Riding a bicycle can be a lot of fun, but did you know that it can also be quite dangerous? Most of you have inevitably been told by either mom or dad to “put on your helmet.” As annoying as these “words of wisdom” can be, they can also be the exact words that could save your life.
I’ll bet you didn’t know that, of all the bicycle head-related injuries each year, 74 – 85% could have been prevented by the proper use of a helmet. So, you ask, what does it mean when they say, “proper use of a helmet”?
A properly fitted helmet fits snugly against your head; it doesn’t wiggle. Both of the side straps and the chin strap are tightened so that both areas fit snugly to both the top of the head and the bottom of the chin without any extra strap hanging beneath your chin.
The most important thing to know about a properly fitted helmet is that it doesn’t work if you don’t wear it every time you ride your bicycle. You probably wouldn’t believe it, but most children involved in bicycle accidents have them right in their very own neighborhood(s), even when riding just next door. So, do yourself a favor and make sure that the straps are fastened. A helmet will not do you or your head any good if it falls off because it isn’t strapped on correctly.
There are many things to consider when riding a bicycle. I will review a few that you should be quite familiar with BEFORE going on a bicycle ride.
- Riding a bicycle means being familiar with bicycle safety rules. Riding a bicycle is considered a form of transportation, just like driving a car or riding a motorcycle. It also has certain rules to which you must adhere in order to help keep you, the rider, safe from harm.
Although there are many places to find information on bicycle safety, one place that is certain to be available within your community is Scouts. You may or may not choose to participate in scouting, but don’t worry, you can find plenty of books at the local library, bookstore, online or even at school that will outline safety tips to consider when climbing upon your first set of wheels. However, in the event that you want to learn a few things that will make your ride safer, read on, my friend.
We’ve already addressed one of the most important safety tips, wearing a properly fitted helmet. Now it’s time to talk about another consideration that is equally as important.
- Make sure that the bicycle fits the rider. Before taking to the road on a new bicycle, it is important to determine if the bicycle is the right size for the rider.
Many bicycle accidents occur because the bicycle is too LARGE, or too small, for the rider. There are a few things that you can do with your parent, grandparent or guardian to insure that the bicycle you are riding is appropriately sized for you.
First, you should sit on the seat and try to balance the bike with your toes touching the ground. If your toes cannot touch the ground, you should try to adjust the seat so that they can touch. If, after adjusting the seat, they still don’t touch the ground, you’ll need to find a bike that fits you better.
- The next thing you should do, before climbing aboard, is to check your bicycle for safety. Make sure that your bike includes several things that are mandatory for good bicycle safety. First, always make sure that your brakes are in good working condition. They must stop when you want them to stop in order for them to be effective. Have an adult check the brakes on your bike on a regular basis. If your brakes don’t work, you shouldn’t ride the bicycle until they are repaired.
Safety shouldn’t stop there. A cyclist should also check the mechanics, such as tire pressure and condition, handlebars and chains to insure that they also are in good working condition. Bike riding can be a lot of fun, but it isn’t fun when the tire pops or the chain breaks. Following a good maintenance routine can help eliminate unforeseen problems from occurring while out on a ride.
A safe bicycle also has reflectors both on the front and back of the bike. Some bicycles even have them within the spokes of the bike’s tires. These are necessary safety features and should always be checked to insure that they are where they belong. This helps you be seen by others.
Finally, a few additional items can be added to your bicycle for safety, especially if you ride your bike after dusk or before dawn. A headlight is a good item to have to help illuminate your path, for the hour before dusk, when visibility tends to be difficult, and especially after dark. Another item to have is a bicycle horn or bell. These are a good idea if you are going to be riding alongside automobiles, pedestrians and even other cyclists. Last, but just as important, is remembering that riding a bicycle with both hands on the handlebars is much safer. So, if you are carrying something while biking, it would be a good idea to either have a basket or backpack for storing these items. Never carry anything in your hands while riding your bicycle. It could prevent you from managing the brakes or steering safely.
By following a few safety tips you can make for a more enjoyable ride. Remember, safety first.
- Wear reflective clothing. As nutty as this may sound, it is extremely important. Remember, when you’re on your bike, it isn’t only about how well you follow the rules, but how well others follow them, too.
Seeing you is important for other riders, pedestrians and automobiles. Bright white or reflective clothing can be as simple as a few reflective strips on your helmet, a slip-on vest with reflective bands, or a few pieces of reflective tape attached to the shirt that your are wearing. Keep it simple but make it effective. If you can’t be seen, you are at risk.
- Obey traffic rules and use hand signals. A bicycle is considered a vehicle, which means that it is in the same category as cars. Although not all of the rules are the same for cars and bicycles, many of them do pertain to cyclists.
