The basics of bicycle safety

by Alison Mason, PT, DPT
and Nathan Humphrey

The basics of bicycle safety

Warm weather is here and it’s the perfect time to ride a bike instead of hopping into the car to run errands. But before you jump into that saddle bicycle seat, remember that adults and children alike should be cautious when riding a bicycle at all times and in all environments. Here are a few things to remember.

As adults, we often forget the safety rules of biking, or neglect to follow what our parents taught us. Even as adults it is necessary to follow these simple safety rules:

  • Always wear a helmet.Wearing a helmet should always be the first priority when going for a ride, regardless of the riding environment.

  • When biking in a park or on a stretch of greenway, be aware of your surroundings! This means riding without your headphones on. Your environment could include walkers, runners, kids playing sports, pets on or off leash, and even wildlife. Always keep your eyes and ears peeled for pedestrians. Announce loudly to those pedestrians that you are approaching and which side you will be passing them on.

  • Look down, not just out and around. Check the surface you are riding on, and make sure not to run over potholes or cracks in the pavement, especially when riding at top speeds.

  • Check the air in your tires. A low or flat tire makes it hard to pedal and increases the risks for a blowout. Whether you are on the road or in a park on a stretch of greenway, wrecking is no fun!

It is also important to remember that if you are riding a road that is open to vehicular traffic, you have to follow the rules of the road as well (e.g., stop at red lights or stop signs, move with the flow of traffic and use appropriate hand signals to indicate turning directions). It may also be important to have a light on your bike, even one that flashes to alert traffic you are coming. And be aware of local requirements for bicyclists; for example, in New York City, you’re required to have a bell.

Children need to be taught the rules of bike safety.As for children, they need to be taught by an adult the rules of bike safety. First and foremost, they should always wear a helmet, no matter how short or easy the bike ride will be. Adults should teach by example, always wearing their helmets and being aware of the group’s surroundings. Children also need to be taught safe places to ride, considering both road conditions and high traffic areas.

As with any outdoor activity, hydration is important, especially on long rides or hot days, so bring a bottle of water. Wearing bright clothes and/or reflective clothing can also improve your visibility to pedestrians and drivers, increasing your safety. Also, what is better than one bright shirt on a bike? Two bright shirts! Find a friend or family member to ride with. It will make riding easier for your riding group and increase your visibility to folks in vehicles.

Other items that can improve the overall safety of your ride may include, but are not limited to, reflectors, flashing lights and your identification. Reflectors and lights are an excellent way to make your presence known to drivers — if they can’t see you, an accident can happen easily. And in case of an accident or emergency, it is a good idea to have your identification with you, as well as emergency contact information, in order to expedite that emergency care.

Finally, be sure not to overexert yourself or ride in ways that increase your risk of injury. Consider a physical therapy consultation to understand any risk factors you might have and to learn about injury prevention. Find a Physiquality therapist near you here.

Happy trails!

Alison Mason, PT, DPT Alison Mason, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee. She earned her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland in 2009.
Nathan Humphrey Nathan Humphrey has been a full time technician at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee, for nearly six years. Nathan participates in numerous running events, including marathons, and has competed in triathlons at the sprint and Olympic distance, planning to soon take on a long-course triathlon.

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For further reading, look through our selection of articles on bicycling, in addition to the below links:

Brody, Jane E. Advice from a 70-year-old cyclist. New York Times, February 13, 2012.

Deardorff, Julie. Staying safe while biking in traffic. Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2011.

Deardorff, Julie. Bike safety: My 6-year-old was “doored.” Chicago Tribune, July 7, 2011.

Share the road: Some subtle lessons that all cyclists and drivers need to know. Bicycling Magazine, July 2011.

Cycling injuries. Twin Boro Physical Therapy.

Leininger, Merrie. 10 cycling obstacles to avoid. Chicago Tribune, August 14, 2010.

Alderman, Lesley. Grown-up cyclists need helmets, too. New York Times, May 21, 2010.

Biking: Bike right, bike fit. Conshohocken Physical Therapy.

Gough, Steve and Marilyn McDonough. The body shop: Correct bike fit. Fox News, July 4, 2007.

Biking without pain. APTA.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.