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Bike Safety

Medically reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD

Bike riding is a great way to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. But before you start pedaling, be sure you're up to date on how to do it safely.

Pick the Right Bike

One important thing to keep in mind when choosing a bike is making sure it fits you. Here are some ways to tell if yours is right:

  • When sitting on the bike, you should be able to just about fully extend your legs to reach the pedals when they are in the lowest position.
  • When standing astride the bar with your feet flat on either side, there should be about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) of space between your crotch and the crossbar for a road bike and 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 centimeters) for a mountain bike. Guys especially will be thankful for that space if there's ever a need to unexpectedly jump off the seat.
  • If you're still growing, make sure that your bike's seat post and handlebars can be raised a bit to adjust to your new height.

Wear a Helmet

Wearing a bike helmet use isn't just smart. In many states it's the law.

Many bike accidents involve a head injury, so a crash could mean serious brain injury or death for someone who doesn't wear one while riding. Each year in the United States, many people are seriously injured in bicycle-related accidents, and most of those injuries could have been avoided if a helmet was worn. To protect against brain injury, make sure you wear a correctly fitting helmet on every ride.

Here are some things to keep in mind when buying a helmet:

  • Pick bright colors or fluorescent colors that are visible to drivers and other cyclists.
  • Look for a well-ventilated helmet.
  • Make sure that the helmet has a CPSC or Snell sticker inside. These let you know that the helmet meets standards set by trusted safety groups.
  • Make sure the helmet fits correctly and can be adjusted. Bike stores will help you with this.
  • Make sure that the straps are fastened. Also, don't wear any other hat underneath it.
  • Be sure to replace any helmet made before 1999.
  • If you hit any surface hard while wearing a helmet, replace it. Helmets lose their ability to absorb shock after taking serious hits.

Which Clothes Are Safe While Biking?

What you wear when riding a bike is also very important for safety:

  • Fluorescent or bright-colored clothes keep you visible on the road, and they’re more visible than white clothes. (Avoid dark clothes, especially during early dusk and twilight hours.)
  • Wear something that helps to reflect light, like reflective tape.
  • Lightweight clothes will help you avoid becoming overheated.
  • Pant legs shouldn't be too loose or flared. These can get caught up in the chain while riding.
  • If you wear a backpack while riding, make sure the straps are tied up and can't get tangled in the spokes of the wheels. Keep the backpack as light as possible.
  • Choose shoes that grip the bike's pedals. Cleats, shoes with heels, or flip-flops can all create problems while riding. And never ride barefoot!

Rules of the Road for Bike Riding

Here are some must-know safety tips:

  • Stop at all stop signs and obey traffic lights just as cars do. Yield to pedestrians, stop at red lights, and be especially careful at intersections.
  • Always ride in the same direction as cars do. Never ride against traffic.
  • Use bike lanes or designated bike routes whenever you can — not the sidewalk!
  • Avoid riding at dusk or in the dark.
  • Always stop and check for traffic in both directions when leaving a driveway, an alley, or a curb.
  • Watch traffic closely for turning cars or cars leaving driveways.
  • Don't ride too close to parked cars — doors can open suddenly.
  • Always walk a bike across busy intersections using the crosswalk and following traffic signals.
  • When riding in a group, always ride single file on the street.
  • When passing other bikers or people on the street, always pass to their left and call out "On your left!" so they'll watch for you.
  • Never share the seat with a friend or ride on the handlebars — only one person should be on a bike at a time. It's easy to lose balance or suddenly swerve into traffic when riding with a passenger.
  • Never wear headphones while biking — it's very important to hear everyone else on the road at all times.
  • Never stand up while riding a bike.
  • Never text or use a cellphone while riding.
  • Never hitch a ride on a moving vehicle.

If you can, keep your bike indoors, especially on rainy days. This will help to keep your chain rust-free. You'll also want to check your tires' air pressure (the correct pressure is on the sidewall of the tire), the brakes, and the chain (for grease and tightness) often.

Signal Your Turns!

It's important to know the arm signals for changing direction or turning. Don't change directions or lanes without first looking behind you, and always use the correct signals.

Use your left arm for all signals:

  • Left turn: After checking behind you, hold your arm straight out to the left and ride forward slowly.
  • Stop: After checking behind you, bend your elbow, pointing your arm downward in an upside down "L" shape and come to a stop.
  • Right turn: After checking behind you, bend your elbow, holding your arm up in an "L" shape, and ride forward slowly. (Or, hold your right arm straight out from your side.)

What About eBikes?

Electric bikes (eBikes), which can run on electric power or by pedaling, are getting more popular. While some states have minimum age requirements (some as low as 14 years old), others don't. Some eBikes can reach speeds of up to 28 m.p.h., which is one reason why most doctors would agree that eBike riders should be at least 16 years old.

If you're considering an eBike, be sure you know about the safety risks involved. You should follow the same safety rules when you use an eBike as when you ride a regular bike.

No matter what type of bike you ride, always wear a helmet and follow the rules of the road.

Medically reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: August 2022