Bicycles/General Safety

This chapter is meant to deal with General Safety, and will cover what equipment you may need, visibility maintenance and security, all of which can be adjusted before a rider begins their daily commute.

Manuvering around safety cones. Practicing manuvering not only improves cyclist ability, it also improves cyclist safety.

Maintenance edit

First and foremost a cyclist needs a well maintained and functional machine. The bicycle is one of the few consumer durables still intended to be maintainable by the owner: most cycle maintenance is simple and requires only basic tools. At the very least the rider should regularly check safety-critical components:

  • Brakes: the front brake should be capable of locking the front wheel so that if the bike is pushed forwards, the rear wheel lifts; the rear brake should be capable of skidding the rear wheel.
  • Headset: with the front brake firmly on, rock the bike forwards and backwards. If you feel a clunk as the bike moves, and the handlebars move around, then the headset probably needs adjusting or replacing.
A winter tyre for bicycles which provide better grip in icy conditions.
  • Tires: inspect your tires regularly for cuts and wear. Worn tires can blow out, with perilous consequences. They also puncture more readily. Check that your tires are pumped up enough. Pinch the tire between thumb and forefinger: It should feel hard. Mountain bike tires typically run at about 45psi, road bike tires at anything up to 120psi. Do not use garage forecourt airlines (gas station air compressors) to inflate bike tires, use a proper pump preferably with a pressure gauge. Over-inflated tires can lift off the rim and burst. Under-inflated tires compromise control and can result in pinch flats, also known as snakebite punctures for their characteristic double holes.
  • Wheels: In turn, lift each end of the bike and spin the wheel. It should spin freely and the rim should remain roughly the same distance from the brake blocks. A wheel which is badly out of true may indicate a broken spoke - this should be fixed as soon as possible or else more spokes (or the whole wheel) will probably soon fail. Try to move the rim from side to side. If it moves or you feel a clunk, then the bearings may be worn and should be checked. If the wheel feels gritty as it spins, or rumbles, the bearings are probably damaged.
  • Handlebars: stand in front of the bike, facing towards it; hold the front wheel between your legs; grab the handlebars and try to turn. If the bars twist on the stem, tighten them.
  • General: if you have mudguards (fenders), a rack, a chain guard or any other equipment attached to your bike, give it a good rattle from time to time and check that it is still securely fixed. Loose mudguards, for example, can go in your wheel and bring you down.

Lights & conspicuity edit

The general consensus is that if you ride after dark you should use lights. This a legal requirement in most places. It is also generally recommended that you dress to be seen, especially in poor weather. Although this consensus is broad-based, it is largely intuitive and there are few studies to support or refute it.

Bike fit edit

Children edit

It is common for parents to buy a bike that is too big, in the knowledge that a child will grow. This can make it very difficult for the child to control the bike properly - in most cases it would be better to buy a second-hand bike the right size than a new one with "room for growth," which is, in reality, too big.

Adults edit

In adults the biggest fault is usually having the saddle too low, but this is mainly an issue of erroneously perceived comfort and health. It upsets the ability of the rider to control the bike and damages the riders knees and back. The best advice when buying/fitting a bike is to go to a specialist bike shop (Caveat emptor) and take advice.

Helmets edit

A well fitted and maintained bicycle helmet is among the most commonly considered pieces of safety gear.

Benefits of helmets edit

The obvious purpose of a helmet is to protect much of the head from serious injury during a crash or accident. Instead of the head taking damage directly, the helmet can take the blunt force of the damage, reducing impact on the rider by either deflecting or crushing from the source of impact, instead of the riders skull.
In addition to being a protective piece of safety gear, it is notable that this protection is passive, that is to say it is in effect as long as the helmet is worn. In a fast moving accident, a rider will not have time to outstretch their arms to protect their head, and doing so risks further loss of control of the bicycle. A properly worn helmet should offer protection without needing any thought or action by the cyclist in those key moments - freeing up precious mental bandwidth to focus on best handling the situation.
A bicycle helmet adds around an inch or a few centimeters to the height of a rider, which can help a cyclist be seen by others when they are behind obsicles such as other vehicles, hedges, etc. Combined with the bright white or colored shell most helmets are clad in, this increases rider visibility to others.
Eye protection
Most bicycle helmets do nothing to directly protect the eyes from debris or other hazards. That said many bike helmets have a built in vizor. This mainly helps keep the glare of the sun out of the eyes, but they also help with deflecting low hanging twigs, falling nuts, etc. A disruption or lapse in vision can be the difference between a pleasent ride and an accident. Bike helmets do not replace dedicated eye protection, but it could suppliment it.
Legal compliance
In many jurisdictions it is illegal to ride a bicycle without wearing a helmet. While such laws may or may not be enforced, wearing a helmet in such jusrisdictions errs on the side of caution and compliance with the law. This can reduce unnessicary interactions with the police, or can help otherwise demonstrate that you intended to ride a bicycle within the law.

