in case of an accident, it does reduce the odds of sustaining an injury than going bare-headed.
However, protective gears aren’t just limited to helmets. You should also consider other protective gear like hand gloves, knee and elbow pads, and safety riding shoes. While they might be a bit of an investment in your part, it’s a way cheaper alternative than paying for your bills in the hospital.
Also, if you often ride at night, reflective materials and bike lights are also necessary.
2. DO stay alert and focused at all times
Regardless if you’re just biking in the neighborhood or on the street, you should always maintain alertness and focus. Even a simple thing that could hinder your concentration could mean the difference between a safe ride and a fatal accident.
That said, you want to be mindful of any pedestrians (e.g. children, runners, or those who walk their dogs) and be extra careful when nearing intersections. Also, biking while tired is highly discouraged as it can drop your alertness level, making it really hard to stay alert to the incoming traffic, street signs, and other motorists.
3. DO make yourself visible
A lot of bike-related collisions happen because cyclists are unseen by motorists. Therefore, it’s always recommended to make yourself visible when riding on the roads by wearing bright reflective clothing. Even during daytime, motorists might not be able to spot cyclists if they don’t wear the right clothing. Apart from reflective clothing, it also helps to have a reflective panel on your bike. Bike lights are great too — here’s our review of the 15 best bike lights, along with our installation guide.
You should also make sure to ride in a visible position where other motorists can easily see you.
4. DO learn proper hand signals
Proper hand signals will allow you to communicate with other motorists and cyclists on the road, allowing other drivers to know what to expect. Hand signal laws will vary depending on where you’re from, so it’s recommended to check your local bike riding laws to get informed.
When you make a signal, make sure it’s clear and definitive so that other motorists can receive the message. This might take a bit of practice since you’ll also have to be comfortable steering one-handed, but the safety it can offer is really indispensable.
5. DO follow traffic laws
Just like other drivers, cyclists are also regarded as road users. This means that they’re also required by the law to observe all traffic rules. Also, when crossing intersections, you should always keep in mind that pedestrians will always have the right-of-way. Therefore, just as how you would request motorists to look out for you, you should also do the same for pedestrians.
Don’ts of Bike Safety
1. DON’T put on headphones
Apart from letting other drivers be aware of your presence, you should also be aware of their presence at the same time. Some cyclists actually commit the mistake of wearing headphones even when they’re riding on busy streets. If you do so, you’re significantly reducing your awareness of the world around you, and this can put you in dire situations.
2. DON’T pass in the right lane
Another common mistake cyclists make is passing vehicles on the wrong side of the traffic. No matter where in the world you’re riding, you should never pass on the right side. Passing (also referred to as ‘overtaking’) should always be done on the left side.
However, just to be safe, position yourself in the center. Or, if you are approaching an intersection, the safest option would be to dismount then walk along the sidewalk together with your bike. Don’t ride it on the sidewalk either, as most countries consider it illegal.
3. DON’T go against the flow of traffic
This phenomenon is referred to as ‘salmoning’ which is akin to salmon swimming up a stream against the currents. Riding on the wrong side of traffic is one of the reasons why a lot of cyclists get involved in accidents with pedestrians and other motorists.
There can be some rare exceptions to this, like some contraflow lanes allowing bikers to go the opposite direction in a one-way street, but it’s always recommended to approach them with caution.
Bicycle Safety Tips for Kids
If you have kids who use bicycles every day, either as a means of going to school or simply riding around the neighborhood, certain safety measures should be observed to ensure their safety. In order to do that, you have to take note of the following bike safety tips:
- Make sure their bike tires are properly inflated and the brakes are working properly before riding.
- Discourage bike riding at night since it will make them harder for motorists and pedestrians to see.
- Install reflective materials in their bikes such as reflective tapes or blinking lights.
- Have them wear bright-colored clothing when riding during the daytime.
- Have them wear safety gear including gloves, helmet, and elbow and knee pads.
- Make sure that their bike’s seat level is adjusted according to their height.
- Teach them to watch out for puddles, potholes, broken glass, and stray dogs.
