Bike Safety in the City

Whether they're taking part in organized bike tours or riding alone, many cyclists use city streets. Riding a bike through a busy city street is vastly different than riding in residential neighborhoods. With potential challenges including traffic jams, anxious drivers, and pedestrians rushing to get where they need to be, there's little wonder that some people feel uncomfortable with the idea of bicycling in urban areas. For them, the thought of riding a bike where there's so much congestion on the road may even seem scary and dangerous. The risk can be greatly diminished, however, when one knows and abides by the safety rules.

Understand Your State's Biking Laws

Learning the state bicycling laws is one of the most crucial steps before riding a bike in a city. It's important that bicyclists not make assumptions about what is or is not permissible, particularly when riding in an unfamiliar state for the first time. Laws governing helmets, sidewalks, and passing vehicles can change from one state to the next, and failure to know what these laws are can lead to accidents or fines. Laws for bicyclists can typically be found by going to the state's department of transportation or motor vehicles website. If in doubt, heed the basic rules of the road like car drivers do.

Stay Visible and Aware

Just as following the law is important, so is remaining visible to drivers and being aware of what's happening around you. One of the best ways that bicyclists can remain visible is to assume that they aren't visible to the people on the roads with them. Assuming that drivers don't see them, a person riding their bike will need to make every effort to be seen. To do that, one should put lights on the front and the back of their bicycle and wear reflectors on clothing and gear when riding at night. To avoid injury, bicyclists should never ride in or near a motor vehicle's blind spot, and they must always use caution around parked cars and assume that a driver or passenger will open their door without seeing the cyclist approach. The use of arm signals can also clearly telegraph a bicyclist's intentions to drivers.

To stay aware of what's happening on the street, bicyclists should never hinder their ability to hear, which means leaving headphones off when riding in traffic. Bicyclists must be prepared for drivers who may pull out, turn, or merge in front them, as evasive maneuvering may be necessary to avoid a collision. A person riding a bike should also stay alert to the fact that they are not protected from injury in a bicycle lane as cars can and do pass through them, particularly when making a right turn.

Ride the Right Bike and Have the Right Attitude

People should always ride the appropriate bicycle for the environment. In the city, road and hybrid or commuter bikes are a smart choice. These types of bikes are generally meant for paved surfaces and street riding and are light and maneuverable. It's also important to have a bike that isn't too large or too small for the individual riding it, as riding a bike that's the wrong size can be uncomfortable and difficult to manage. A bike shop can help fit people with the right saddle height and frame.

City streets are stressful for bicyclists and drivers alike, but having the wrong attitude compounds any problems that may arise. It's important to keep a level head, even if drivers don't, as a case of road rage between a car and a bicycle can have tragic results. Bicyclists can help reduce incidents by mapping out directions in advance and brushing up on their riding skills if it's been a while since they last rode a bicycle.

Carry a Repair Kit

The need for an emergency repair can happen at any time. Bicyclists can be prepared for this by carrying a basic repair kit with them and familiarizing themselves with its use. A kit for city rides should include items such as a hand pump, a spare tube, a multi-tool, a patch kit, and tire levers. Although this may sound like a lot, it can easily be carried in a shoulder bag or backpack. While these items may also be kept in a seat bag, they are susceptible to theft if left with the bike when it's locked up in a public location.

Bike Maintenance

Before taking a ride through the city streets, cyclists will want to make sure their bike is well-maintained and in good working condition. A safety check will ensure that the bike's tires are properly inflated, the brakes are functioning properly, the axles are tightened, and the chains are clean and lubricated. Also check the saddle height and angle, pedals, handlebars, straightness of wheels, derailleurs, and lighting.

Know How to Secure Your Bike

When riding in the city, cyclists will inevitably need to stop somewhere, and there's a good chance that they'll need to leave their bike unattended. A bicycle that isn't properly locked up is one that's at risk of being stolen. One should always buy new U-shaped locks and avoid locks that are used or can easily be cut or broken, such as combination or cable locks. It's important to also avoid locking it in an area that's secluded or has little traffic. The bike should be locked onto something that is sturdy, cemented, or otherwise bolted in place. Avoid locking it on anything that can be lifted or removed or anything that the bike itself can be lifted and removed from.

  • State Bike Laws: Learn what the bike laws are in every state by visiting the League of American Bicyclists website.

  • Bicycle Helmet Use: Helmet laws vary depending on the state, and this page from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute features a clickable map that shows a what the laws are in each state.

  • Bicycle Helmet Laws: Click this link to view the chart and learn about state helmet laws.

  • Bicycle Safety: Open this link to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website for bicycle safety information that covers topics such as helmets, crashes, and sharing the road.

  • Bicycle Maintenance: Bike maintenance is an important part of bicycle safety and this page outlines how to maintain the brakes and inflate tires or replace a flat.

  • Bike Safety: On this National Safety Council page, readers can review information on the risks of riding, head protection, and following safety rules.

  • Ditch the Dark Shirt: Bike Safety Tips: Open this Consumer Reports page for ten bicycling safety tips to follow before you go cycling and while you're on the road.

  • Ten Smart Rules to Bike Safety: Visit this page on the city of Madison, WI, website that lists ten safety rules for bicyclists of all ages.

  • Bike Theft Prevention (PDF): Open this sheet to read how bicyclists can prevent their bikes from being stolen.

  • Road Bike Safety 101: Bicyclists who read this article will find information on safety gear, rules of the road, good habits, and the best and worst places to bike.

  • Bike Maintenance Basics: People who enjoy riding their bike will want to click this link to find expert advice on how to maintain their bicycle.

  • How to Keep Your Bike From Getting Stolen: Cyclists who read this article will learn how to properly secure their bike, where to lock it, and other steps to prevent it from being stolen.

  • Things to Check Every Time You Ride a Bike: People can keep their bike in safe working order by reviewing this list of pre-ride safety checks for bicycles.

  • Safe Bicycling in New York City (PDF): Cyclists living in New York City can click this link for a summary of the city's bicycle laws, rules, and regulations.

  • Riding Skills and Tips: Open this page to read tips on hand signals, bicycling fundamentals, hazard recognition, and how to avoid collisions.

  • What Is Dooring, and Is it Illegal?Cycling Weekly discusses the problem of dooring, a common hazard for urban cyclists.

  • How to Avoid the Most Common Bike-Car Collision: This Health magazine article offers tips on how to stay safe when cycling, such as being visible, predictable, and cautious around car doors and intersections.

  • CDC Bicycle Safety: The serious issue of bicycle safety is the topic of this page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, which outlines not only the problem but also risk factors and prevention.

  • Coexisting With Drivers: Ten Rules for Bicyclists: Cyclists can read what the ten top rules are for sharing the road with drivers when they click on this link.

  • The 15 Rules of NYC Riding You're Probably Breaking: On this page, the city's cyclists can read 15 rules that they are probably breaking but shouldn't.