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Bike commuting to work has increased in popularity over the years. It’s an eco-friendly, cost-effective transportation method.
And it’s a cheeky way of keeping fit while getting the daily commute to work out of the way at the same time.
Kill two (and more!) birds with one stone. That’s what we say!
However, it can be very dangerous if you don’t know the ins and outs of bike commuting safety.
Here are some safety tips to make sure your bike ride to work is as safe as possible:
1. Ride with traffic and obey all traffic laws
Ride with the traffic and don’t be tempted to break the law by riding on the sidewalk or against traffic.
If you are hit by an inattentive driver, the collision might be deemed your fault unless you can prove otherwise. Not cool.
A lot of cyclists give the rest of us a bad name by running red lights, cutting in front of cars, playing with smartphones, and riding on the sidewalk. Do the cycling community and yourself a favor by following the rules that the rest of the traffic follows.
Read more: Getting to work without a car
Video: Bike Commuting Safety Tips
2. Pack your bike properly
Pack your bike bags properly to ensure you have everything you need for a safe and healthy commuting experience. Make sure you have a spare tube, as well as a pump to fix any unexpected flats. Using good quality puncture-proof commuter tires should help avoid this.
You can opt to wear a backpack directly over your shoulders. These are good, because they will not interfere with balance, and you can wear them comfortably under a poncho, if desired, during rainfall. Don’t pack too much weight as it’ll hurt your neck and shoulders with continuous use.
If you need to carry a little more weight, panniers are the way to go. They are stored to the sides of your bike, so they don’t get in the way while riding. Normally at the rear, using racks.
You can use one pannier, but it’s better to use two panniers on either side of your rear rack, as this will balance out the weight very well. You’ll find panniers also offer enough storage space to carry any necessities required for an unplanned workday. Don’t pack in too much weight, as this can make steering twitchy and unpredictable.
Whether you use a backpack or panniers, make sure they are waterproof/resistant.
3. Plan your bike commuting route
Apps are available to help you plan your route and cover off the above three requirements. Google Maps, Komoot, and RidewithGPS are all worth a look and are easy to use.
Input the start and endpoints and you’re good to go. The apps will have alternatives should you wish to avoid big hills or busy/dangerous roads.
Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination, even if it’s only a few miles away. The more stressed out you are trying to race the clock, the more likely you are to fall off or have an altercation with a vehicle.
Enjoy your commute without feeling rushed.
4. Wear bright colors that make you more visible to drivers
The brighter, the better.
A reflective vest over your usual clothes is a great way to stay safe. You can even wear reflective bands on your wrists and ankles. Fluorescent booties are also good. Adding reflective material to moving parts (your legs) helps you stand out when a driver can’t see you head-on.
That little bit of movement can make all the difference.
5. Never Drink And Bike
Do we really need to spell this out?
This should go without saying but…No drinking, no riding. For any rider under the influence of alcohol or drugs, there is always the potential for an accident – biking to work, or anywhere else for that matter.
It’s tempting to have a beer or three on a Friday after work, but the bottom line is that alcohol impairs your judgment, and motorists don’t expect to see a cyclist riding on the road while intoxicated.
Yes, there are some bicycle riders who can stay in control even after drinking a few beers or wines. But it’s not recommended. And it’s illegal.
And don’t think it’s ok to ride drunk on a trail, away from a road. It’s not.
6. Ride On Bike Lanes, Bike Trails Or Less Busy Streets
This ties in with planning a route above.
It’s safer to ride with other bicycle commuters, or in areas where there are fewer cars.
You still need to be careful riding dedicated or shared bike lanes or trails. They can often be slippery as they are often not maintained as well as roads.
Also watch out for other bicycle commuters, particularly if they are riding in the opposite direction. Some bicycle commuters treat the ride to work (and more often riding excitedly from work back home again) like a race, or a training run. Yes, it can get competitive out there! I’m guilty of taking part at times. Just be careful.
7. Keep at least one hand on the brakes at all times
You need to have your wits about you when riding to work.
You never know when a car might pull out in front of you or some other cyclist might ride into your path. And then there are pedestrians in shared zones who can quickly change direction – catching you off-guard.
Keeping your hands on the brakes could be the difference between falling off or not. Or even life and death in some situations.
I believe this is easier with drop-bar brakes because the STI levers are right there at your fingertips when you need to slow down suddenly.
Read more: Road bike brake pad reviews
8. Put lights (or even reflectors) on your bike
Lights are a must, even if it’s broad daylight.
All you really need are two lights: one white and one red. The white light should be in front of your bike and visible from ahead of you. They are usually clipped or strapped onto the handlebars, or sometimes the stem.
The red should be shining at the back of your bike and be visible from all angles. That way if a car or truck is approaching from behind they’ll know what’s up ahead. Rear lights are usually affixed to the seat post or the seat stay part of a bike frame.
It’s also possible to get lights that attach to helmets, bags, or even wheels lights.
Reflectors are a good backup, but lights are more preferred.
