Safety Tips

I haven't been on a bike in years. How should I practice before I get out in traffic?

If you're not comfortable in traffic, practice your riding skills (turning, stopping, signaling, etc.) You will develop confidence with experience. Develop confidence and learn riding skills by practicing on quiet streets or empty parking lots.

What do I need to know to ride safely in traffic?

A bicycle is considered a vehicle, and a bicyclist is subject to almost all the same rules of the road as a motorist. Ride in a visible and predictable manner. Don't make motorists guess your next move. Always ride in the same direction as traffic. Riding against traffic is the cause of 20% of car-bike crashes. Be careful of parked car doors opening (ride at least 3 feet away from parked cars), road debris, and irregularities in the pavement. Don't swerve to the left without signaling, or weave around parked cars. When riding in traffic, maintain your speed. If your speed is slower than the traffic flow, move to the right edge of the through traffic lane. Ride as far to the right of traffic as is safe, unless:

  1. you are traveling at or above the speed of traffic
  2. there is insufficient lane width for the motorist to pass within the lane
  3. road conditions are so poor as to require a whole lane to maneuver around obstacles

In these instances, it is better to ride in the middle of the right-hand lane. Doing this is a way of telling drivers that they must change lanes to safely pass. Signal in advance of turns and stops, make eye contact with motorists before turning into their path, and wave when someone yields. Where you position yourself on the road will indicate to motorists whether you want to make a left or right turn or go straight through an intersection. When approaching pedestrians from behind or passing another cyclist, shout out your location in the roadway or path, such as, "on your left."

What do I need to stay alert to and look for in traffic?

Look out for road debris and gravel, broken roadway surface, sewer grates that catch bike tires, and railroad tracks. Always keep your eyes on the road and monitor the traffic behind with a mirror or occasional glance. Listen for cars approaching from the side or from behind. Don't follow too closely to vehicles (you may be in their blind spot and you can't see road problems ahead). Watch for cars turning into your path. Often motorists do not see a bicyclist or misjudge the speed of the bicyclist. Always be prepared to stop. Keep your hands on or close to the brakes.

How do I make turns and cross intersections?

Most car/bike crashes occur at intersections. When turning right, move toward the right of the roadway and point to the right to indicate your turn. Look for other motorists making turns. When turning left, look for gaps before moving to the left or changing lanes. Use a hand signal to point to the left and make eye contact. If the traffic speed is too fast and congested for a left turn at the intersection, make a box left turn (as a pedestrian would cross an intersection.) Going straight, where possible, ride through intersections in the middle of a travel lane for added visibility. Do not veer to the right out of the motorist's sight.

How do I handle my bike during a quick stop?

Making a quick or an emergency stop can be tricky, because when you brake quickly your weight shifts forward and you could go over the handlebars. Learn which levers control your front and back brakes. Push your weight back as far as you can go while lowering your torso (hunker down and move back on your bike). At the same time apply your brakes, with more pressure applied to the front brake. If your rear wheel starts to skid, ease up on the front brake.

How do I avoid things like potholes without swerving into traffic?

In traffic you want to steer quickly around an object. Just as you reach the object, steer to one side then quickly turn the other way to correct your balance while staying in as straight a line as possible. Try practicing this move on quiet streets until you feel comfortable.

How do I make a quick turn to avoid objects, such as cars coming towards me?

To make a very sudden turn you must first momentarily steer towards the object you are trying to avoid, which makes you lean in the opposite direction (to keep your balance), then steer into the lean. Use your brakes before or after a turn, not during the turn, and bring your pedal up as you lean into the turn to prevent catching the pavement. This is another move that will take practice; try practicing at slower speeds.

I am not sure the motorist sees me on the road. How can I be more visible?

Wear bright colorful clothing, or even better, wear materials made of fluorescent neon, or day glow, during the day. At night, wear retrospective clothing and retrospective material on your helmet. Make yourself as visible to the motorist as possible. Many motorists are not looking for cyclists. During bad weather, dusk and night use both a bright front headlight and a red rear reflector or taillight. A front white light visible at least 500 feet to the front is required at night in Pennsylvania. Rear flashing red lights can supplement the rear reflector.

Do I really have to wear a helmet?

Yes. Everyone should wear a helmet on every ride, no matter how short the trip is. Children under 12 years of age are required to wear a helmet, but adults are strongly encouraged to wear them whenever they ride. Wear a helmet with a Snell, American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), or American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approval sticker inside the helmet or the box. The helmet should fit snugly and sit flat on your head without shifting and be secured with a chin strap.

What are the most important laws that apply to me on my bicycle? 

  1. Bicycles are classified as vehicles in the Philadelphia Area, and are subject to similar laws as automobiles
  2. Stop for red lights and stop signs
  3. Yield to pedestrians

Play by the rules, ride responsibly, and be courteous