This post may contain affiliate links, which help to keep Discerning Cyclist rolling. Learn more.
Did you know that nearly 1,000 cyclists are killed on the roads every year in the US alone?
With cycling becoming more popular than ever in towns and cities across the world, it’s crucial that we know how to keep safe when biking in urban environments.
In this article, we’ll cover our top 8 life-saving tips that every urban cyclist should know to keep themselves out of harm’s way.
1. Watch Out For Car Doors
One of the worst culprits when it comes to cyclist injuries and fatalities is car-dooring. For those who don’t know, this is when a cyclist collides with an opening car door, usually from a driver or passenger in a parked car.
As much as this is the fault of those in the vehicles for not checking for approaching bikes, there are still some things we can do to avoid it from happening.
Ideally, give parked cars space, riding outside the ‘door opening zone’ if possible. Ride as if a car door could open at any moment.
It’s also a good idea to look for occupied vehicles when cycling, checking for signs of movement such as brake lights, reverse lights, or people inside.
It’s a sad reality that it continues to happen, but whilst many drivers remain uneducated, knowing how to avoid car-dooring is essential if you want to ride safely.
2. Hand Signals
Cyclists should learn the basic hand signals when on the road.
As responsible road users, it’s up to us to communicate our intentions and actions to others. Knowing how to signal a change of direction or a reduction in speed, at the least, can really help to prevent collisions.
Ultimately, it communicates your intention to everyone else, helping others to anticipate your movements. This drastically reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings and potential accidents.
Make yourself familiar with the basic signals, which could save your life.
3. Maintain Your Bike
Maintaining your bike is essential for prolonging its lifespan and ensuring a smooth ride, but it is also crucial for your safety.
Obviously, the most important thing to check is the brakes. You should ideally check and adjust your brakes before every ride to ensure they’re in good condition. If you don’t, quite frankly, you’re asking for trouble.
After the brakes, the tires need a regular check. They should be properly inflated to maintain traction and control, and any signs of wear, especially to the tread, are a sign that it’s time for a change.
If you put it off, you run a greater risk of blowouts, which can lead to loss of control and accidents.
If you’re in doubt, show your bike some love and get it serviced. You’ll thank us after.
4. Follow Traffic Rules
Just because we aren’t in a car doesn’t mean that we can ignore the rules of the road.
With the popularity of alley cats and other street races, it’s become somewhat of a cultural norm for cyclists to disregard traffic signals, such as lights and stop signs.
The best practice is treating your bicycle as if it were a vehicle; it can still pose a big threat to a pedestrian or cyclist when used improperly!
Failing to respect rules doesn’t just pose an immediate risk of an accident, but it might add wood to the fire of the ongoing conflict between drivers and cyclists. Show respect to other road users, and with some luck, it will be given in return.
5. See and Be Seen
See and be seen is a fundamental principle for cyclists, emphasizing the importance of road visibility.
Seeing is crucial. Use a good front and rear light set if you’re riding at night or in poor weather conditions.
It’s equally important to be seen. Using reflective accessories and high-vis gear can help you stand out against the road or other vehicles. While this doesn’t have to mean neon spandex and legwarmers, a little bit of color can help.
Establishing eye contact can also effectively confirm that a driver has seen you, especially when approaching intersections or making maneuvers. It’s a small effort that can go a long way.
We’ll add to this that being heard can be just as important. Using a bell to announce your presence can alert road users who may not have otherwise noticed you.
6. Blind Spots
Whilst hi-vis jackets and lights are important when it comes to being seen, they’re no use if you don’t know how to avoid blind spots.
A blind spot usually refers to an area around a vehicle where the driver’s view is obstructed, making it challenging to see, amongst other things, cyclists.
While they exist with cars, they’re notorious when it comes to larger vehicles, especially buses, in cities.
The best practice is to avoid positioning yourself directly alongside or behind vehicles. You’re much better off cycling where drivers can see you in their mirrors.
Whilst we’d like drivers to check their blind spots, it’s sometimes safer to assume that they don’t.
7. Ride Defensively
If there’s one behavioral tip that could save your life, it’s to cycle defensively.
While we all may consider ourselves level-headed when we’re cycling, the fact is that if we avoid aggression on the roads, we could also avoid a lot of conflict.
Rather than cycling fast or being too assertive, we should prioritize safety above all else. The focus is on minimizing risks, avoiding conflicts, and adhering to traffic rules.
We should also do our best to anticipate hazards, being as aware as possible. This means it’s probably best to avoid distractions such as music whilst out on two wheels.
It takes two to tango, and whilst we all know that cars pose the greatest threat to safety, we all must share the same space.
8. Wear a Helmet
We get it. It’s an ongoing battle. There are good arguments on both sides regarding wearing a helmet.
Everybody wants to see fewer accidents when it comes to cycling. However, until we reach a point where they rarely occur, wearing a helmet is the best thing you can do when it comes to preventing serious head injury.
Of course, at this point, someone will talk about the Netherlands. While wearing a helmet in Amsterdam is bound to highlight you as a tourist, there are some reasons that they aren’t common with locals.
Above all, the Netherlands is an exception because cycling is engrained in the Dutch culture. Drivers are taught that cyclists are vulnerable road users, and as such, they are given unparalleled awareness and respect.
There’s also the uncomfortable truth that sorry to say it, the Dutch are probably better cyclists than you. They’ve been on two wheels their whole life, and statistics show that for them, it is less dangerous than walking.
These are just a few tips on how to potentially save your life when cycling in urban environments. It’s a dangerous world out there, but by heeding caution and taking appropriate measures, we can make it a little bit safer for us and others.