Bicycles are a great way to get to and from and around campus. However, bicyclists are faced each day with dangerous situations that can lead to serious injury or even death. Just as with motor vehicle accidents, riders have the power to avoid most accidents. Riders who exercise defensive riding, use proper equipment and follow the rules of the road are far less likely to experience a bicycle accident in their lives.
Even at low speeds, bicycle accidents can be very serious. Falls or impacts with motor vehicles or other objects can lead to minor injuries, such as cuts, and to far more serious injuries, including broken bones or head injuries. Wearing proper safety gear and having good equipment on your bike is crucial.
While most of us are not riding in a style that requires special clothing or full body armour, a few basic pieces of equipment and gear should be used each time you ride. Basic safety equipment for riders includes:
- Helmet — Although not required by law for adults, helmets are highly effective in preventing head injuries when worn properly. Purchase a quality helmet from a bike shop that can fit you to ensure the correct size and fit. When riding, the helmet must be properly fastened at all times to be effective. If you have been involved in a collision while wearing a helmet, it should be inspected and replaced if compromised in any way.
- Gloves — When a fall occurs, your hands are often the first piece of your body to contact the ground. In addition to protecting your hands from pavement cuts and burns when you fall, gloves will keep your hands warm during cold weather and are very convenient if you have to stop and service your bicycle during your ride.
- Shoes — Not flip flops or sandals. Real shoes. Enough said.
- Reflective Vest or Clothing — Whether it be day or night, reflective clothing makes you visible to drivers and other riders. Although important during the day, reflective clothing at night is imperative for your safety.
In addition to what you wear, your bike is your next line of defense. State law dictates many bicycle equipment requirements. Please refer to the Bicycle Laws web page for more information on California State Laws. At minimum, you should consider each of the following:
- Lights — A front headlamp is required on bicycles at night. New, flashing LED lights are preferred by many riders because they cannot be missed by drivers and have a longer battery and lamp life. In addition to lights, reflectors in the rear and the sides of your bicycle and on your clothing and/or helmet increase your visibility for motorists at night. Remember, however, that reflectors are not a substitute for lights and they cannot be seen until hit by headlights or another light source, so lights are much preferred.
- Rearview Mirror — No matter how good a rider you are, you have not yet sprouted eyes in the back of your head. And, if you are riding, as the law requires, with the flow of traffic, you are unable to see the traffic that is approaching you from the rear. A mirror, affixed to your handle bar or helmet, gives you almost 360 degree visibility without requiring you to take your eyes off the road.
- Brakes — Tires — Of course your bike needs brakes and tires. But, how often do you check your brakes and tires? Both should be visually inspected before each ride and inspected periodically by a trained technician. Brakes that are no longer effective for quick stops and tires that are bald need to be replaced.
Now that you and your bike are equipped properly, what you do on the road is as important as how you protect yourself. Following just the laws is not enough to keep you safe. Riding defensively allows you to follow the rules of the road while using common sense and your observation skills to prevent collisions and conflicts on the roadway.
- Go with the Flow — Bicycles must travel in the same direction as traffic when traveling on public roads, including those on campus. Some bicyclists feel safer looking at traffic by traveling against the flow. This is less safe, however, because drivers expect to see bicyclists traveling with them, bicyclists traveling against the flow of traffic often appear quickly and unexpectedly and the bicyclist is unable to read relevant road signs alerting them to changes in road conditions or other important directions. If you are concerned about traffic approaching from your rear, use a rear view mirror.
- Rules of the Road — All signs and signals that provide direction to motorists apply to riders also. In the State of California, bicycles must follow the same rules as vehicles when on roadways.
- Walk in Crosswalks — Crosswalks are for pedestrians. If you are riding your bicycle and elect to use the crosswalk instead of the traffic lanes, become a pedestrian by walking your bicycle.
- Hand Signals — One of the biggest keys to safe riding is being predictable. Don't be an erratic moving target for cars. Using hand signals allows drivers to know what your plan is and drive accordingly. It is also important for other riders and pedestrians know your plans so don't ignore hand signals when you think you are alone. Also, move predictably. Don't veer into traffic or suddenly change your direction of travel or just stop. Just as you are trying to predict the movements of drivers, they are trying to predict yours.
- Stay to the Right — Bicyclists must travel as far to the right as as is safe. When doing so, however, keep your eyes out for the doors of parked vehicles that may suddenly open, pedestrians darting into traffic and vehicles turning right in front of you. Riding in the middle of the road and blocking vehicles is not legal and often angers drivers, setting up a recipe for an accident.
- Watch Motorists — Just like when you are walking, you can tell much about a driver's plans (or lack thereof) by watching them and making eye contact. A quick glance at the driver next to you will tell you if they are paying attention, if they see you, if they plan to turn or other valuable information. If you cannot tell what a driver is doing or if they do not see you, use caution or allow them to pass. This is especially important at intersections or crossings.
- Single File Riding — When riding with friends or around other riders, ride single file. Although it is nice to socialize while riding, that is one more thing keeping your attention from the road and it makes it more difficult or impossible for drivers to safely pass you.
- No iPod™ Zone — Despite the popularity and prevalence of iPods™ and other music players, the road is no place for them. Riding with both ears covered is against the law. Many riders choose to ride with one ear covered. This is still not safe, as your ability to hear and respond to sounds on that side is severely limited. Save the music for later and stay aware of your surroundings.
- Don't Drink and Ride — We all know the dangers of drinking and driving or driving while under the influence of other drugs that may impair your abilities. However, it is important to remember the same dangers exist while on a bicycle. Just like in a car, it is unlawful to ride while under the influence. This very dangerous activity can lead to serious injures for the rider and a driver who may encounter him or her.
- Handlebars — Handlebars are for your hands. They are not designed as secondary seats for your friends. If you need to carry stuff, get a basket. Carrying things in your hands and not using your handlebars prohibits you from making quick turns to avoid hazards and endangers everyone on the road. Also, just like motorcycles, your handlebars may not be higher than your shoulders.
- Hitching a Ride — In addition to being illegal, this is one of the most dangerous things that riders can do to save a few minutes. Don't risk the ticket or the injury.