- Choose safe areas for your kids to ride. These could include low-traffic neighborhoods, parks, and public bike paths.
Bike Safety Tips for Adults
Meanwhile, if you’re an adult who rides bikes on a daily basis either for adventure, transportation, or just part of an active lifestyle, you have to keep the following safety tips in mind:
- Keep your bike properly maintained at all times.
- Make sure to wear protective gear before you head out.
- Adjust your bike’s height for a comfortable seating position.
- Learn all the cycling laws and rules in your area before going out on the roads.
- Keep a considerable distance (at least one meter) between you and other vehicles.
- Always maintain awareness of the road.
- Keep at least one hand always on the handlebar.
- If you’re headed for a long adventure, be sure to bring your own patch kit with you.
Bike Safety Tips for Dusk & Nighttime Riding
If you have the option of riding either during the night or day, your best option would be to ride during the day. However, if you’re one of those avid cyclists who prefer adventure and biking at night, then safety measures must be observed in order to make sure you can safely get to your destination without any issues.
That said, here are some bike safety tips for nighttime riding that you should take note of:
1. Keep yourself and your bike well-lit
In California, for example, you are required to have a red rear reflector, a white headlamp, and reflectors on the pedals if you are to ride at night. The same can apply to various other states and countries. Put simply, keeping yourself and your bikes well-lit is a very crucial thing to night riding. Not only will it allow you to see where you’re going, but it will also make sure that you are seen by other motorists.
At the very least, you should install flashing lights and the front and back section of your bike. You might want to focus on flashing lights as they tend to be more visible to drivers compared to static lights. Another way you can be well-lit while driving at night without having to spend a lot of money is by using reflective duct tape and sticking it on the back and sides of your bike.
You also want to make your biking gears reflective at night. With reflective duct tape, use it on your helmet, bike frame, clothing, and pedals to make yourself even more visible.
2. Know which routes to take
Whenever possible, don’t take routes that you’re not familiar with when biking at night. These roads might be littered with gravel and potholes which can be really dangerous when traveling at night.
However, if you have to take a completely unfamiliar route, the best thing you can do is make some research first. Try to check if it is well-lit or if there’s a bike lane present. It could also help to use Google Street view so you can check for possible potholes, blind corners, and intersections.
3. Obey traffic rules
It might be a bit tempting to ignore traffic rules when driving on the road at night. However, this can be a major cause of bike accidents that you want to avoid at all costs. If the route you’re traveling doesn’t have a bike lane, the best you can do is ride in the middle of the lane instead of squeezing along the side.
Common Dangers on the Road
Even though you’ve observed all of the safety rules when it comes to biking, there can still be certain situations that can be really hard to avoid. However, it’s always best if you know about the red flags even before everything’s too late.
With that said, here are some of the most common dangers on the road that you can often encounter, and how you can avoid them:
One of the biggest culprits for bike accidents on the road has nothing to do with motorists; in fact, it has something to do with the road surface itself. We’re specifically talking about potholes. It might sound like it’s not a big deal at all, but potholes can pose dangers for cyclists since they’re often easy to miss and are sometimes unavoidable.
When riding in a group of cyclists, it’s important to look ahead and inform the other riders of the possible defects in the road, especially if you’re leading the pack. Moreover, if you’re cycling on a poorly conditioned road, it’d be a good idea to position yourself in the center so you can have higher chances of avoiding potholes that are common on the edges.
2. Weather Hazards
The current weather condition can also increase the risk of road accidents depending on your location. By far, the biggest culprit for bike accidents is winter due to the introduction of ice and snow which makes riding even on the safest roads quite tricky.
The spring season is also a culprit as it can create heavy rains and slick roads resulting in the increase in cycling crash rates. However, even high winds that occur all year round could pose a risk on otherwise safe biking routes.
To keep yourself well-protected, it’s always best to equip yourself with the right biking equipment before heading out. You want to ensure proper biking gears, high-grip tires, and non-slip bicycle grips to keep yourself safe as much as possible. Also, if you’re riding during winter, avoid snowdrifts and puddles whenever possible.
