Beginner’s Guide to Safe and Healthy Cycling

Bicycling is a popular activity that is enjoyed as a leisure pursuit, a sport, or a form of transportation. Regardless of the reasons why people ride their bicycles, the benefits are many. Cycling benefits the environment, as it can reduce the number of cars that are on the road, which means there are fewer pollutants in the air. Riding a bicycle is also beneficial to one’s health, as it provides a cardiovascular workout that can help people who are trying to lose or maintain their present body weight. In addition, it is a way for some to build up their endurance. Unfortunately, cycling also presents certain safety concerns. Bicycle riders and automobile drivers often share the road with each other. This puts bicyclists at greater risk than motorists in the event of an accident due to the enormous size and weight difference between motor vehicles and bicycles. Because of this, riders will need to understand and follow traffic safety rules, watch out for mistakes by motorists, and properly maintain their bicycles. While traffic safety laws vary by state, there are many rules that are common nationwide. Bicyclists must also know the principles of general safety in other situations that don’t involve interacting with traffic.

General Bike Safety

Every time a person gets on their bicycle, there are certain safety rules that they should adhere to. These are rules that help increase their chances of staying safe and accident-free while also protecting others who are on the road. An important first rule is to have an appropriate bicycle that is adjusted for the rider. The bike should be checked for safety before each ride to ensure that parts such as the brakes are working properly. Another basic yet important tip for cyclists is to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Roads may have cracks, potholes, or other problems that can prove dangerous to those who are not aware of their presence. One should also always be aware of the dangers that come from others in the area who may be riding their bicycles or driving recklessly. Because it can be hard for others to see clearly at night, it is safer to limit riding at night whenever possible.

Gear

Having the necessary gear is an essential safety precaution that all bicyclists must take in order to have a safe riding experience. In addition, many states make certain safety equipment a requirement. These include a riding helmet rated for bicycle use. Only buy bicycle helmets that are approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and make sure that they fit properly. In addition, they should never be worn backward, pushed forward, or sideways on the head. If a helmet is involved in a crash, do not use it again. Clothing should have bright colors for visibility at night, and a vest with reflective tape is also advisable. Also make sure that clothing does not hang where it can get tangled in the bike chain or tires, and wear closed shoes instead of sandals. Knee pads and elbow pads are also recommended to reduce the risk of severe skin abrasions.

Traffic Safety

Bicycles are subject to traffic rules just as motor vehicles are. Many rules are mandatory according to state law, but others are necessary for one’s safety. Cyclists who commute or otherwise ride their bikes in areas of high traffic must learn and understand what these laws are. Knowing the proper hand signals for moves such as turning and stopping is critical when to comes to cycling and traffic safety. It is advised to keep both hands on the brakes, as this enables the bicycle to stop faster in case an unexpected hazard appears ahead. Never ride on sidewalks unless there is no other option that is safe. Keep a safe distance away from the curb and other vehicles. Ride with traffic, not against it, never pass other cyclists on the right, and pull over when riding in front of five or more cars. Bicyclists also must obey regular traffic laws, including stopping at red traffic lights and stop signs.

Common Cycling Injuries

Unlike drivers, bicyclists are unprotected by the hard metal shell of an automobile, which puts them at greater risk for injury in the event of an accident. As with auto accidents, these injuries range from minor to fatal in nature. Common injuries primarily happen as a result of impacts including collisions or falls but also because of muscle strain due to overuse. Traumatic injuries include ones to the head such as concussions and fractures to the skull or face, damage to or loss of teeth, and injuries to the eyes. Riders can also suffer dislocated or fractured bones due to impacts, and skin abrasions are also common. Injuries related to repetitive strain occur over time and include lower back pain, saddle sores, tendonitis of the ankle or hip, and cervical strains.

Bike Maintenance

A malfunction in the bicycle itself can lead to crashes and injuries, which is why proper maintenance is a necessary safety issue for riders. Before going out for a ride, ensure that the tires have the proper level of air pressure and that the tires have enough tread. Also, check the brake pads and make sure that they grip the tire properly and they open and close in unison. Keep the bicycle chain lubricated and clean so that shifting gears will be smoother and to prevent the chain from wearing itself or the gears down.

Kids and Bicycling

Children need significant guidance from adults when they start riding bicycles. Parents should start out by riding with their children and leading by example. Furthermore, they will need to set rules for kids while riding, including teaching them all of the rules that adults must abide by. Kids cycling on their own or with friends should never ride on busy roads or at night. Children’s bicycles should have bells along with the reflectors that should also be on adult bicycles.

Additional Resources

By Dr. Richard Kim