Caveats edit

With all that in mind, a helmet is only one part of a comprehensive bicycle safety strategy. A bicycle helmet will not protect the whole body, nor the whole head or neck. It is part of a rider's last line of defense, and does not replace other safety gear, nor does it replace safe riding techniques and practice.

Among some cyclists the safety benefits of a helmet are considered controversial. These controversies often include changes to motorist and rider psychology caused by the wearing of a helmet, debates over helmet effectiveness in a crash, and the broader health and safety outcomes caused by the hassle of helmets leading some to drive automobiles instead, ultimately reducing community health. Still others focus on personal liberty, and believe that nobody should be required to wear a helmet by law. It is ultimately up to the rider whether or not they wear a helmet.

Conclusion edit

With all that said, It may be worthwhile to wear a helmet just to keep the sun out of your eyes. If you do decide to wear a helmet, make sure that it is well-fitting and is correctly fastened and that it is worn in the correct position. Take care of your helmet, it must not be dropped or bumped and make sure that the surface is not scratched which could damage the internal structure.

Local Information edit

Find a local independent bike shop that you trust. Go in and have a chat with the people and see if it is your kind of place. The staff in a good bike shop will be able to offer invaluable advice and they are mostly happy to help. Independent bike shops are recommended because their staff tend to be more passionate and knowledgeable about cycling than in most chain shops.

Many areas also have local cycling organisations, ranging from sport-oriented cycle clubs to campaigning organisations for 'transport' cyclists.

The Internet edit

There are many web forums offering discussion of all aspects of cycling and related issues, as well as information sites run by individuals and organisations. Links to some of these are given at the bottom of the page.

Government Information edit

Government agencies issue information and advice about cycling. the UK Highway Code contains a summary of road traffic laws and official 'best practice'. Whilst few cycling organisations advocate breaking the law, many see the advice elements as written by non-cyclists, and not necessarily in line with reality or cyclists' best interests.

Maintenance edit

It's vital that the bicycle you rely on is in good condition. Learn to do simple jobs like lubrication and brake and gear adjustment. Clean your bike regularly. Take your bike in for a service at your bike shop at least once a year. Essential safety critical parts that you should check often are:

Are your tires in good condition and correctly inflated?
Don't ride on bald or flat tires.
Are the wheel bolts tight enough to hold the wheel in place? If you have quick-release wheels check that the quick release is correctly tightened every time you ride your bike. Does the wheel run straight and true? if there are wobbles in the spinning wheel your bike shop can easily "true" them for you.
Check all your brake and gear cables for signs of rust, wear or fraying. The brake cable is one of the most important parts on a bike so make sure you keep a close check on its condition. If your cables look worn out get your bike shop to fit new ones.
Test the brakes before you get out on to the road. When looking at the brakes check that the brake pads are not worn out, and that they make contact with the wheel rim correctly when force is applied on the lever. Ask your bike shop to show you how to perform day to day adjustment on your brakes.
See also Adjusting Brakes.

Many bike shops, public libraries, and other community organizations run cycle maintenance courses. Check with the staff in your local cycle shop, cycle group, or community center.

