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9 bike safety tips you’ve definitely forgotten about since childhood

Kara Jillian Brown

Kara Jillian BrownApril 30, 2020

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Photo: Stocksy / Viktor Solomin

Now that the weather is getting warmer, and social distancing requirements have limited our access to outdoor activities, riding a bike is a great way to get some fresh air. It’s especially useful if you live somewhere like New York City and don’t feel comfortable riding public transportation to get to your destination. If the last bike safety tips you received involved your mother yelling “put your helmet on” when you were 11, this is a much-needed refresher.

“Bicyclists are what we in the safety world call vulnerable road users, along with pedestrians, and basically all-non motorized vehicle users.” says Alex Epstein, director of transportation safety at the National Safety Council. “A car weighs thousands of pounds. A bicycle weighs about 20.”

From correctly fitting a helmet, to checking your breaks, there are a few safety tips for bike riders. And if you drive a car, there are some steps you can take to ensure the safety of bike riders.

Safety tips for bike riders

1. Always wear a helmet

“Helmets can reduce the likelihood or severity of any head injury if you crash off of your bike,” says Jon Orcutt, director of communications at Bike New York. And the best helmet to use is one that fits properly. “The helmet has to fit onto your head but also be snug enough that it stays in place while you are falling off your bike,” he says. “If it’s really tight getting on, it’s too small. If it’s sliding around on your head, it’s too large.” He says many helmets have an internal adjuster strap or come with extra pads to make your helmet more snug, you still need to select the right size from the get-go. Lastly, adjust the chin strap. “If the helmet flies off in an impact, there’s no point in wearing it,” he says.

2. Do the ‘ABC Quick Check’ before you jump on your bike.

A = Air
“Make sure your tires are fully inflated,” says Orcutt. “Tires all have a PSI (pounds/square inch) pressure rating printed on the sidewalls so you know how much to inflate to.”

B = Brakes
“Squeeze your brake levers to make sure the brakes are adjusted properly for stopping your bike,” he says. “If the levers depress all the way to the handlebars, you need a brake adjustment.” Call your local bike shop to see what steps to take to safely bring your bike in for a repair.

C = Chain
Orcutt says to make sure your chain is set in place and not about to pop off when you begin pedaling.

Quick = Quick-release levers
Bikes sometimes have quick-release lever that make taking off your seat and your wheels super easy. Orcutt says you want to make sure they’re secure before you start riding. Do this by making sure the lever is down, running parallel with your bike frame, instead of open.

3. Start on familiar routes that you’re likely to use often

“Some crashes happen when a rider has to cope with a traffic issue like a turning car and a road surface problem like a pavement crack or pothole at the same time,” says Orcutt “Once you’ve set some of your standard routes, you will learn where the holes and bumps are and be able to anticipate them well (and eventually, learn how to call them into your city government for repair).”

4. Ride with traffic

“Ride with the direction of traffic, not against it,” says Orcutt. “Riding into oncoming traffic reduces everyone’s time to react if a bad situation develops, and makes what you are doing much less predictable to people around you like drivers, pedestrians, and other bike riders.” Also, he says it’s against the law to ride against traffic in the U.S. Like cars, bikes have to follow traffic rules—stop at red lights and stop signs, and always yield to pedestrians.

5. Don’t sneak up on pedestrians and other bike riders

Whether you’re riding on the street, a bike trail, in a park, or on the sidewalk (sidewalk biking is legal in some areas, check your local laws), Orcutt says you don’t want to sneak up on someone. “On bike paths or park roads it’s easier to communicate with other riders and people on foot, so let people know what you’re doing (when passing, etc.) with a friendly word,” he says. “Don’t startle people with close passes or other maneuvers in too tight a space. Not everyone has the same skill or approach to bike riding so give people some room for different speeds and margins of error.”

6. Stay 4 feet away from parked cars

When you ride directly next to parked cars, Orcutt says “an opening car door can knock you down and potentially into the path of other vehicle traffic. Drivers coming from behind you on the road can see you, but people in parked cars are facing up the road from where you are and are less likely to know you are there before opening the door.”

Safety tips for drivers sharing the road with bicyclists

1. Remember that bike riders have the right to be on the road

“[Bicyclists aren’t] there doing what they can to impede your quick transit from one place to another,” says Epstein. “In some states bicycles are granted rights of motorists to take space in a traffic lane. If there are no designated areas for them to drive safely meaning no bike lanes, or there’s no shoulders. So motorists should be aware that [bicyclists] have as much of a right to the road as a motorist does.”

2. Practice the “far hand reach” when getting out of a parked car

To prevent the issue Orcutt previously mentioned, where a bicyclists runs into and can potentially flip over an opening car door, Epstein says drivers should reach to open the door with their right arm. “That forces your head to look over your shoulder. And so as you do you can scan to see whether or not there’s a bicycle coming up,” says Epstein.

3. Keep 100 percent of your attention on the road

“We encourage drivers to never be on the phone, says Epstein. “Obviously don’t text, don’t groom, don’t eat—don’t do things behind the wheel that take your mind off of driving when you’re driving. Just drive. That’s the safest way for you and everybody else on the roadway.”

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