Bike Safety Tips
Biking is a great way to explore the trails or a long country road. It's also an easy way to get around town or commute to work. Be sure to be safe, though, and heed the advice outlined here.
In the US, approximately 500,000 people get treatment for bicycle-related injuries each year. Major accident patterns associated with bicycles include:
- Collision with a car or another bicycle
Loss of control occurring because of a number of factors including:
- Difficulty in braking
- Riding too large a bike
- Riding too fast
- Riding double
- Striking a rut, bump, or obstacle
- Riding on slippery surfaces
- Attempting to do stunts
Mechanical and structural problems including:
- Brake failure
- Wobbling or disengagement of the wheel or steering mechanism
- Difficulty shifting gears
- Chain slippage
- Pedals falling off
- Spoke breakage
- Entanglement of feet, hands, or clothing in the bicycle
- Foot slippage from pedal
Most of these accidents can be avoided with proper bike selection, use, and care. Consider the following safety tips when shopping for a new bike or taking care of an old one:
Selecting the Bicycle
- If you're buying a bicycle for a child, choose one to fit the child's size today. Do not choose one he will "grow into" later.
- A bicycle should suit the rider's ability and kind of riding.
- Check hand and foot brakes for fast, easy stops without instability or jamming.
- Avoid slippery plastic pedals. Look instead for rubber-treated pedals, or metal pedals with serrated rat-trap edges or with firmly attached toe clips.
- Make sure the bike fits your body. Ask for professional help if you're not sure how to choose the proper size and type of a bike.
Using the Bicycle
- Always wear a helmet to help prevent head injuries.
- Observe all traffic laws and signals, just as if you were driving a car.
- Don't ride double or attempt stunts.
- Ride near the curb in the same direction as traffic. If there are bike lanes in your community use them, if not get together with other bike riders and campaign effectively for safe bicycle paths.
- Find alternate routes, rather than ride through busy intersections and heavy or high-speed traffic. Especially, avoid roads with high truck traffic.
- Walk (don't ride) your bicycle across busy intersections and left turn corners.
- Avoid riding in wet weather. When wet, hand brakes may require a long distance to stop.
- Avoid riding in the dark. If you do, be sure the bike is equipped with a headlight, a taillight, and reflectors. Apply retro-reflective trim to clothing or wear reflective vests and jackets.
- Avoid loose clothing or long coats that can catch in pedals or wheels. Use leg clips or bands to keep pant legs from tangling in the chain.
- Avoid crossing raised sewer grates.
- Dress appropriately for the weather.
- Avoid eating large meals prior to biking. Have a high-calorie snack with you, especially when planning long rides, to prevent hypoglycemia.
- Always have a bottle of water with you.
- Carry a cell phone with you. You never know when you may need it.
- Have some basic bike repair tools with you.
Maintaining the Bicycle
- Regular maintenance is essential for safe riding. Refer to the owner's manual for the manufacturer's recommendations. Have an experienced repair technician do complicated work.
- Align (or "true") wobbly wheels for better control. Spokes also may need adjustment.
- Replace all missing, damaged, or worn parts; for example, brake pads, chainguards, chain links, spokes, screws, bolts, and handlebar grips.
- Tighten and/or adjust loose parts.
- Before each ride, inspect breaks, tires, frame, fork, spindles, and other components for cracking.
- Parts should be adjusted to manufacturer's torque specifications.
- Inflate tires to recommended pressure, and replace worn tires.
- Lightly oil and clean moving parts. Keep oil off rubber.
- Keep bicycle indoors when not in use (moisture may cause rust and weaken metal parts).
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
Canada's Safety Council
Government of Canada
Bicycle related injuries. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/bike/. Updated November 2006. Accessed September 4, 2008.
Bicycle safety is no accident. US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Available at: http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/5031.pdf. Accessed September 4, 2008.
Last reviewed May 2008 by John C. Keel, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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