Security edit

Bike theft is rampant in many areas, some unexpected. If you're going to leave your bike anywhere you must assume that it will attract thieves. The usual method used by bike thieves is as follows:

Understanding Thief Behavior edit

Bikes usually disappear overnight.
Bikes are stolen by opportunists during the day but organised bike gangs steal bikes at night, after mapping out their intended locations in the preceding daylight hours.
Beware of strangers on bikes.
Prior to an organised theft, young strangers or near-strangers will be seen observing in the area of the bikes during the daytime, perhaps on bikes themselves. Even if they are sent away it is wrong to assume that the point was won; they are casing the place for a night theft and they or others will return, usually the same night. If observers are noticed during the day, take the bikes into the house regardless of any inconvenience.
No lock is totally safe.
Any lock can be broken, but buy a good lock to keep the odds in your favor. Thieves use car jacks to break d-clamp locks, and bolt cutters for chains and cables. Some say that skeleton keys are available for locks.
Bikes are then stripped of any peculiar fixings
In fact, all of the brakes and other accessories can be removed; They are interchanged between other bikes to confuse recognition.
The thieves sell the bikes quickly
They get comparatively low prices for bikes but in view of the low penalties imposed on their activities, they steal large numbers of items. Selling the bikes compounds the difficulty of recovery even if the items are found.

Defense against Theft edit

Bear in mind then, the following points:

No cycle lock is thief proof
All you can do to protect your bike is buy time. You have to increase the risk for the thief to the point that they will not bother targeting you. By the time that a bike is stolen, the chance of it being recovered by police is poor.
Invest in a secure cycle lock.
There are many types to choose from. The staff in the bike shop will be able to offer you the best advice. A common guide is that you should invest at least 10% of the price of your cycle in a lock. Ideally consider a lock that can fasten both wheels and the frame to a bike stand or other immovable object. Two locks of different types may be better than one. Insurers insist on good locks and they have approved lists.
Insure your bike
Read the policy carefully; some of these are difficult to claim on. If your bike receipt does not have all of the items on it, including the bike number, date of purchase, cost, and other items, then make sure you get these or the insurance might not work. Similarly, the receipt for your bike lock is expected to be much-detailed, including its make, model, price, and serial number, so that you can justify the good lock clause. No easy task; most counter receipts lack detail. Although most insurance covers theft away from home when an approved lock was used, insurers will not usually pay for a bike stolen from the common area of flats whether or not a good lock was used, (on the railings). There is often a stipulated front-door lock quality for insured items in the house itself, though frankly, taking the bike into the house at night gives the best protection of all. Sadly, many only realize the limitations of insurance after an unsuccessful claim.
Quick release components need locked too
Wheels and saddles need locked to deter petty thieves. It might be worth investing in a light cable lock to secure your components to your frame. Two locks are also better than one because it takes the thief longer to remove them.
Choose the place that you lock your bike up carefully.
Never lock your bike up somewhere that you hope it won't be noticed - remember, no lock is thief proof, but they buy time. If the thief thinks it will take too long to remove the lock, and they might be caught then they won't attempt a theft. By locking your bike up in a quiet spot you are removing the only advantage you have. Ideally choose a designated cycle parking facility provided by the (most) municipal authorities. If not then lamp posts, fences, signs, etc. provide useful locking points. Make sure you lock your bike up in busy places. There are a few major points to make about picking the object you lock your bike to:
Never lock your bike to cast iron railings!
Cast iron is brittle, so although a railing looks strong a sharp blow from a heavy hammer can shatter it in no time at all. If you're not sure find something else to lock your bike to.
Check that the bike stand or other object is secure.
Bicycle locking stands should not move. They should be as solid as a rock. Some really do just lift up out of the ground. Some fences have railings that slide right out. What ever you're locking your bike to, give it a good shake before you lock your bike to it. If it looks like it might go somewhere, choose somewhere else to lock your bike.
When you lock your bike to a sign make sure it's a tall one.
Thieves will just bend the sign up and lift your bike over the top of the post if they can. Make sure the post is too tall for them to do that. Also, in some countries, (London, UK), the police might object to bikes cabled to lampposts, and as such if an offense is being committed, you might that it makes for a difficult insurance claim in the event of a theft.
Try not to leave your bike outside overnight anywhere.
You will find that insurance policies may not cover this, even in the common area of your home. Take any bike that you value into the house, a garage, or a shed. Folding bikes make this regime easier, even if they have 26 inch wheels.
Make your cycle less attractive to thieves.
You can get your bicycle frame stamped with a unique number (sometimes your postcode or zip-code) and registered with the police. There are also electronic tags that identify your bike as stolen if the police find it. There are internet property registers like that are used by law enforcement and bike owners to check whether or not for-sale and recovered items are already reported as stolen. Theoretically, there should be no international boundaries to internet registers, though the lack of international police liaison (and their disinterest) might prevent it. Priority in most police forces is given to crimes against the person, so bike theft has quite a low priority.
Some cyclists wrap the frame of their cycles in tape.
Use either electrical insulating tape or "gaffer" tape to make the frame unique; this also covers the labels on an expensive frame and protects the paintwork. It is also removable, any gunk left over from the tape can be removed with degreaser. Some (particularly messengers) cover their frames in vinyl stickers. This looks cool but might not be to everybody's taste. It has the same effect as taping.
Fitting mudguards gives a bike a slightly less racy appearance.
It also helps make it less attractive to thieves.
Take lots of photos of your bike.
This will help you identify it before reporting a find to police. It is difficult to check a serial number on a parked bike, and perhaps dangerous too, so consider other ideas, like keeping a photo of the bike's paint chip patterns on your phone for a quick comparison. Chip patterns are quite unique and thieves rarely take the trouble to cover them.