3. Parked Vehicles
One of the common themes with bike-involved crashes is that dangers normally appear from the right side of the road due to parked cars. Even though most cyclists feel that they’re a lot safer when riding on the far right side of the road, the best way to avoid collision with parked vehicles is by getting a bit further to the left side.
Ideally, you want to get into a more central position. This way, you can create a reasonable distance between you and other vehicles while giving yourself more time to react. Wearing reflective clothing and attaching reflective materials on your bike even when riding during the day helps as well.
Intersections are one of the biggest banes for cyclists. After all, they’re mainly designed with cars in mind, thus putting cyclists at risk when crossing intersections, especially in highways. Fortunately, this can be avoided by slowing your speed as you approach an intersection.
5. Sewer Grates
Just like potholes, sewer grates can also pose a serious danger for cyclists, especially since they’re commonly located on the far right side of the road. If the bars are in the same direction as traffic, then there’s a likelihood that a bike’s tires will get stuck between them.
Fortunately, most cities have already changed the design and shape of their sewer grates to eliminate these safety risks. Still, there are many dangerous sewer gates remaining on the roads these days. Like how you would avoid a pothole, it’s ideal to assume a central position in order to avoid sewer gates as well.
The Most Important Skills to Master
Obviously, learning proper biking skills will help you ensure your safety on the roads and minimize the risks of accidents. Additionally, it really helps if you’re in a biking group as it will allow you to maintain your position at all times. For kids, it will help with their safety and awareness regardless if they’re biking on the neighborhood or on the road.
Without further ado, here are the most important biking skills you should master and teach your kids at the same time.
1. Straight Line Riding
Though this one might sound like common sense, it’s actually a very important skill that could mean the difference between safety and accident on the road. When you or your kids are out biking in public, you’re essentially sharing the road with other people. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to stay in the bike lane and make sure to ride straight without veering into the car lane.
In order to master this skill, you can practice by following a straight painted line in an empty area. As you start biking, try not to move your upper body and let your legs do the work. If you have kids who love biking, then you should make sure to include them in the practice.
2. Hand Signaling
Bike hand signals will allow you to give other drivers on the road an idea of where you’ll be headed on the road. Just like other motorists, it will be your responsibility to signal your intentions to others.
However, in order to master proper hand signaling, you should also master how to ride with one hand since you will be using the other to make your signals. Without proper one-handed biking skills, you’ll easily go off course which can be really dangerous when driving on a busy road.
3. Bike Speed Control
Sometimes, it will be easy to speed up on the road when biking, especially when you’re riding downhill. However, if you don’t learn proper bike speed control, you’ll find yourself unable to control the speed of your bike, making it hard – even impossible – to stop during intersections and other unexpected situations.
Therefore, you have to master proper bike speed control so you will be able to stop your bike whenever necessary. To do this, make sure you brake gently in order to prevent your bike from going too fast when riding downhill. Meanwhile, if you’re on a busy street, you should make sure not to ride too fast to prevent accidents.
If you’re new to biking, avoid riding on inclines and always ride on level ground until you master this skill.
4. Shoulder Checking
This particular skill is the ability to look back over your shoulder in order to check the traffic without swerving. If you’ve been biking on the road for a while, then you already know that safe cycling doesn’t just involve looking ahead of you but being alert of your surroundings as well.
By mastering shoulder checking, you’ll be able to make safe turns in traffic without getting into accidents or causing issues with traffic. However, this can be a bit hard to do. You want to practice straight-line riding first while checking behind your back over both shoulders. With proper practice, you’ll be able to master this skill in no time.
5. Changing Lanes
By learning how to turn and change lanes, you’ll be able to enjoy safe biking while on the road with other drivers. Always keep in mind that when driving on the road, vehicles that travel in the other land will always have the right-of-way. Therefore, before you even switch lanes, make sure to wait until there’s enough space to merge between vehicles safely.
