Safe Bike Riding Tips

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What are some bicycle safety rules for riding in the street with motor vehicles?

Bicyclists and Road Safety

Riding a bike is beneficial because it is exercise, and it conserves fuel; however,it must be done in a safe manner. Knowing proper protocol while riding in the street with motor vehicles is a must.

-Ride in the street about 2 or 3 feet from the curb.
-Always use hand signals before turning or stopping.
-Always obey stoplights and signs.
-Ride in a straight line... no weaving.
-Make eye contact with other drivers before turning.
-Watch carefully for cars.

For more information on riding your bike safely, contact your local Department of Transportation and ask for their published bike safety guide.

"How do I ride safely on the road?"

Bicycle Riding on the Road

It's important to know how to bike safely on the road. Always stay on the right but don't hug the curb: glass and sharp debris collects at the very edge of the road and can cause you to get a flat. You have the same rights to the road as a car, so keep 2 to 3 feet from the curb, allowing enough room to your left for cars to pass. Always use hand signals before turning, and make sure your bike is equipped with reflectors and a light if you ride in low-light conditions.

"How should I use my gears?"

Shifting your Bike

Most people ride in as high a gear as they can manage. This makes riding very hard and can damage leg joints. Instead, try to keep in a gear that lets you turn your legs about 80-100 times per minute. Anticipate shifting by keeping an eye on the road or trail ahead, and downshift (shift to a lower gear) before you need to. Don't feel bad about shifting frequently, looking for the most comfortable gear - it won't wear out the bike any faster and can make your ride much more safe and fun.

"What about riding my bike off-road?'

Off-Road Bike Riding

Off-road bike riding has lots of unique challenges that make it unsafe to attempt on non-off-road bikes. Taking your cruiser across a smooth, flat path in the park wont hurt it, but technical, rocky rides could damage it (and you) very badly. Use your own discretion and choosing where to ride, and don't be afraid to turn around or walk the bike if it gets too rough. If you find you enjoy the challenges of off-road riding, purchase a mountain bike.

"Should I skid when stopping?"

More on Stopping the Bike

Skidding is bad - it takes longer to slow down, it's harder to control and it wears out your tires. If you start to skid while stopping, ease up on the brake just a bit, and once the skid stops, try to maintain that level of pressure. Don't ever clamp the brake levers as hard as you can. Instead add pressure progressively to stop as fast and safely as possible.

"What if it's raining?"

Bike Riding in the Rain

Riding in the rain on a bicycle is very much like driving in a car in the snow. You need to leave more distance to stop due to wet brakes, and you won't be able to turn as sharply. Keep an eye out for little rainbow-edged patches of oil on the pavement - these are extremely slick and will crash you in a split second if you try to lean over on one. Don't worry about hydroplaning, though. Bike tires are narrow enough that they'll cut right through puddles and hit pavement.

"What kind of bike should I get?"

Choosing a Bike

To ride a bicycle safely and enjoyably, you need pick the model that's right for you. If your rides are mostly short (less than 5 miles) and on flat, paved roads, look into getting a cruiser or comfort bike. If your rides go off-road on a regular basis, try a mountain bike, and if you're interested in long rides for fitness and competition, definitely get a road bike.

"What's the best way to steer?"

Steering your Bike

Steering a bicycle seems much easier than it is. This is because along with simply turning the handlebars, you also have to lean over into the turn, and the faster you're going, the further over you have to lean. It seems scary at first, but experienced racers can lean their bikes over to almost 45-degrees with no trouble at all. As you ride more, leaning as you turn will feel more and more natural.

"How about riding in the snow?"

Bike Riding in the Winter

Riding a bike in the snow can be very fun, provided the right safety precautions are taken. Bundle up in layers and protect the fingers and toes especially well. Never ride on snowy or icy roads, as a motorist could easily loose control and crush you. Your brakes won't work as well, and steering is difficult, but unlike on pavement, snow skids are very easy to control and don't destroy your tires. Plus, falls are well cushioned. Ride in lower gears than you normally would for more power in the snow, and have fun!

