- Top 8 safe cycling tips
- What’s the right way to wear a helmet?
- Pre-ride safety checklist
- Types of cycling distraction
- Common bike hand signals
- Basic bike etiquettes
- How to ride in different weather conditions
Top Safe Cycling Tips To Keep Your Eyes on the Road
Cycling is one of the best ways to train and exercise. It’s also an ideal mode of transport in many countries as it reduces carbon footprint. The only downside is that bikers face an array of hazards on the road; accidents and other unexpected situations can happen. So, cycling outdoors requires extreme caution and a consistent and predictable riding style for everyone’s safety.
If you’re new to cycling outdoors or you want to improve your overall bike safety measures, here are eight safe cycling tips that can help you keep your eyes on the road:
Wear the Right Helmet the Right Way
Bikers, riders, and athletes should never underestimate the importance of helmets. According to a safety manual published by the World Health Organization (WHO),
“Wearing a helmet is the single most effective way of reducing head injuries and fatalities resulting from motorcycle and bicycle crashes. Motorcyclists who do not wear helmets are at a much higher risk of sustaining head injuries and from dying from these injuries. In addition, riders who do not wear helmets place additional costs on hospitals, while the disability that results from these head injuries incur costs at an individual, family (or carer), and societal level.”
So, whether you’re training, competing, or just casually cycling, it’s advisable to wear the right helmet the right way. The right helmet should match your head size and style of riding (recreational, road bike, mountain bike). Additionally, it should also satisfy the comfort and extra functionality you’re looking for.
The right way to wear your helmet is to accurately adjust its tightness on your head until you get a snug fit. Then, buckle and tighten the chin strap. The strap should form a V as it rests under your ears. To put the fit to the test, open your mouth wide and see if the helmet presses against the top of your head. If it isn’t, tighten the strap again.
Always Do a Pre-Ride Safety Check
Some cycling accidents aren’t caused by collisions. Others are caused by an equipment malfunction. As such, it’s advisable to always check the condition of your bike before riding—emphasize on always.
Check your bike and all its components, your helmet, and other gear before you hit the road. The most important areas to inspect are your tires, brakes, chains, knots and bolts, and gears. This not-so-time-consuming process can save your life. For a complete reference, here’s a pre-ride safety checklist you can follow:
- Check if both tires are properly inflated and if the tire treads have visible signs of excessive wear or other damages.
- Check the brakes for rubbing and the brake pads for excessive wear.
- Check if the cables and housing have damages—such as fraying or splitting.
- Check if the wheel quick-release levers are all secured.
- Check if any of the bolts, screws, and nuts are loose.
For more information about regular and general bike maintenance, read our page ‘Bike Cleaning and Maintenance 101 for Athletes’.
Avoid Getting Distracted
Distracted driving, whether it’s on cars, motorcycles, or bicycles, causes accidents. WHO listed distracted driving as one of the most common reasons behind road accidents. And under distracted driving, the use of mobile phones remains to be the number one growing concern worldwide.
“There are many types of distractions that can lead to impaired driving. The distraction caused by mobile phones is a growing concern for road safety,” says WHO.
Drivers and riders using mobile phones are roughly four times more likely to be involved in an accident than those who are not using their phones. When you use your phone while cycling, your reaction time gets slower—this also affects your braking reaction time and ability to make traffic signals.
Aside from using mobile phones, there are lots of ways and reasons that can distract a bike rider. They can be categorized under visual, manual, or cognitive distractions. Here are some examples of distracted riding under these categories:
- Using a mobile phone to read texts or emails
- Using a navigation device
- Checking your watch for the time or navigation
- Eating or drinking while riding
- Programming a navigation device
- Fixing things, such as clothing, bags, and equipment, while riding
- Listening to loud music without focusing on the road
- Chatting with fellow bike riders while on the road
Be Seen—Wear and Use Reflective Materials
If you’re training or casually cycling at night, don’t forget to wear and use reflective materials so other riders, especially those riding cars, can easily notice and dodge you. Wearing reflective materials or filling your bike with reflective materials can prevent road accidents.
Here are some examples of reflective materials you can use and wear:
- Reflective clothing (vests, caps, uniforms, helmets, leg and armbands, ankle straps)
- Carrying cases or backpacks with reflective materials
- Bike lights
- Reflective tapes or stickers with strong adhesive
- Reflective sidewalls for tires
It’s best to use reflective materials that can allow riders to view your position from all areas. There’s no limit to what you can use and wear as long as the materials don’t cause distraction or diminish riding comfort. In fact, according to a controlled study published in the Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety:
“Drivers recognized more cyclists wearing the reflective vest plus reflectors (90%) than the reflective vest alone (50%), fluorescent vest (15%) or black clothing (2%). Older drivers recognized the cyclists less often than younger drivers (51% vs 27%).”
Take Advantage of Hand Signals
Hand signals for driving and riding are made for a reason: safety. So, take advantage of them every time you’re on a busy road with other riders and passers-by and especially in an intersection.