Biking Rules and Regulations to Be Aware Of
Depending on where you’re from, there will be some rules and regulations you should know and comply with in order to ensure your safety and avoid hefty fines that come along with violating these rules. Despite the variations, there are a few basic rules that apply to any cyclists wherever they may be. These are as follows:
1. Go with the flow of traffic
When driving on the streets, cyclists are always required to comply with the same traffic rules and regulations that apply to vehicles like cars and trucks. Therefore, when you ride on the street, you should always make sure to ride in the same direction as the flow of traffic. NEVER counterflow, as it could only put you and the incoming traffic at risk.
If you’re in the US, this could mean riding on the right side of the road and using the right lane as much as possible unless there are some hazards ahead.
2. Always wear a helmet
We can’t stress enough how important it is to ride on a bike with a helmet on. Even though not all countries require a helmet, wearing one will definitely reduce the risk of injury. In other words, helmets are lifesavers.
You’ll have a higher likelihood of sustaining a serious head injury in the event you get caught in a road accident. With a helmet, however, that risk will be less likely since your head is properly protected. Therefore, even if your local area doesn’t really require the use of helmet, you’ll definitely a lot safer with it.
3. Avoid riding on the sidewalk
Even though this law is applicable in most states in the US, it’s a good idea to follow this no matter where you’re from. This is because riding your bike on the sidewalk could only pose a danger to those who are on foot. Apart from that, it also makes you less visible to turning vehicles that are on the road.
As a matter of fact, a bicycle-car accident has a higher likelihood of occurring due to some bikers riding on the sidewalk compared to riding on the right side of the road.
4. Ride on a designated bicycle lane if it’s available
Some countries have designated bicycle lanes intended to keep the safety of their cyclists. Therefore, if your country has own, make sure to use it in order to prevent possible accidents or even prevent you from violating your area’s biking regulations.
You can easily spot a bicycle lane with its bicycle lane sign or a bicycle road marking painted in either white or green. Some countries might be too lenient when it comes to their bicycle lanes, but these can really help a lot with your safety if you choose to use them.
5. Don’t ride too close to another vehicle
You should always maintain a distance of at least 2 meters between you and the back of a vehicle when on the road for over 200 meters.
6. Use bicycle storage areas properly
Some countries have a bicycle storage area which refers to a section of the road where cyclists can wait for the traffic lights to change before going. These areas can be easily spotted with painted bicycle symbols.
Both motorcycle and bicycle riders can cross the first stop lane in order to gain access to the bicycle storage area. However, you have to stop at the second stop line during a red traffic light. You can enter a bicycle storage area from a bike lane. However, before doing so, you should give way to other cyclists who are already in a bicycle storage area and also give way to other vehicles that enter the area on a green or yellow light.
Other Biking Laws that Vary by Country
Apart from the basic cycling rules and regulations we’ve mentioned above, your country might also have some specific laws that you have to follow. These can include the following:
- Biking under the influence – some areas, particularly certain states in the US, don’t allow driving a bicycle while intoxicated.
- Brakes – there are some states that require every bike to be equipped with a braking system that will allow the cyclist to stop whenever necessary.
- Traveling to the far right – there might be areas where you are required to use the far right of the lane, except if there are obstructions or hazards on the way.
Penalties that Cyclists Might Face
The penalties that you might face when breaking one of the cycling rules and regulations will vary depending on your area. However, in most cases, there’s no minimum age limit for issuing fines. This means that even kids will get penalized for breaking such rules.
Even though cyclists who break the rules have the same fines as motorists, the difference is that they won’t accumulate demerit points. Some of the most common offenses that bicycle riders tend to face are as follows:
- Not stopping during a red traffic light
- Using a mobile phone while biking
- Exceeding the speed limit in a certain area with a speed limit requirement
- Not stopping at a Stop sign in an intersection
- Not wearing an approved helmet based on local laws
- Not giving way to pedestrians on a shared path or footpath
- Carrying more passengers than allowed
Whether you’re just biking in the neighborhood or riding on the street, it’s always essential to keep your safety in mind. Hopefully, this ultimate guide to bike safety can help you prepare everything you need to make sure you can have a safe and enjoyable ride. Have fun out there!