Being familiar with the “rules of the road” is extremely important if you are going to be riding your bicycle where automobiles are present. Understanding hand signals is the first lesson after learning how to ride a bike that a cyclist should do because using them is very important when in the presence of automobiles and even pedestrians.
Recognizing traffic signals, lights and signs is also important and should be adhered to by the cyclist just like they are followed by motorists.
- Look left, right, and left again when entering traffic.
As simple as this rule might sound, you’d be surprised at how many cyclists (and motorists) don’t follow such a simple, yet safety-prevailing rule. As a mom, I’ve seen countless numbers of children walk and ride their bicycles right into traffic without even looking one way, luckily avoiding injury or worse. As a responsible cyclist, you must insure your safety by always looking both ways and then looking again. An automobile can cover a lot of ground between the time you look and look away. Always remember to look left again before pedaling into a traffic area. One second could be the difference between life and death.
- Avoid riding in high traffic areas.
Children under the age of 10 should never attempt to ride near high traffic areas and should always ride in the company of an adult. Even children above the age of 10 should avoid extreme traffic areas as these can be both unnerving and dangerous. Try to plan your route ahead of time so that you don’t find yourself facing a situation that you aren’t prepared to handle. Planning ahead will always make for a smoother ride.
- Watch for road hazards.
A cyclist should always be on alert when riding his or her bicycle. Strange hazards can lead to dangerous accidents. Believe it or not, furry hazards, like a wandering dog, can cause a cyclist great harm. Being aware of your surrounding in order to avoid unexpected bumps and bruises is always a good idea. Be on the lookout for potholes, gravel and even people in your path. As long as you see them, you can prepare ahead of time.
- Pedestrians have the Right-of-way.
Did you know that it is a cyclist’s responsibility to watch carefully for people walking and yield to them whenever necessary? Pedestrians are people on the street which includes anyone, whether they are walking on the sidewalk, crossing the street or even walking through your bike lane (Wheelchairs and sometimes animals, too, may be in your bike lane. You, as a cyclist, always have to be on the lookout.
- Ride on the right side of the road.
Of course, this rule depends on whether you’re riding in the United States of America or if you’re in the UK. Since bicycles are considered vehicles, just like automobiles, they must be ridden in the same direction as other vehicular traffic. Following this rule will make all the difference in other motorists being able to see and avoid you.
- Ride in single file.
Riding with friends can be a lot more fun and safer, too, but only if you remember to ride single file. Riding side by side can lead to unnecessary and potentially dangerous accidents. Riding behind one another, paying careful attention to hand signals and swerves from the rider in the lead, can save you from obstacles ahead.
- Walk your bicycle across an intersection.
As time-consuming and “lame” as this rule may sound, it could be the one that keeps you the safest. I’ll bet you didn’t know that most accidents, whether it is automobile, pedestrian or cyclist, occur near intersections. This is probably because the inflow of traffic, people and signals, all combined, create confusion, although it shouldn’t. To avoid putting yourself in such a dangerous situation, whenever possible, use a crosswalk and a crossing light. More important, however, is to always walk the bicycle across the street to avoid a mishap in the middle of the road as this could lead to injury.
- NEVER listen to headphones while riding a bicycle.
While wearing headphones when listening to music, a movie or even playing a video game is great, you know better than most that it is also possible to “tune out” sounds like mom telling you to clean your room or feed the dog. Wearing headphones is appropriate some of the time but certainly NOT while riding a bicycle and can be one of the most dangerous things a rider can do.
Safe cyclists rely on their ears to hear the sounds of approaching vehicles, animals and people that might cross their path. Intentionally eliminating this “sense” can be life-threatening. By insuring that you are able to see and hear the world around you while operating a vehicle, even if only a bicycle, you can avoid hazards to you and to others.
You can into this world pretty well-equipped to handle many of life’s little challenges. Why make it more difficult by preventing your body from doing its job by “plugging” your ears while operating a moving vehicle?
Well, that about sums up the bicycle safety tips that I have to offer you and that you should be aware of before climbing aboard your bicycle for a fun afternoon of riding.
If you aren’t aware of the different traffic and hand signals for cyclists and motorists, it might be a good time to ask your parents or guardian for assistance in learning them.
Good luck, be safe and have lots of fun.
For additional safety measures, you should carry a Bicycle Tool Kit which should include several sized hex wrenches, tire patch kit & levers for tube removal, straight screwdriver & adhesive. It is also a good idea for you to carry a portable tire pump that will mount directly to your bicycle frame. Finally, and depending upon where you will be leaving your bicycle, a sturdy lock & rubberized chain to secure your tire & bicycle frame. These items can be reviewed in my favorites store to the right of the article. Each is personally owned by me and my sons, has been tried and proven effective at solving most of biking mishaps “quick fixes”.
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