Every day millions of people safely ride bicycles for transportation. So can you!
Your safety on the road depends on five essential bicycling skills that can significantly reduce your risk of injury.
These five skills build on each other, starting with the most basic skill that offers the most protection. Each skill is the foundation for the next. Think of each as offering a “layer” of protection – with each skill you master, you add another protective layer. You’ll be safest when you understand and master all five skills and put them into practice each time you ride.
Skill 5. Protect your head and hands
You wear a bicycle helmet and cycling gloves to help prevent or reduce serious injuries when you can’t avoid a fall or collision.
How You Do It
You recognize that a helmet and gloves can’t prevent a fall or collision (this is why you learn and master Skills 1-4).
You wear a comfortable bicycle helmet, sized and adjusted for your head, that sits level and covers your forehead and the back of your head.
You replace your helmet immediately after a fall or at least every 5 years.
You wear cycling gloves with padded palms to protect your hands in case of a fall.
The effectiveness of Skill 5 depends on learning and mastering Skills
4 + 3 + 2 +1
Skill 4. Respond to hazards
You know how to stop or turn quickly when another roadway user makes a hazardous mistake.
How You Do It
Knowing the early warning signs:
You watch for clues that a collision might be about to happen, such as:
- A motorist passes you on the left and makes a right turn across your path.
- A stopped or slow-moving car makes a right turn across your path just as you pass it on the right.
- A motorist on a cross street makes a right turn into your path as you cross the intersection.
- A motorist heading toward you in the opposite lane makes a left turn across your path.
- Someone in a parked car opens a door into your path.
Avoiding the collision:
You learn and practice how to stop quickly and turn sharply yet safely:
- You’re able to use these techniques in potential collision situations.
Taking a bike safety class or attending a safety demonstration is the best way to learn Skill 4. Practice makes it automatic.
Photo Credit: (Right) www.sfist.com
Skill 3. Make yourself visible
You correctly position yourself to maximize your visibility and deter others on the road from making hazardous mistakes.
How You Do It
On roads with bike lanes: when riding slower than other traffic, you ride in the lane in the same direction as other traffic. You leave the lane when traveling as fast as other traffic, to avoid obstacles (debris, pavement hazards, parked vehicles and the area where their doors open, etc.) and to prepare for turns.
On roads without bike lanes: when riding slower than other traffic, you ride in a straight line in the same direction as other traffic, in the rightmost through lane, outside the door zone (riding in the leftmost lane is OK on one-way streets). You move to the center of the lane when:
- Traveling the same speed as other traffic.
- Narrow lane width or obstacles make it unsafe to be passed by other drivers within the lane.
- Being more visible makes you safer (e.g., when making a left or right turn).
You move or turn only when it’s safe to do so. You always signal first.
You yield the right of way to other drivers when entering the roadway.
Using Skills 3 + 2 + 1 can help you avoid about 99% of all potential crashes.
Photo Credits: (Left) Dan Burden, www.pedbikeimages.org, (Right) Bicycle Transportation Alliance
Skill 2. Share the road
You know and follow the rules of the road so you don’t cause collisions.
How You Do It
You understand that bicyclists have the same responsibilities and rights as motorists and you know what those are.
You recognize and obey all traffic signs, signals and road markings, including:
- Stop and yield
- Directional (one way, right turn only, etc.)
- Warning (railroad crossing, road closed, etc.)
You recognize and obey all lane markings, including:
- Bike lanes and shared lane markings (“sharrows”)
- Directional arrows through intersections
- Left- and right-turn-only lanes
- Pedestrian and bicycle-path crosswalks
You watch for pedestrians, especially in crosswalks and driveways.
You avoid riding on sidewalks whenever possible, and yield to pedestrians if you must use a sidewalk.
Using Skills 2 + 1 can cut your injury risk by about 75%.
Photo Credits: (Top and lower right) San Francisco Bicycle Coalition,
(Lower left) Marin County Bicycle Coalition
Skill 1. Control your bike
You know how to handle your bike properly so you don’t fall or collide with someone else. You equip your bike with the required safety features.
How You Do It
Handling Your Bike:
You can start, stop and turn your bike, ride in a straight line, keep your balance at slow speeds, and check over your shoulder without swerving.
Equipping Your Bike:
You equip your bike with brakes and front and rear reflectors. When riding at night, you use a white front light and reflective material on your left pedal, shoe or ankle.
You perform the ABC Quick Check each time you ride:
- A = Air. Inflate tires to the pressure marked on the sidewall.
- B = Brakes. Squeeze brake levers and check that they can stop the wheel.
- C = Chain. Crank and pedals, chainring (big front gears) and cassette (rear gears or cogs). Wiggle pedals toward the frame to check for loose crank arms or bearings.
- Quick = Quick release levers that secure your wheels and seat post. Check that they’re tight enough.
- Check = Check for other loose items by dropping the bike a few inches. Take a short test ride to make sure everything’s working and you can shift through all the gears.
This is your most important safety skill. Using Skill 1 can reduce your injury risk by about 50%.
Photo Credit: (Right) San Francisco Bicycle Coalition