Familiarize yourself with common or local bike hand signals, so you can communicate with nearby riders if you plan to stop, make a left or right turn, slow down, and speed up. Riders near or at your back couldn’t anticipate what you plan to do unless you signal to them.
As you make signals, also make sure that they are clear and obvious. Limit distractions or accessories from your hands, except your pair of gloves, when you make hand signals to give nearby riders an unobstructed view of your hand. Further, flash them in visible areas, depending on your location and the time of the day (morning or night) to avoid confusion.
Here are some of the most common bike hand signals you can use:
- Slow Down – stretch your arms, put your palm down, and move your hand up and down.
- Stop – raise your hand high above your head.
- Change of direction – extend your left arm away from your body, reaching your shoulder height and parallel to the road, if you plan to turn left. Do the same for your right arm if you plan to turn right.
- Hazard on the road – if there’s a hazard on the road, like a manhole, pothole, or other obstructions, outstretch your arm to point the incoming hazard. Alternatively, you can also make a verbal warning if the rider is near.
- Passing through – if you want to pass through the rider in front of you, both riders at your front and back should know your intention. While riding, flick your elbow out and extend your hand to the side you want to go to. Move slowly, and give nearby riders extra room to come through.
Observe Basic Bike Etiquette
Be respectful, courteous, and observant while on the road. If you’re sharing the area with other cyclists, drivers, runners, and walkers, always remember your position to protect yourself and the people around you. It’s your duty to keep regular runners and walkers safe from you all the while protecting yourself against cars and large vehicles.
Here are some basic bike etiquettes to observe:
- Avoid the sidewalk; always ride safely on the road and in the lane.
- Follow the law, especially basic stop signs and speed limits.
- Ride with the direction of the road’s traffic and on the right side of the road (depending on local or national rules).
- Prioritize foot traffic—slow down in pedestrians and sidewalks with runners and walkers.
- Communicate effectively with other cyclists, especially on group rides or training.
These are some basic etiquettes any biker or cyclist should follow. However, keep in mind that there are still local and national laws and rules on bicycle riding per country. So, depending on where you are, always abide by your country’s laws, rules, culture, and even traditions.
Study the Road or Location
If you’re always training in your local neighborhood or usual cycling area, then you should already be consistent in following the same rules, regulations, and safe cycling tips. But if you’re riding on a completely new road or location, know the road and plan your route. You can use a GPS to track your location and draft a cycling map to know the areas where bicycles can easily and safely pass through.
Planning a bike route helps determine the best route for your ability and experience, improving your overall safety measures in unfamiliar places. Further, your crafted route can move you away from heavy traffic.
If you don’t know where to start, you can use Google Maps or other similar applications that offer a cycling mode. First, click the cycling icon on the app to let Google know that you’re riding a bicycle. Then, set your starting point and waypoints by typing addresses. Adjust your routes by finding bike-friendly routes provided by Google Maps. After inputting all information, Google Maps will show the total distance for your route and other information about elevation.
Know the Weather Before Riding
If you plan to cycle on your own, whether for training or occasional exercise, take the weather condition into consideration before riding outside. This will help you prepare your clothing, gear, and other essentials and ensure that you can ride safely and comfortably, under a brutal cold or heat.
During summer or if the weather’s hot, it’s advisable to wear cycling clothing with sun protection and ventilation features on the sleeves and shoulder areas. Cycling clothes with thinner or mesh fabric in body areas where people sweat more can offer better ventilation. In addition, you should also add lots of water and electrolytes refill to your nutrition pack and wear sunscreen or sunglasses for extra sun protection.
During winter or if the weather’s cold, dress in layers. You can wear thermal clothing or just put on thick jackets, coats, and a combination of layers that can still allow you to move freely while protecting your body from the cold. Cover your hands and feet, so they won’t feel numb from the cold while riding.
When there’s heavy rain, you must contemplate if you can really cycle freely and safely in that weather condition. Cycling in the rain can be dangerous, but it still depends on how harsh the weather is and how good you are at cycling. If you must, wear waterproof and breathable clothing. You can also add some eye protection to your gear.
The most challenging weather conditions are anything that can wear your tires—such as slippery and icy roads. So, during winter or when there’s heavy rain, prepare or contemplate. Watch the news or read more information about the current weather.
These safe cycling tips are just reminders that can help you stay safe on the road. But your actual safety on the road still depends on you—how you ride, react, follow, and communicate. If you want to stay safe and protect the people around you, be careful and observant at all times.
In other news, cycling organizations and local governments are also encouraged to improve road safety rules, regulations, and infrastructures with cycling in mind. According to WHO, “to achieve significant health, accessibility, and environmental benefits, policies that support an increase in the number of cyclists should be accompanied by risk-reduction actions. Improving cyclist safety requires a fundamental, system-wide approach.” As such, cyclists themselves and organizations should work hand in hand in improving safety.