Biking is a great way to exercise, and explore the trails or a long country road. It is also an easy way to get around town or commute to work. No matter what your reason is, make sure you know how to stay safe while you're on two wheels.
Common bicycle-related accidents are due to:
- Collision with a car or another bicycle
Loss of control 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
- Flat tire
- Entanglement of feet, hands, or clothing in the bicycle
- Foot slippage from pedal
- Difficulty getting out of clips or toe cages
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.
There are several factors to consider when you buy a bicycle. If you haven't bought one before, consider going to a professional bicycle shop to get sound advice, look over the selection, and see what is available for accessories. Here are some other tips:
- If you are buying a bicycle for a child, choose one to fit the child's size today. Most bicycles can be adjusted as your child grows.
- 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 are not sure how to choose the proper size and type of a bike.
Knowing how to use a bicycle is just as important as picking one out. Follow this advice before jumping on your bicycle:
- Always wear a helmet to help prevent head injuries.
- Never use just your front (right) brake, it may cause you to flip over the handle bars.
- Observe all traffic laws and signals, just as if you were driving a car.
- Do not attempt stunts.
- Learn about the specific laws for bicyclists in your state. In the United States, bicycles are considered vehicles and have all the same rights and responsibilities as other motorists.
- Find alternate routes, rather than ride through busy intersections and heavy or high-speed traffic.
Especially, avoid roads with high truck traffic.
- Avoid riding in wet or icy 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. Flashing lights may give you extra visibility.
- Avoid loose clothing or long coats that can catch in pedals, gears, 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
- 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 bicycle repair tools with you.
- Do not impair your hearing with headphones or earbuds.
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. This is especially important if your bicycle has been sitting idle for several weeks.
- Align wobbly wheels for better control. Spokes also may need adjustment.
- Replace all missing, damaged, or worn parts. Examples include: brake pads, chain guards, 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 your bicycle indoors when not in use. Moisture may cause rust and weaken metal parts.
Head injuries and bicycle safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
Updated March 18, 2013. Accessed January 15, 2014.
Kids and bicycle safety. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website. Available at: http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/bike/kidsandbikesafetyweb/index.htm. Accessed January 15, 2014.
State Bike Laws. The League of American Bicyclists. Available at: http://www.bikeleague.org/content/state-bike-laws-0. Accessed January 15, 2014.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, 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
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