Bicycle Safety for All Ages

Written by Stephan Aarstol

That feeling of complete freedom and joy when you're speeding down a hill on your bike is matched only by the health and environmental benefits of traveling by bicycle. Riding a bicycle reduces carbon emissions and burns calories. Kids who aren't old enough to drive gain a sense of independence when riding their bikes. Bikes are vehicles just like cars and motorcycles, so it's important to be safe when riding a bike. Without the right safety precautions, the cyclist or others can be injured while riding.

Safe Riding Tips

Many biking accidents are caused by the rider's failure to follow the basic rules of safety. Thoroughly check your bike before riding to make sure that it's in proper working condition. Test the gears and the brakes to avoid any unfortunate accidents. You should also:

  • Ride during the day. Riding at night is risky because you're less visible to drivers who might hit you. If you absolutely have to ride your bicycle at night, wear high-visibility reflective clothing. Add reflectors to your tires and to the front and back of your bicycle, as is mandatory in some jurisdictions.
  • Watch out for road obstacles. Hitting a pothole could send you flying over the handlebars. If you see broken glass, gravel, large puddles, pets, or wildlife in your way, go around it. Make sure to warn the other members of your group if you're leading a bike trip.
  • Maintain control over your bicycle. Riding with no hands isn't cool - it's dangerous. One hand should always remain on the handlebars.
  • Wear bright colors. Rainy and foggy conditions can make daytime visibility tricky. Neon and reflective colors ensure your safety. Drivers might not necessarily be able to see you.
  • Double-check your bike. If tire pressure seems low, pump up the tires.
  • Adjust your bicycle to your height. Your knee should only bend slightly when riding. There should be at least three inches of clearance between you and the bar if you're on a mountain bike. Cut that distance down to 1-2 inches if you're riding a standard bike.
  • Wear a helmet that fits. Your helmet shouldn't be too loose, and the straps should fasten securely.

Bicycling Rules on the Road

Just because you're not driving a car doesn't mean you're exempted from the rules of the road. In a lot of states, cyclists are considered motorists. That means they have to follow the same rules. You can do this by:

  • Staying alert at all times. Don't ride with headphones in your ears so that you can listen to the flow of traffic and avoid surprise situations.
  • Following traffic laws. Give pedestrians the right of way. Don't cycle through red lights. Follow the lane markings and stay in your lane.
  • Riding with traffic. Don't ride opposite the flow of traffic. You should be biking in the same direction as other vehicles on the road.
  • Behaving predictably. Avoid darting in and out among cars on the road. Ride your bike in a straight line so other drivers can anticipate your next move.
  • Turning carefully. Look both ways before turning to make sure the road's clear. Then, signal with your hand to the drivers behind you.
  • Yielding when you don't have the right of way. Drivers and bike riders on small, peripheral roads must yield to incoming traffic from main roads. If the right of way isn't obvious, make sure that the road is clear before advancing.

Sidewalk Riding vs. Street Riding

Contrary to popular belief, it's actually safer to ride your bike in the street instead of on the sidewalk. There are, of course, exceptions for young children under the age of 12, who may not have the skills or control needed to safely ride in the street. Children are less able to follow the rules of the road, so they should bike on the sidewalk. Here are a few points to take into consideration when biking on sidewalks:

  • Be careful crossing driveways. Look both ways to check for cars pulling out or driving in.
  • Follow the law. Some jurisdictions don't let anyone ride bicycles on sidewalks. Only ride on sidewalks if it's allowed in your state or city.
  • Stop before crossing the street. When you reach the end of the sidewalk, make sure there aren't any cars coming before you cross. If there is a car coming, confirm that the driver sees you and communicate your intent to cross.
  • Be considerate of pedestrians. Let pedestrians know when you're behind them by calling out, ringing a bell, or beeping. Tell them which side you'll be passing them on.