Summary: There are many ways you can minimise the risks of urban cycling through how you ride - primarily through improving your knowledge, experience, skills, decision-making and habits. This post will provide a concise summary of the most important advice in one place with links to further details.
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by megan ann
> See the safety and health category of this blog
Learn how to avoid the most common collisions with cars
- An excellent illustrated guide on avoiding the 10 most common bike-motorist collisions is: How not to get hit by cars. Note that this is for cyclists who ride on the right side of the road so just reverse it if in a country where you ride on the left.
Evaluate and use the safest cycling routes
See: Characteristics of safe cycling routes
Ride out of the door zone or slower and alert if not feasible
See: How to avoid getting doored
Avoid slippery road surfaces
- Drain grates, manholes, tram tracks and painted lines are slippery, especially in the wet.
Slow down and take extra caution in the wet or any dangerous conditions
- When it's wet it takes a lot longer to brake and it is much easier for tyres to slip or even your shoes on the pedals. Consequently, slowing down to safe speeds and minimising sharp braking and turns is critical.
- Take extra care to avoid slippery road surfaces in the wet. They are several times as slippery when wet.
Conscientiously build up your experience in challenging conditions (rain, heavy traffic, strong winds)
- Challenging riding conditions become much safer over time as you build up experience in adjusting the way you ride and learn to handle any risks. Much of this experience and knowledge won't magically filter into your head. You'll need to conscientiously focus on learning how to best deal with the conditions.
Be alert and anticipate other people's actions (drivers, cyclists, pedestrians)
- Ride defensively and don't assume others have seen you or will not put you at risk.
Prioritize your safety (wait, hold up others or break rules if necessary)
- Ride safely on the footpath for some stretches if too dangerous on the road.
Exploit any road rules designed for cyclists (e.g. hook turns)
- In Australia, cyclists are typically allowed to use hook turns to turn across traffic at intersections. This is usually the safest way to turn across traffic. See: Victorian cycling road rules
Make eye contact with other road users (drivers, pedestrians)
- Where possible, making eye contact with other road users (particularly intersections) is very useful. Roundabouts are the most important example.
Signal your intentions as clearly as possible with your hands
For example, point to where you plan to go if there is any doubt. Otherwise signal left, right or if stopping.
Choose routes or pace your riding to keep speed differentials low
- Aim to minimise the speed differential between your bike and other traffic going the same direction. This gives motorists more time to see you. E.g. You should avoid riding at 20km/hr on a road where cars are doing 60km/hr.
Keep both hands firmly on the handlebar and always control the front wheel
- The front wheel is the key to your stability so do not ride with one hand or an impeded grip. If you keep the front wheel stable and ensure you don't jerk it around suddenly, it will greatly reduce your chance of coming off.
Brake as gently as feasible and while riding in a straight line. Keep your weight back when braking
- Always brake as gently and steadily as feasible rather than grabbing the brakes sharply. Apply the brakes before you turn and never while turning (especially in the wet or at speed). Get into the habit of shifting/keeping your weight back when you brake sharply as your rear wheel loses traction with the ground and your bike may tip forward.
Ride predictably, in straight lines, observe the road rules and do as other experienced cyclists do
- Observe other experienced cyclists and ride predictably and follow the road rules. This reliability enables other road users to correctly anticipate your position and actions.
Claim the lane when necessary (e.g. roundabout)
- When necessary for safety, claim the whole traffic lane by shifting to occupy the middle of it so that other vehicles cannot pass you in it.
Ride in appropriate clothing and footwear
- Use shoes that won't slip on the pedals (e.g. if you stand or its wet). Wear clothing that won't get caught in the drive train or wheels.
Ensure you have space and stability for filtering alongside cars
- If filtering alongside cars practice being able to ride in a straight line without wobbling. If the gap is too narrow for your skills then don't ride through it.
Always take extra care at intersections or when turning
- Even if you have the green light or right of way, intersections/turns are where most accidents happen so you need to be able to avoid red light runners and dangerous or impatient drivers.
Choose safe speeds based on conditions (rain, visibility, door zone)
- The easiest and most advantageous control for almost all risky situations is to reduce your speed. Build up experience to determine safe speeds for each type of risk (e.g. door zone bike lanes).
In dangerous situations be prepared to make the safest, emergency escape
- For example, if unavoidably riding on a road with fast traffic, you may need to hop the kerb to get off the road quickly. This takes practice if you've never done it before.
Avoid heavy vehicles wherever feasible (especially turning)
- Heavy vehicles (trucks, buses) can't stop or manouevre quickly and the consequences of any accident with them are extremely dangerous. Don't risk filtering in their blind spots or rely on them seeing you or being able to stop in time.
Don't use headphones while you ride
- If using an off-road bike path with few other users and high safety, headphones may be fine. Otherwise, headphones are generally not adviseable as they limit your ability to hear warnings and other bikes and vehicles.
How not to get hit by cars