Visual Guide to Bike Security edit

Clothing edit

Cyclists wearing high visibility clothing.

Cycle shops sell a wide range of clothing specifically designed for cyclists.

Summer Clothing edit

In the hot, humid, and cloudy summer you may to wear shorts and a t-shirt. The "wicking" t-shirts sold in bike shops and mountaineering shops etc. will draw the sweat away from you and help keep you dry. A light wind-cheater is handy for colder moments.

In areas with harsh sunlight, it may make more sense to wear a loose fitting shirt and pants. (Though not so loose fitting it can get caught in the mechanical bits of the bike!) This stops the harsh light fron directly hitting the body.

Regardless of the clothing you pick, you should still apply sun protection to any parts of the body where it is needed.

Winter Clothing edit

In the winter you'll want breathable waterproofs - something that keeps the rain off but also lets the sweat out, normal waterproofs will just trap your sweat and make you feel damp.

When riding a bike in winter, your hands will be even more exposed to the cold then usual. Make sure to have good cyclist gloves that ward off the frost bite while maintaining the flexibility needed to quickly handle controls.

You may consider bringing hand warmers just in case.

If riding in the snow, avoid white clothing to aid in your visibility.

Pants, Shorts, and Skirts edit

Standard Clothing

Among standard clothes, in general the more freely it allows your legs to move, while remaining out of the chain, the better it is. For that reason, shorts and other loose clothing are commonly prefered, followed by flexible fabrics such as sweatpants or even business slacks. Denim, particularly jeans, offers a lot of protection, but is also quite restrictive, especially before the fabric is broken in.

It is possible to ride a bicycle with a skirt.

Cycling Shorts

Specialty bike shorts are perhaps the most efficent clothing for cycling, being one of the least restrictive options for leggings allows the cyclist to operate nearly unimpeded. That said, shorts offer less physical protection then pants.

Cycling shorts are really good for cyclists aiming for high speeds and unimpeded riding. These shorts are different from normal shorts in that the seams are specially placed to avoid chafing your "sensitive" regions, and sometimes they have padding to soften the ride. Bike shorts designed this way are often intedned to be worn without underwear. They can be made of special wicking material to draw away sweat and keep you dry.

The look of cycle shorts can be controversial for many riders, and some non-riders may even see such clothing as indecent. and to wear them in some locations requires a degree of boldness. For commuters going to work, wearing only bike shorts and a light shirt could be out of the question. Some riders may wear these under more conventional clothes for a more standard look.

Visibility edit

It is important to be as visible as possible when cycling. It is very easy for other road users to fail to see a cyclist in the dark until it is too late.

The reflectors supplied with your bike are a legal minimum requirement (in the UK and many other jurisdictions) but they will not be enough to ensure you are fully visible. Reflectors fail for myriad reasons- see Sheldon Brown's guide for a list. Pedal reflectors tend to work the best, because they are in motion most of the time, resulting in a "flashing" effect. Spoke reflectors help to make you visible from side on, and like pedal reflectors are in constant motion. Despite this, A cyclist has to take responsibility for their own visibility. If the car that hits you has no headlights then your reflectors won't do anything. It is important that you fit front and rear lights. Many cyclists also attach extra lights to their clothing/helmet.

