Riding a bicycle can bring lots of joy to kids and adults alike. It’s also a great way to increase fitness and reduce stress. However, as with many activities, cycling has its risks. No matter your age or experience level, it can be helpful to review basic tips for safe bike riding. Read them over and share them with your loved ones.
1. Wear a helmet.
Did you know helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent and the odds of head, face or neck injury by 33 percent?1 In some states, children and teens are required by law to wear helmets—no current state laws require adults to wear them.2 Laws or not, putting on a helmet when you ride can be a smart choice. If you fall and hit your head, a helmet “reduces the peak energy of a sharp impact.”3
Choose a helmet based on fit and affordability. You don’t have to spend a small fortune to get a decent helmet; a study by the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute showed that the basic impact protection of the cheap helmets it tested equaled that of the expensive ones. They concluded paying more typically gets you “an easier fit, more vents and snazzier graphics.”4 For tips on how to choose a helmet, visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute at bhsi.org.
2. Ride a bike that fits.
It can be hard to control a bicycle that’s too big for your body—or your child’s body. Struggling to stop, pedal or turn when necessary can lead to injury or worse. And even if you don’t have an accident due to a poorly fitting bike, repeatedly riding something that doesn’t fit could cause muscle strain, back pain and other physical problems.
In general, you should be able to stand over the bike comfortably, reach and operate the pedals without strain and, if applicable, apply the brake levers. For more information on choosing the right bicycle for you and your child, check out REI’s advice or visit your local bike shop.
3. Dress to stand out.
This is especially important on gray days, early mornings, dusk and other times when visibility is low. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends neon, fluorescent and other bright colors, as white has not been shown to make you more visible.5 The NHTSA also recommends wearing clothing and accessories that reflect light (e.g., reflective tape or markings or flashing lights).
4. Give your bike a once over.
Before you and/or your children enjoy a bike ride, make sure that the tires are properly inflated with air and have enough tread, the brakes work, there are no cracks in the frame, and nothing is loose. If your bike has quick releases, make sure they are secured.
5. Ride in the right places.
When sharing the road, bicycles should travel with traffic and follow the same rules as those driving cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises that children younger than 10 years old may not be mature enough to ride safely in the street and are better off riding on the sidewalk. Check your local bike laws to determine whether or not you can legally ride on the sidewalk. If you are mountain biking, make sure you choose designated mountain bike trails.
6. Be aware, and communicate.
Look around while you are riding. If you are in the street, be aware of what the cars around you (parked and otherwise) are doing, too, so you don’t get hit with a door or veer into someone’s path.
Again, cyclists must follow traffic laws. Obey signs and lights. Use hand signals to indicate turns and stops. If you come up behind pedestrians or other cyclists and want to pass, announce your presence and intent to pass by saying “on the left” and allow them time to react before you ride by. You may also attach a bell to your bike and use that to alert others.
7. Plan ahead.
Make sure you know how to fix a flat tire, and carry along a patch repair kit or spare tube and a mini-pump that attaches to your frame or fits in a pocket or saddle bag.
In addition to being prepared to change or patch a flat tire, make sure you have enough hydration, nutrition and appropriate clothing. In some climates, weather conditions can change rapidly and drastically. Make sure you have what you need to stay warm and dry. Also be sure to apply sunscreen, and pack extra to reapply. It can be a good idea to pack a little emergency cash—and send kids out with some if you aren’t along.
8. Out at night? Use a light!
Riding after dark may not be advised, especially for kids. However, sometimes it’s unexpected and even necessary. Again, make sure you are as visible as possible. Avoid wearing dark colors when riding in dark conditions. Put lights and reflectors on your bike.
Local laws may specify what kind of lights you should use and where they should be placed. Many require the use of a white front light at night or in low-visibility conditions. The NHTSA recommends reflectors on the front and back of your bicycle, and a flashing red light on the rear of your bicycle, backpack or helmet.
9. Skip the soundtrack.
It might be enjoyable to listen to music while you ride, but it can also cut you off from the world around you. Awareness matters when it comes to bike safety. If you have kids, make sure you discourage them from wearing headphones or ear buds while riding, too.
10. Know your route—and tell others.
If you go on a road ride or a mountain bike ride, make sure you understand where you are going. You may even bring printed instructions or a map. Heading out alone? Tell someone where you will be and when you expect to be back. If your kids take off for a ride, make sure you are comfortable with their route and know where they are going and when they will be back.
Of course, these are just a handful of basic bike safety tips. Parents and kids should discuss safe bicycling and set family rules—and review them from time to time. It’s also important to know your local bike laws; The League of American Bicyclists offers state-by-state links at bikeleague.org/StateBikeLaws.
1Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Highway Loss Data Institute. “Pedestrians and Bicyclists: Bicyclists.” 2013. http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/pedestrians-and-bicyclists/fatalityfacts/bicycles/2013
2Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Highway Loss Data Institute. “Pedestrians and Bicyclists: Bicycle Helmet Use.” June 2015. http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/laws/bicycle-laws?topicName=pedestrians-and-bicyclists
3Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. “A Buyer’s Guide to Bicycle Helmets.” Last updated March 7, 2015. http://www.bhsi.org/guide.htm
4Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. “Cheap or Expensive Bicycle Helmets.” Last updated March 7, 2015. http://www.bhsi.org/testbycost.htm
5National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Kids and Bicycle Safety: Safe Riding Tips.” N.D. http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/bike/kidsandbikesafetyweb/
6National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Seven Smart Routes to Bicycle Safety for Adults.” DOT HS 810 773. Sept 2012.