If you’re an avid cyclist, you know the unique euphoria that comes from the wind in your face during an exhilarating ride.
But cycling does include inherent dangers. When bikes and cars tangle on the roads, cars typically win — and the consequences can be dire for riders. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2014, cyclists made up 2 percent of all injuries related to crashes and 2 percent of traffic deaths.
Before you embark on a ride in a high-traffic area, consider these important ways to protect yourself.
Make Sure You’re Visible
Considering that cycling accidents occur most often in urban areas and between 6 and 9 p.m., visibility is key to your safety. It should go without saying that vehicles are big, heavy and have numerous blind spots, but too many cyclists fail to take precautions that can help motorists see them.
To maximize your visibility, take steps like wearing bright or reflective clothing, and install reflectors on every side of your bike. Flashing tail lights make you visible to both drivers and other cyclists, and headlights help you see the road ahead to avoid collisions with cars, fixed objects, other cyclists or pedestrians.
Don’t duck out of traffic — between parked cars or onto a sidewalk, for instance — and then dart back in. You want to make your presence known clearly to drivers at all times.
Drivers should share the road, but cyclists also bear responsibility for their own safety. Make sure you understand — and follow — all state and local laws and regulations that apply to riding a bike. If you follow the law and act responsibly, drivers typically will be more respectful of you in return.
- Ride with traffic, ride single-file and stay as far to the right as possible.
- Stop at red lights and stop signs.
- Stay sober; more than 20 percent of cyclists who died in crashes in 2014 had blood-alcohol levels above 0.08.
- Carry your belongings either strapped onto the back of your bike or in a backpack.
- Avoid listening to music, texting or otherwise riding while distracted.
If you’re new to cycling, consider taking a course through a local bike shop, advocacy group or recreation department. By learning how to navigate in traffic, you can become a more confident and safer rider.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Knowing what is behind you, in front of you, and around you at all times plays a key role in keeping you safe on your bike. Always keep an eye out for hazards on the road — for instance, large potholes, gravel, sewer grates, parked cars, railroad tracks, speed bumps, water, snow and ice are among the many unexpected obstacles that can cause you to crash.
In addition, watch for car doors that may open suddenly. Avoid making unexpected movements, and don’t assume that drivers will yield right of way to you. Allow plenty of time and space to make any shifts in road position.
Use the Right Equipment
Among all the gear that cyclists use, your helmet is the most critical for your safety. Make sure you get a helmet that fits you properly and that’s made by a reputable manufacturer. In addition, be sure to check your helmet on a regular basis for any cracks, tears or excessive wear.
Always wear your helmet, even for short rides. Among bicyclists who sustain fatal injuries, fewer than 20 percent are wearing helmets, research indicates. Severe head trauma is the reason for many of the fatality cases.
Make sure your bike is the right size for your body; you’ll have more trouble keeping control of a bike that is too big. Have the brakes checked on a regular basis, and be sure to carry gear with you for fixing flats and other potential problems.
Seek Assistance if You’re Injured
After an accident while riding your bike, get a medical evaluation even if you have no obvious signs of an injury, since problems can surface later. If you do suffer an injury while riding, consider speaking with an attorney who has experience with bicycle accidents to understand your legal options.