Despite the problems with bike reflectors, don't be tempted to remove them, They're an important back up. Many cyclists attach extra reflectors to their bike. Reflective tape is particularly useful as is can be wrapped around the frame, turning the surface of the bike into a reflector with out adding any unsightly bits of plastic and metal. Reflective clothing is also recommended. A wide range of reflective jackets, belts, trouser clips, vests etc. is available in cycle shops. A cheap alternative can be the reflective tabards worn by road repair crews. These are available in builders merchants and should be certified to be industry safety standards.

Bells and horns edit

A bell on a bicycle

A bell or horn (or among London cycle messengers an elaborate whistle) is an essential piece of safety equipment. Use it to warn pedestrians of your approach on shared pathways, or if they have not noticed you when they are crossing the road. Ring your bell for a few seconds before going round any blind corners. If you cycle on canal towpaths ring the bell before and while going under any bridges, as the entrance to many bridges (in London for example) is obscured by a kink in the path. Remember that bicycles don't make any engine noise so you have to help others become aware of your presence.

Other road users edit

It is inevitable when cycling in an urban centre that you will come in conflict with other road users, including both moving and parked motor vehicles, pedestrians, maintenance activities, deliveries and trash pickups. Many regular cyclists (and many drivers) have a long list of examples of imbecility on the part of drivers that led to a near miss/close shave, or seemingly unwarranted aggression from frustrated motorists. Growing numbers of motorists and pedestrians have equally-long lists of absurdly bad behavior by cyclists. Cycle-commuting is healthier for you and better for the environment. These personally- and socially-desirable benefits entitle you to no more special consideration than anybody else on the street. The important things you must remember are:

  • You have as much right to be on the road as motorists (except emergency vehicles in the course of their duty). If they can't pass you safely they ought to wait. You may not want to hold your breath for this, however.
  • Other users - especially pedestrians - have just as much right to use the roads and streets. If you endanger their safety by not observing road-rules, you are just as culpable as any motorist who will not give you space. Your additional attention is warranted for children, people with disabilities, animals, many seniors, and visitors who are unfamiliar with local right-of-way arrangements.
  • Safety is everybody's lookout. It is your responsibility to be seen - this can mean slowing down when approaching cross-traffic; wearing highly-visible gear in poor light (fog, rain, dusk, glare) and lights visible for 100 meters when it is dark; giving indications of your intention to move in the lane or make a turn. It is also wise to be aware of distractions that may afflict other riders, drivers, and pedestrians - these include phones and music players as well as sudden noises, flashing lights, or furious activity in the environment. Making eye contact with drivers at junctions, etc., really helps ensure he/she has seen you, and lets you anticipate when someone may pull in front of you.
  • Streets are for riding. Sidewalks are for walking. Don't ride on the sidewalk, and don't ride the wrong way down a one-way street. If a street has a bicycle lane, use it. Follow safety rules for bikes on stairs, escalators, and public transit. Stop at stop-lights and stop signs. Exercise care to avoid slower-moving and halted vehicles and pedestrians.
  • Crowded urban areas are never a place for racing or time-trials. Many urban cyclists are goal-oriented, intense, and assertive individuals who easily transfer this attitude onto the street. Being focussed prevents general-awareness of your surroundings, however, it is a major safety hazard.
  • Do not retaliate or provoke a confrontation. A cyclist is much more vulnerable than a motor vehicle. Even an exasperated gesture may provoke road rage, making a bad situation worse. Be satisfied that cycling in cities is quicker, better for your health, environmentally friendly and a social activity. If you really want to make your voice heard you can see if your city has a cyclist's association, or perhaps join a bike ride organised by the protest group Critical Mass (but avoid illegal behaviors).

See Also edit

References edit

External Links edit

  • - A huge site with lots of safety, maintenance and fun tips, in-depth bike history categories. A rich seam of cycling information.
  • - The website of the London Cycling Campaign. Full of information for cyclists in London and beyond