It’s important to remain safe when you are out on the streets, regardless of how you travel. Cycling is a great way to let off steam and get around more cleanly than driving a car. Unfortunately, having to share the road is a simple reality that drivers, pedestrians, and especially cyclists have to get used to. These are some of the key elements you have to keep in mind when you are out on a bike if you want make it home safe.
1. Wear a Helmet
This one seems obvious, but there are plenty of people who forgo the helmet every time they go out. It’s the sort of thing people like to write off as being for small children, and while they have an especially high incident rate, I really can’t stress enough just how important it is for people of all ages out on the road to wear a helmet. There are constant opportunities for a crash, and the difference between an unpleasant jostling and a trip to the hospital can be as simple as remembering to strap on your helmet.
2. Hand turn signals
Easily the biggest threat to road cyclists is the cars you have to share the road with. Turning signals are the same that you would use in a car when your tail lights aren’t working: signal with your left hand as you continue to steer with your right. Before making a left turn, extend your left arm out straight. When you make a right turn, hold your left arm up, elbow at a right angle. When you are about to stop, hold your left arm pointed down to the ground.
3. Stay Visible!
This is one that, again, can come off as pretty obvious, but there are so many ways that people forget to make themselves visible to people in cars. Make sure that whatever you’re wearing has relatively bright colors on it at the very least, even if you are out in the middle of the day.
Further, you should do your best to avoid going out after dark. Motorists have a hard enough time seeing other cars at night, and they have big lights on them to warn each other. When you really can’t avoid biking late, you have to dress accordingly. At this point, wearing bright colors just isn’t enough; you have to make sure to wear a reflective strip, or get a blinker installed on your bike. But again, the safest option is just to restrict your biking activity to daylight.
4. Stay in the Bike Lane (or, Failing that, remember to stay in Traffic)
When you live in a town or city that has a bike lane, it is the cyclist’s responsibility to honor that designation and ride exclusively in that lane. This keeps you safe from cars that have no reason to be passing through that lane, and also frees up traffic so that the motorists don’t have to worry about you going in their lane.
However, it is important to note that most rural towns do not have such a lane designated just for bicycles. If you are in such a town, it is a common mistake to treat the road shoulder as a sort of bike lane. This is actually significantly less safe than riding right on the road. The shoulder does not give as much space as a bike needs, so you can still get side swiped by a car whose driver didn’t see you. Biking more in the standard road makes one more visible to motorists coming up behind you and allows you to avoid the potholes and crumbling asphalt you can find on a shoulder.
So, always stay visible, ride where you’re safest, and always, always wear a helmet. Despite the scary picture this might paint for road biking, it really is one of the best ways to stay in shape and enjoy the fresh air.