Cycling is a lot of fun, but it is also dangerous, especially for road cyclists and people who don’t take proper precautions before heading out on their bike.
Wearing appropriate clothing and paying attention to everything around you will help you stay safe most of the time, but the unexpected is bound to occur…
Cycling accidents can happen at any time; off-road cyclists might ride over debris, stones or loose ground, and road cyclists run the risk of being hit by a car or other vehicle, skidding on oil or ice, or running into the door of a car as the driver opens it, without first checking the mirror.
All of these things can, and do, happen. Every day. Most of the time the rider survives to tell the tale, but deaths do occur.
Here are a few tips to help protect yourself from injury, accident and staying safe when cycling:
1. Always wear a helmet
If you don’t wear a safety helmet when you are cycling it’s probably because you are a little vain and don’t like “the look”. I can sympathize with that. I felt the same, until I was one day knocked off my bike by a distracted motorist. Luckily, I escaped with nothing more than a scraped elbow and bruised shoulder. Since that accident I wear a cycling helmet every time I use my bike. And yes, I look a bit daft, but at least my head is protected.
The first thing to do is choose the type of helmet most suited to you and your riding. There are three types of helmet currently on the market:
- Sport helmets – also called ‘multi-use’
- Road bike helmets
- Mountain bike helmets
Prices start at around the $30 mark and go up to the $250+.
For most people the sport (or ‘multi-use’) helmet is sufficient, especially if you mostly ride for fun. But if you are road cyclist or seriously into mountain biking or BMXing, you will need something more suited to those typesof riding.
Road bike helmets are lightweight, aerodynamic and provide plenty of ventilation for the speeding cyclist.
Mountain bike helmets provide much more protection for the whole head; especially the rear, the face, chin and eyes. These types of helmet are designed to ventilate well at low speeds and look similar to traditional motorcycle helmets.
Once you know which type of helmet you want, the next step is to find one that fits you well. The best way to do this is to visit a local store and try some on. Almost all helmets have an adjuster wheel at the back. This is connected to the internal sizing ring, so you can achieve a nice, snug fit.
A good-fitting helmet should be snug but not annoyingly tight. It should sit level on your head (not tilted back) with the front edge no more than 1″ (a width of approximately 2 fingers) above your eyebrows so that your forehead is protected. Push the helmet from side to side and back to front. If it shifts noticeably (1″ or more), adjust the sizing wheel (or pads) to snug the fit.
2. Use lights when it’s dark
It seems like a no-brainer doesn’t it? But plenty of cyclists don’t bother using lights when riding in the dark. My guess is that the people who don’t bother are the casual riders who may only be riding a mile or two to work and who think the chances of an accident are very limited. Sadly, accidents can occur at any time and if a motorist can’t see you, the chances of getting hit are higher.
While I can understand peoples’ reluctance to wear a helmet, I really don’t get the “no lights” scenario – it’s just bonkers! And probably illegal!
Bike lights are cheap and last for years if you look after them. They come in all shapes and sizes and really could save your life.
3. Wear fluorescent gear
Another sticky subject for the vain cyclist. There is a lot of fluorescent gear around these days, and it helps keep you safe whether its light or dark. You could go for the waterproof jacket, the sleeveless vest or the wrist and ankle straps.
The item in this picture combines an LED light and is visible up to 2000 ft. You can wear it around your arm or your leg and it will certainly get you noticed on those dark rides.
4. Wear safety glasses
Have you ever been riding along and a fly or some other insect has landed in your eye? Most of the time it’s quite easy to continue along as if nothing happened, but what if you lost your balance?
Another dreaded scenario is something more dangerous hitting you in the eye. Road cyclists navigate around debris all the time; the area of the road they occupy is littered with stones, glass, twigs and a multitude of other things that, if thrown up by the wheel of car or another cyclist, could cause serious damage to your eye.
It’s a sobering thought.
Consider wearing some sort of eye protection if you think this might happen to you.
5. Fix a mirror to your handlebar
Back in the day, a long, long time ago, cycling mirrors were quite fashionable, and these days they are making a comeback. But not the huge round ones that stick out at a 45 degrees from your handlebar; the modern equivalent are much more sleek and much more in-line with what today’s cyclist expects.
Modern bike mirrors also fit onto a helmet, inside the barrel a racing/road bike’s dropbars and ever so discreetly onto the bar end of your standard handlebar.
6. Buy a helmet camera
A helmet camera might not provide you with much safety while you are riding your bike, but if you are involved in an accident with another person or vehicle, you may be able to use your recording to see what really happened. The New York Times describes them as “Black Boxes” in accidents.
Here are a few more quick safety tips for cyclists:
- When riding on the road, make eye-contact with motorists whenever you can. This way you know the driver has seen you. You also build a personal connection with the driver, who is now more likely to treat you with respect.
- Again on the road; ride defensively. In spite of what you might think and hope, when a cyclist is in collision with a vehicle (moving or not) it is often the cyclist who comes off worse. Be prepared for the unexpected and ride at speeds appropriate for the location and conditions. Riding at high speed through congested roads won’t win over motorists and your bones will take longer to mend than a dent in a car door.
- Let people know you are there by wearing brightly colored clothing.
- Make sure your bike is in good condition. Check your brakes and gears, and if they are not working properly, fix them yourself or take your bike to the repair shop.
- When you are passing a row of parked cars, expect somebody to open a door. It happened to me. I was travelling so fast I buckled the car door and landed on the opposite side of the road. Luckily, the road was quiet at the time and no vehicles were heading in the opposite direction or the incident could have been very nasty.
- Don’t jump red lights.
- Expect cars and other vehicles to cut you up when turning, and be prepared to evasive action. This has happened to me a few times, and each time I’ve expected it so I was able to avoid an accident.
- Use hand signals when turning.
- Lastly, be aware of everything around you. Stay alert and expect the unexpected – it’s a recurring theme, I know, but while you always know what you are going to do, the same cannot be said for those around you. Who knows what kind of mood or mental state they are in, who knows what they are doing or listening to? It’s up to you to make your cycling as safe as possible.
Be careful out there!
Picture : Richard Masoner