4 Safety Tips for Riding a Bike in Traffic

Biking has always been popular as a recreational activity, but it’s become an important mode of transportation over the last couple of decades. While there hasn’t been extensive research performed in the last few years, one study shows that the percentage of regular bicycle commuters increased by 70 percent between 2000 and 2009.

Whether you’re a new biker, experienced biker, or are just tossing around the idea of trying a new method of transportation to and from work, it’s important that you prioritize safety. Biking, on its own, is very safe. But when you put cyclists side by side with 4,000-pound steel machines traveling at a much faster rate of speed, things can get dicey.

To help you be a safe and knowledgeable biker, we’ve provided a few practical tips and suggestions to mull over.

1. Understand the Risks

Before doing anything else, you need to understand the risks associated with cycling. In terms of injuries, there are two categories: acute trauma and overuse.

Acute trauma refers to sudden collisions, crashes, or falls. Common injuries include cuts, scrapes, broken bones, fractures, sprains, road rash, and head or brain injuries. While most injuries will heal normally, it’s the latter injury that’s most frightening.

As the Sawaya Law Firm explains, “A survivor of a severe brain injury may be in coma for a period of time and require an extended hospital stay followed by months of rehabilitation. An accident victim with a catastrophic brain injury may be unable to return to work or be limited in the type of activity he or she can do.”

Thankfully, acute trauma isn’t extremely common. In many cases, cyclists suffer from overuse injuries. These are simply injuries that result from too much riding. Common injuries in this category include muscle strains, soreness, and blistering.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, certain risk factors make it more likely that you’ll be involved in an accident that results in injury. These include: cyclist is male; cycling in summer; cycling in late afternoon or early evening; cyclist doesn’t wear a helmet; motor vehicle is involved; unsafe riding environment; cyclist has a preexisting psychiatric condition; and cyclist is intoxicated.

2. Buy the Right Equipment

We’ll talk about rules of the road in the next section, but biking safety starts with using the right equipment. Items you’ll need:

  • Helmet. Regardless of whether or not your state has mandatory laws in place for wearing helmets, you always need to wear one. It’s the best protection you have against concussions and other brain trauma. In fact, one study finds that helmets reduce the risk of serious head injury by 70 percent.
  • Bell or horn. It’s smart to have a bell or horn on your bike to warn others of your presence. This isn’t a foolproof system, but it’s better than sneaking up on a car or pedestrian and putting your health at risk.
  • Good brakes. Just like a car, a bike’s brakes can eventually wear out. Make sure you check and replace your brakes on a regular basis to make sure you have the ability to stop on a dime.
  • Proper reflectors. Biking at night is considerably more dangerous than daytime cycling. You’ll need some sharp reflectors on the front and back of your bike to make your presence known.

3. Understand the Rules of the Road

There are certain rules of the road that you need to be aware of in order to stay safe. Some rules are mandated by law, while others are considered common sense.

  • Stay on the right. Cyclists are required to stay on the right side of the lane at all times. This gives cars the ability to pass them. If a road is too narrow for passing, you may ride in the center of the lane to increase visibility.
  • Stay out of blind spots. Think like a driver and avoid their blind spots whenever possible. The worst spot to be is parallel to a vehicle’s back door or rear tire.
  • Use signals. Hand signals serve as your blinkers. When turning left, extend your left arm straight out from your side (parallel to the ground). When turning right, extend the left arm up towards the sky in an “L” shape. When slowing down, turn the right hand down in the inverse position of the right-hand turn signal.
  • Make eye contact. Even if you have the right of way in a turn situation, try to make eye contact with oncoming drivers to ensure they see you. When in doubt, wave your arms. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

4. Be Prepared for Everything

Always be prepared for anything that could possibly come your way. In busy cities, one of the more common injuries occurs when a driver parked along the side of the road suddenly opens up a door and clips a cyclist. Thinking about little things like this will make you less of a target.

Assume You’re Invisible

When biking on a roadway with other vehicles, you have to assume that you’re invisible – because in many cases you are. Drivers are looking for cars, but they aren’t always mentally prepared for a bicycle, which is significantly smaller than a vehicle, yet faster than a pedestrian.

By adopting the mentality that you’re invisible, you’ll start to make decisions that keep you safe, regardless of what other drivers around you are doing. While there’s always a significant level of risk associated with cycling in traffic, you can at least lower your chances of getting seriously hurt.