9. Beware Of Drivers Blind Spots
If you’re a car driver, you’ll know you don’t have all-around vision like one of those 360-degree cameras.
That’s why, as a cyclist, it’s important to remember that cars don’t see what you can.
Car drivers have a few blind spots, the most common of which is directly behind their vehicle. This is called “the no-seeing zone”.
Most of the time you’ll not want to ride in this zone. Be especially careful if overtaking if you are in this zone. Look out for sudden movements as the driver makes a move, unaware you are there. Also, make sure you have one eye on the road up ahead so that you can anticipate erratic movements.
10. Make Sure Your Bike Is Well Serviced
Keep your bike in top condition. Have a local bike shop check out your bike and its components every six months. They can give your bike a once-over to make sure that everything is in working order. Make sure the brakes, wheels, and gears are all included in maintenance.
You should regularly clean your bike too. Everyone can easily do this. Consider degreasing your chainset every now and again and reapplying lube regularly.
This will not only help your bike run reliably and avoid the chain slipping or the brakes not working as they should, but this basic maintenance work will help your components last longer. Oh, and your bike will ride better and easier too. Yes, a dirty chain actually makes you pedal a little harder to go the same speed as a clean chain.
11. Watch Out For Car Doors
This is a big one.
People open car doors in front of oncoming traffic. Fact.
This can be because people simply don’t look, but drivers also do this because they have a blind spot and just don’t see cyclists at times.
A good way to avoid this is to ride a little further away from parked cars than normal. I personally like to ride at least the width of a car door away from them. Don’t worry if drivers behind don’t like it. Your safety (and theirs) is more important than potentially holding anyone up for a few seconds.
You can always pull over when you’ve overtaken all the parked cars. After all, you don’t want to deliberately hold up cars when there’s no need to. I hate doing that. We should all share the road respectfully. It makes for a better world
12. Pedestrians Not Paying Attention
You always need to be vigilant for pedestrians who aren’t paying attention, especially when you are biking in a city.
They can cross the street without looking both ways before turning or jaywalk across lanes of traffic. Not paying attention and failing to notice you is a thing.
As an occasional commuter pedestrian myself (aren’t we all?!) I have to plead guilty to doing this myself at times. Before begrudgingly turning up at work and not having their daily dose of caffeine, people tend to wander to work zombie-like and this can cause little accidents.
This is especially the case on shared bike/pedestrian sidewalks and bike lanes running beside pedestrians. Even with clearly green painted lanes, pedestrians can lose attention and stray into your path.
Be prepared and use the “at least one hand on the brake” rule above.
13. Stay Well Away From The Curb (Take The Lane!)
This is quite similar to the “car door” rule above.
You don’t want to be too close to the curb at any point while you are riding.
Because the closer you are to the side, the more likely you’re going to get caught out by debris and obstacles, such as drains. These often aren’t flush flat with the road and can be slippery, so it’s best to avoid them as much as you can.
Also, windy gusts can catch you out and blow you onto the sidewalk – instant accident! And then there are those surprise puddles. So yeah, stay away from the edge. About 1 meter is good (at least).
Take the lane.
Don’t be afraid of blocking cars behind. It’s better that they overtake you safely, rather than trying to squeeze past you (while cars are coming the other way) because you’re so close to the edge. If you’re sitting out a bit, the overtaking car will give you a wider berth because they can only go past if cars are not coming the other way.
Don’t be silly about it. We do not advocate blocking traffic for the sake of it by sitting in the middle of the road for no reason.
It’s safer for everyone if you ride in a sweet spot between the edge and the middle of the road.
14. Wear A Helmet
If you have the option to wear a helmet…please just do it. Wear a helmet. It’s a no-brainer.
By wearing a helmet when biking to work you are protecting yourself from head injuries which can lead to serious brain damage or death. According to the CDC, “bicycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent.” Make sure your helmet is properly fitted and adjust it whenever necessary.
15. Do Not Run Red Lights!
Yeah, we mentioned this before in the “obey laws” section. But here it is again!
If the lights turn red, stop. Drivers do it, and cyclists should too.
Aside from the fact that cyclists running red lights really rubs drivers up the wrong way (and who can blame them?), it’s dangerous.
People say, “Yeah, but a cyclist isn’t going to hurt a pedestrian. It’s not like it’s a car!”. The thing is, in a collision with a cyclist, the pedestrian definitely comes off second best.
For example, if your country allows it, sometimes cars will try to turn right on red while cyclists are riding straight through an intersection – if the bike hits or gets hit by the car’s side mirror, that cyclist is most likely going to go flying.
Another reason for cycling cautiously through an intersection is that cars may make illegal turns across your path. It happens.
And guess who wins the battle? The car, or the cyclist? Uh-huh, that’s right….
In conclusion, it is important that when you bike to work you do so responsibly.
You want to be mindful of not breaking the law and also not endangering other people around you.
Use these pointers while riding in your area and have an enjoyable bike ride on your morning commute!