Bicycle Safety: How to stay safe when riding your bike
Bicyclists are more likely than car drivers to get seriously injured or even die, even though bike rides make up only 1% of all trips in the U.S., according to the CDC. Fortunately, by practicing bicycle safety, a cyclist can minimize their risk. Choosing the right bicycle to fit your riding style and body type, finding a bicycle helmet that will properly protect you in the case of a crash, and wearing protective equipment such as a reflective vest or installing rearview mirrors are all great ways to enhance safety before you set out on your next ride.
Why is bicycle safety important?
Bike riding is a fun activity, but there is some level of risk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 846 bicyclists were killed in traffic accidents in 2019. The CDC also found that there were almost 600,000 emergency room visits for bicycle-related traumatic brain injuries between 2009 and 2018. Understanding and adopting basic safety measures like wearing a helmet can greatly reduce your likelihood of injury from riding a bike.
Bicycle safety statistics
When it comes to bicycle safety, certain people are at a higher risk of injury and death than others. The below statistics and information detail the incidence of death and injury among the general population.
- According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, adults make up 88% of cyclist fatalities.
- The CDC reported that men die six times more often on a bike than women.
- The CDC also found that those aged 50-59 have the highest bicycle death rates.
- Bicycle-related deaths peak in the summer, with the most occurring in August, and the least occurring in January.
- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that in 2019, 78% of bicyclists who died were killed in urban areas.
- Delaware is the most dangerous state for cyclists.
How can I improve my bike safety?
When it comes to staying safe while riding a bike, a lot of the responsibility lies with you, the rider. Here are 10 ways you can improve your bike safety.
1. Wear a helmet
Wearing a helmet is one of the most important things you can do to stay safe while riding a bike. In some states, you are required by law to wear a helmet when riding your bike. The NHTSA found that wearing a helmet reduced the chance of serious head injuries from bike riding by 60%. It’s important that your helmet fits snugly and does not have any visible cracks.
How to fit a bike helmet
- Measure the circumference of your head around the thickest part of your head with a tape measure. Match that number to the size range listed on the helmet type you want to buy. If you’re between sizes, go with the smaller size.
- Place the helmet squarely on top of your head, just slightly above your eyebrows. The helmet should stick out farther than your nose.
- When you shake your head, even without the helmet buckled, the helmet should not move. To ensure this, adjust the knob at the back of the helmet. If your helmet does not have a knob for adjusting, add or remove the sizing pads that came with the helmet until the helmet fits snugly.
- Form a “V” with the side straps. There should be sliders on each of the side straps that you can move up or down as needed. These sliders need to be moved so that the straps form a “V” that comes together at the bottom of your ear.
- Adjust your chin strap. Your chin strap should be tight enough that you can only fit one finger between the strap and your chin.
2. Follow the rules of the road
Bicyclists must follow all the same road rules as motorists, including obeying traffic lights and posted signage. There may even be biker-only signage posted on trails such as stop signs that you need to follow. Please remember that it is prohibited to ride on the sidewalk in many cities.
3. Dress in bright colors
The brighter your clothing, the more likely drivers are to see you. Some studies have found that wearing fluorescent clothing on not only your upper body but your lower body as well increases the likelihood of being seen and the distance from which you can be seen. If you plan on riding at night, increase your visibility by adding reflective clothing to your ensemble.
4. Avoid the use of headphones or mobile phones
You need to be able to hear what’s going on around you when you’re riding your bike. Listening to music or talking on the phone can prevent you from hearing a car that’s coming up behind you or even just be an unnecessary distraction.
5. Know your hand signals
Bikes don’t come with brake lights or turn signals, so hand signals are how you tell other vehicles on the road when you’re coming to a stop or need to make a turn. Learn these signals and use them when you’re riding for a safer bike riding experience.
- Left turn: To signal that you wish to make a left turn, stick your left arm straight out to the left. Make sure you do this well in advance of your turn.
- Right turn: To signal that you wish to make a right turn, stick your right arm straight out to the right. Make sure you do this well in advance of your turn.
- Stop: To signal that you wish to stop, stick your left arm out to the left and bend your elbow so your hand is facing down. Keep your palm open. Make sure you do this well in advance of when you need to stop.