What's a good way to store my bicycle?

Bicycle Storage

Here's one good maintenance habit that requires no advanced cycling knowledge – always store your bicycle indoors. It's the easiest way to keep your bicycle working and looking like new.

Exposure to the elements is one of the worst thing you can do to a bike. So, if you can't park it in a garage or shed and it doesn't fir in any closet, try hanging it over a stairwell, or using a free-standing rack to set it to the side.

*If you really love your bicycle and appreciate its aesthetics, try purchasing some hooks and hanging it on a wall.

"Do I need other safety equipment?"

Other Safety Equipment

Though useful for other activities, such as rollerblading and skateboarding, knee, elbow and wrist pads generally aren't needed for biking. Kneepads can restrict knee movement, causing chaffing and other discomfort, while wrist pads make it difficult to steer, shift and brake. If you have a medical condition that might require extra protection, consult your doctor about additional safety measures.

"What about helmets?"

Bike Helmets

If you want to be safe on a bike, you ALWAYS need to wear a helmet. Scrapped knees and broken bones will heal; damaged brain cells won't. Most bike shops, both local and online, offer free or discounted helmets with the purchase of a new bicycle. Be sure to get a helmet that fits snugly, and adjust the straps so that it won't slide around on the head when force is applied.

Does a bicycle need regular maintenance?

Bicycle Maintenance

A bicycle is a delicate machine. In order to run smoothly, it needs regular maintenance. With the proper tools, most simple maintenance can be done by even a novice rider. If you feel unsure of your capabilities, check with your local bicycle organizations or retailers. Some of them offer great courses in bicycle maintenance.

*If you do your own tune-ups and repairs, it's a good idea to have your bicycle serviced by a knowledgeable professional once a year to increase performance and extend your bicycle's lifespan.

"Which brake should I use?"

Stopping the Bike

A common myth about bikes is that using the front brake will make you flip over the handlebars. This is not true; in fact, the front brake is far more important to use than the rear because it can stop you faster and more safely. If you've never used the front brake before, test it out on a flat, quiet section of road and get a feel for how it works at progressively faster speeds. The next time you have to stop suddenly, you'll be shocked how much faster and more safely you can slow down.

"Where can I learn more?"

More Bike Safety Information

Since laws on bike riding vary by state and country, contact your local Department of Transportation, and see if they have published a bike safety guide. More experienced riders are also a great source of information, though you will find over time that different riders have different opinions on what is and is not safe. Weigh the facts carefully before making your own decision.

"What if I want to try racing?"

Bicycle Racing

Bike racing is one of the most popular and exhilirating sports in the world. Most countries divide racers up by level of experience, so if you're a beginer, don't worry about getting crushed by the competition. In your first race, stay near the front of the field, but don't break the wind for other riders. Try to stay tucked behind someone else so they break the wind for you. For safety, ride in as straight a line as possble and avoid swerving. Observe more experienced riders in your race, and emulate what they do.

"Where should I get my bike?"

Where to Buy a Bicycle

If you haven't ridden a bicycle in a while, buy from a serious bike shop. It may cost more, but it ensures that the bike will fit you and be safely constructed. Plus, most bikes sold from shops come with a few months of free service.

Department store bikes offer lower prices, but don't have much in the way of quality or reliability. Only purchase these bicycles for uses where they will be replaced often, and not ridden for long distances.

If you've been riding for a while, and know what you're looking for in a bike, Internet outlets and auction sites can offer you great deals. Just be sure to protect yourself by doing some background research on the seller before buying.

"I'm trying to get myself into shape by riding a bike. How should I start?"

Bicycle Fitness

Bikes are a great way to get healthy. If you've been inactive for a long period of time, take it easy at the beginning to be safe. Keep your rides short (less than an hour) and often (4-5 times a week) to let your body adjust to your riding position. To avoid injuries, never ride as hard as you can while just starting up. After a week or two of riding, check in a local bike shop, and ask if there is a local group ride you could join.

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Heidi Splete