Bike Safety: Tips for Riding Safe for Beginners

In 2019, 846 bicyclists were killed in a traffic collision in the United States. A large portion of these fatalities could likely have been avoided if bikers and motorists rode or drove safely, and followed the rules of the road. 

With more Americans biking today than ever before, bike safety is critically important. Read on to learn tips on riding safely and about bike safety features that may help you get to your destination safely. 

Bicyclists on roadways are legally required to follow the rules of the road.

Riding a bike is fun, makes for good exercise, and can be more economical than driving a car. But that doesn’t mean cyclists are exempt from the rules of the road. For example, in California, did you know that cyclists may not exit the designated bike lane except where the bike lane is separated from the flow of traffic? Or that cyclists are not allowed to wear headphones that cover both ears? 

If you are a relative beginner—maybe you just started biking to work—then you might not realize that California has specific road laws pertaining to bicyclists. Reading through California Vehicle Code (CVC) 21200 is a good way to brush up on relevant bike laws in California. CVC 21200 covers how to properly operate a bike, where it is legal to ride and park a bike, and even the legal characteristics of a bike (such as handlebar height and brake requirements). 

Read CVC 21200 and become familiar with the law before hitting the road. Remember that the law can change, so it is a good idea to refer back to CVC 21200 and local bike laws every so often. Knowing the rules of the road can help you ride safely—even if you are an experienced bike rider, if you don’t follow the law, you can put yourself, other bicyclists, and motorists at greater risk of an accident. 

Correctly sizing your bike will give you a comfortable, safe ride.

If you are in the market for a new bike, your first step should be to size your ride.

A bike that is either too big or too small is unsafe, as you may not be able to operate it comfortably. Determining the right bike size is based on your height and weight. Some online bike size guides can help, but these only give you a general idea. The best way to find the right size bike is to go to a local bike shop where you can try out bikes in person. The shop attendants can help fit you for a bike based on your height, weight, and riding style.

Today’s bike frames are made from tough, high strength metals, but if you buy a used bike, be sure it’s in proper working order.

Bike construction has come a long way. The earliest bikes, manufactured in Europe in the 1800s, had heavy wooden frames. Modern bike frames are made from strong, lightweight metals or metal alloys, including steel, aluminum, and titanium. Some high-end bikes can even come with carbon-fiber frames. 

How do you choose the safest bike frame? Beginning bikers should go to a local bike shop and test out different models. You might find that the bike frame doesn’t make a big difference in terms of ride feel. Or, the bike frame might end up being the biggest deciding factor. But because most modern bicycle frames are sturdy and durable, there isn’t a “best” or “safest” type of bike frame. 

If you buy a used bike, you will definitely want to do some preventative maintenance before hitting the road. Check that the frame is intact, with no signs of rust or deterioration. Make sure all screws and bolts are tight and that the chain is in proper order. After doing so, take the bike on a short test ride to ensure brakes, pedals, tires, and the seat work. 

Modern bicycle tires are versatile and offer excellent traction.

The very first bike tires were simple rubber bands that went over a wooden wheel—talk about slick! Modern bike tires are typically made of nylon with a rubber tread, and come in a variety of patterns and styles depending on the type of bike. 

How do you choose the safest bike tires? The safest bike tire depends on your riding habits—after all, you don’t want to ride a bike through dirt and rock with thin road tires, or take a bike on smooth pavement with bulky mountain tires. 

As with bike frames, bike tires are not one-size-fits-all. Bike tires can vary person to person, even if multiple people have the same bike and ride the same type of roads. Settle on the category of tire that you need and then decide the exact tire profile. Again, beginning riders can talk with experts at a bike shop. They can outfit your bike with the right tire, install it, and even show you how to repair punctures. 

Wearing a helmet might seem like an afterthought, but it is really the only way to protect your head in the event of a crash.

Bike helmets provide a 63% to 88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists. Helmets even provide a level of protection for bicyclists struck by motor vehicles that is equal to how they perform in accidents not involving another vehicle. 

Unfortunately, research has shown that less than one-third of all adults wear bicycle helmets when riding. 

It’s clear that, in general, bike helmets work. They protect the head and neck in case of an accident. When riding a bike, cyclists are completely exposed. There is no airbag, seatbelt or sturdy car frame to absorb the brunt of a crash. No matter where you ride—on a busy main road or on a secluded mountain trail—wearing a helmet can significantly reduce the risk of a major injury. 

How do you choose the safest bike helmet? Bike helmets are affordable and available online, as well as at bike shops, sports retailers, and big box stores. But finding the right helmet for your head is important. Helmets that don’t fit properly offer less protection. The safest helmet is the one that fits your head correctly. To find the right size helmet, experts advise that you: 

  • Measure the circumference of your head with a soft measuring tape, and choose a helmet that is appropriately sized. 
  • Select the style of helmet appropriate for where you’re riding. Most city riders wear half-shell helmets, whereas mountain and adventure riders often wear full-face helmets.
  • Buckle the helmet and ensure it is tight and does not move when shaken back and forth. 

Note that bike helmets have an expiration date, as the materials they are made out of degrade over time. Once your helmet reaches its expiration date, it is time to buy a new one. If you are in an accident and strike your head but don’t suffer a major injury, even if the helmet looks fine, replace it. It may have cracks which are not visible, but which will reduce its ability to protect your head.

Biking is a great way to get around and have some fun. If you are a relative beginner who wants to commute to work or hit the mountain trails, you should put bike safety above all else. Make sure that you know the rules of the road, get fit for the right size bike with appropriate tires, and always wear a helmet. 

* This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic. For a full review of our disclaimer and policies, please click here.

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