6. Choose the right size bike for your height and inseam
Riding an appropriately-sized bike is one of the most important things you can do when it comes to bike safety. If your bike is too big or too small, you will have less control over it, which could result in you being unable to stop an accident from happening. Most manufacturers will have a sizing chart to help you choose the best bike for your size based on your height and inseam. Different types of bikes will be sized differently, so don’t just assume your bike size is universal.
7. Keep your bike in tip-top shape
Before every ride, you should do a quick check of a few things to help prevent any unwanted malfunctions. Just remember your ABCs:
- Air: Are your tires inflated properly?
- Brakes: Are your brakes in working order?
- Chain: Is your chain clean and lubricated?
8. Go with the flow
Always bike in the direction of traffic. It is illegal to ride against traffic in the U.S. This is for your safety. If you are riding against traffic, you cannot see road signs and traffic signals. You are also much more likely to be seen by traffic if you are riding in the same direction they are moving.
9. Stay sober
You wouldn’t drive a car drunk, so it stands to reason that you shouldn’t ride a bike drunk either. Depending on how your state defines the term vehicle, you may be issued a DUI if you are pulled over while riding a bike under the influence. In other states, you risk a public intoxication charge. Beyond the legal ramifications, biking under the influence is not safe. According to the CDC, 37% of bicyclists deaths involved alcohol use by either the bicyclist or driver of the motor vehicle involved in the accident.
10. Refresh your cycling skills
Whether you’re just learning how to ride a bike or have been riding for years, practicing bike riding is a great way to stay safe on your bike. Before setting out on the road, make sure you’re comfortable riding at high speeds, braking quickly, shifting gears, and traversing different elevations.
How do most bicycle accidents happen?
Cyclists and motorists should both be on the lookout for each other on the road so that everyone can share the road safely. By knowing what situations are more likely to lead to accidents, everyone can be more vigilant and hopefully reduce the incidence of biker and car collisions.
Most collisions between bikes and cars occur when a cyclist is headed straight and a car is turning right onto the same trajectory as the bike. The car makes the turn and collides with the cyclist, or the cyclist will run directly into the car as it turns.
It’s essential to be aware of this situation as a cyclist. Whenever possible, move further left, slow down in advance, and try to catch the attention of the driver. If you are unsure whether the driver has seen you, wave your arm, and be prepared to maneuver in case you need to act quickly. As the driver of a car, increased awareness of bicyclists in general can help reduce car on bike accidents.
Another collision type that happens often between cars and bikes is when a cyclist is struck by the sudden opening of a door from a parked car. As experienced cyclists may know, riding into a car door at full speed can be a very serious situation that leads to major injuries. Cyclists can avoid this risk by always riding the width of a car door from parked cars.
What safety equipment do you need to ride a bike?
Beyond the safety equipment you can add to your person like a helmet and bright clothing, adding just a few safety accessories to your bike can lower the risk of a serious accident.
Bike lights can be used for a variety of reasons – to help the rider see better, to help other people better see the rider, and to indicate that the rider is braking. All three uses increase the safety of the rider. Bicyclists may especially want to consider lights that help others better see them at night as the NHTSA found that the majority of fatalities from bike accidents occurred between 6 and 9 pm. White lights should be used facing forward, and red lights should be used on the rear of the bike, facing backward.
Adding mirrors to the end of your handlebars can help you be more aware of your surroundings. They can eliminate blind spots and help you see what traffic is behind you. You can also mount mirrors to your helmet and/or sunglasses.
A bike bell is a great way to alert drivers, other bicyclists, and pedestrians that you are nearby. In some states, they are even required by law. An alternative to a bell is a horn, many of which can rival the intensity of a car horn.
Biking: Everybody’s doing it
Whether you’re biking for fun, for competition, to commute, or to help the environment, you’re in good company. Statista reports that the number of cyclists in the U.S. increased from 43 million to 47.5 million between 2014 and 2017, and that number is still increasing. But the U.S. has nothing on Denmark, whose capital city Copenhagen boasts more bicycles than people and cars. Even though the number of bicyclists is increasing, the number of bike accidents is falling. Unfortunately, the percentage of these accidents that are fatal is increasing. To keep yourself and your family safe on your bikes, don’t forget to practice good bicycle safety.