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Commuting by Bike and Cycle Safety

Commuting by Bike & Cycle Safety: By Amanda Wilks

Bike commuting is seeing a huge surge in popularity, but how big a surge is it? The National Household Travel Survey reveals that the past decade has seen a huge increase in biking, with the total number of commutes made by bicycle increasing from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 4 billion in 2009.

Commuting by bike offers many environmental and health benefits. Cycling plays a part in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions – it reduces the number of vehicles on the road, meaning there are fewer pollutants in the air.

Cycling can benefit your health. A recent study suggests that commuting by bicycle is not only associated with a lower risk of serious health problems (cardiovascular diseases and cancer), but with a longer life as well. Additionally, Lisa R. Callahan, Co-director of the Women's Sports Medicine Center, says that commuting to work on a bike is an effective way to lose weight.

Unfortunately, cycling presents some safety concerns. Cyclists and drivers share the road with each other. This puts the bikers at greater risk as compared to the motorists in the event of an accident. Therefore, riders need to have appropriate gear and understand/follow traffic safety rules.

Wearing Protective Gear is Essential

Discussed below are some of the basic safety equipment that every cyclist should have:

1. Always Wear a Helmet

While adults aren’t legally obligated to wear helmets in some states, it may be a good idea to wear one to enhance safety. Statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that 54 percent of bike fatalities in 2015 involved cyclists who weren’t wearing helmets.It is vital to purchase a helmet that is approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Additionally, make sure it fits properly and that it is worn correctly.

photograph: courtesy of Robert Thorpe

2. Wear Brightly Colored Clothes or a Reflective Vest  

Wearing brightly colored clothing or reflective gear makes you a lot more visible when riding during the day and at night. When purchasing t-shirts or tops, make it a policy to buy fluorescent, neon or other bright colored clothes. You can also add a reflective tape or reflector lights to your backpack if you’re wearing one. When riding at night, it’s crucial to have bright lights in order to keep safe from unexpected dangers.  

3. Get a basic repair kit

Keep a repair kit with you at all times when bike commuting. The kit should typically include a patch kit, spare tube, hand pump and tire levers. Additionally, you should know how to use these tools, so if you have never patched holes in a tube before, do it once before hitting the road. If you are a long-distance commuter, you’ll need more items to perform more complicated roadside repairs.

Traffic Safety

In today’s busy road conditions, it is important that beginner bike commuters pay attention to some of the basic yet vital cycling requirements when sharing the road with motor vehicle drivers. Here are a few good cycling habits that will keep you safe in traffic:

1. Ride in the Same Direction as Traffic

It is advisable to use the lane furthest to the right that heads in the direction that you are cycling. This is because your safety depends on how visible you are to the traffic. Cycling against traffic makes it easy for drivers to overlook you.

For instance, motorists entering and leaving the roadways at driveways or intersections do not expect traffic, for our case, a bicycle, to approach from the wrong direction. This increases your chances of getting involved in an accident. To stay safe while cycling, ensure that you are riding in the same direction as traffic.

Jake Fleischmann, the shop manager of Ride Brooklyn in Park Slope, advises amateur bikers to always move into traffic as if they were a car whenever they feel uneasy on the road.

Photograph courtesy of Larisa Chiances, showing cycle highway in Romania

2. Be Aware of Your State’s Laws

Does the law require you to wear a helmet while cycling? Is it legal to ride on the sidewalk? Can you pass a car on the left side when on a bike? Like driving, each state has its unique set of laws for cyclists. Therefore, it is important that you a have a basic understanding of these laws (here is a list of laws by state).

3. Use Hand Signals

You are less likely to get hit when your movement doesn't take drivers by surprise. Therefore, always communicate your intentions to motorists as much as possible. Use hand signals whenever you want to stop, turn or move left or right.

Extend your left arm out of your side to turn left and stretch your left arm straight from your shoulder to turn right. The arm should form an “L” shape. If you want to slow down, point out the left arm from the shoulder with your elbow bent and the left hand pointing down.

4. Watch for Parked Cars

Keep a safe distance between yourself and parked vehicles. This includes riding far enough out from the curb to avoid the unexpected from parked vehicles (like cars pulling out or doors opening). Typically, it is recommended that you maintain a four feet distance between you and a vehicle. This is enough space to allow you to react to anything unexpected.

We hope that this guide has been helpful and provided some valuable information regarding bike commuting. If you have any thoughts on this guide, let us know in the comments section.

Author Bio: Amanda Wilks is a professional writer and a contributing author. As a passionate MTB rider, Amanda never misses a trail and goes as far and wide – including mountain biking at night – to level her energy and keep fit. Find out more about Amanda by visiting her Twitter profile.