This is a great time of year to get out on your bike for a little fun and exercise. Whether it’s the kids out playing or going to school, you commuting to work, or someone hitting the trails or the open road, biking is a perfect way to stay active. The reality is though, that it can be a dangerous activity if you don’t properly prepare or play by the rules.
Let’s face it, when you’re on a bike, you’re pretty exposed and the potential for injury can be very high. Every year there are thousands of serious injuries reported and many deaths that occur as a result of cycling accidents. Children (5 – 14 years) account for the highest percentage of non-fatal accidents, with adolescents, young adults and those over the age of 45 suffering more fatal mishaps. Statistically, males also tend to be injured more than females. This could be due to the larger number of male riders in general, plus the increased propensity for risk taking. In any case, everyone has to take precautions in order to stay safe.
There are a variety of factors that contribute to the increased risk of cycling accidents. These include cyclist behaviour, lighting/reflective equipment on the bike, and when and where you cycle. Although there are a number of precautions that you can take, it’s cyclist error that causes the majority of accidents.
Here are a few points to consider:
- Most accidents occur during afternoon rush hour
- You are more likely to be injured or killed at an intersection
- 1 out of 3 deaths occur at night
- 64% of accidents take place on city roads
Keeping these points in-mind, it would make sense to avoid riding at the times when accidents most often occur, and to apply extra caution in urban environments and road junctures.
Before you (or those that you love) hit the road, there are a number of safety elements that you should have in-place.
- When choosing a bike, be sure that it is the right size for the rider. A larger bicycle is much harder to handle than a smaller one and this can lead to falls or loss of control. Also be sure that the handlebars and the seat are adjusted to the height of the rider.
- Ensure that your bicycle is properly maintained and that the tires, chain, gears and brakes are all in good working order
- Wearing an approved (CSA or ANSI) bike helmet increases your chances of surviving a fall, crash or collision and they should be worn with every ride. Most provinces and territories have strict helmet laws that need to be followed. Check online for your particular area. Helmets should fit the rider properly (and snugly) with the straps always done up. Be sure to keep helmets in good repair and replace them when they show signs of damage or excessive wear. Always read the manufacturers instructions and seek out professional advice if you are in any doubt as to the fit or the type you should be using.
- Have a bell or horn installed on the bike that can be used as a clear signal when you are in the vicinity of pedestrians or motor vehicles
- Bicycles must be equipped with a headlight and taillight for night riding. The type that blink are the most effective.
- The use of reflectors and reflective tape on your bike, helmet and clothing is another important way to keep you visible at night
Rules Of The Road & Other Tips
Some safety rules for cycling do fall under the Highway Traffic Act and some are just common sense. Here is a listing of some of the things you need to know.
- In most provinces, bicycles are considered to be vehicles and must follow the rules of the road. Like motorized vehicles, you must stop at red lights and stop signs, yield to other traffic, stop for pedestrians, school buses and open streetcar doors. You must ride in the same direction as the regular traffic, but you cannot ride on a designated highway. Also check local bylaws to ensure that sidewalk riding is permitted (sometimes it’s only allowed for kid’s bikes).
- Always ride defensively, keeping your head up and constantly scanning for any potential risks around you. Try to expect the unexpected. Also be aware of obstacles on the road such as raised manhole covers, rocks, potholes and parked vehicles. Ride in a straight, predictable line and avoid weaving or other dangerous maneuvers.
- It’s a good idea to avoid wearing headphones, as this can prevent you from hearing approaching vehicles. Additionally, never attempt to text while riding, as the distraction can increase your chances of a collision.
- Try and choose routes that have less vehicular traffic, and ride at times of the day where your chances of encountering other vehicles is minimized (hint – avoid rush hour)
- When out with others, ride in a single file and with enough space between you that you can react safely to a sudden stop
- Be sure to account for bad weather and slick road conditions. You can easily lose traction and your brake function may become impaired when it gets wet or sloppy. Reduce speed and leave yourself more of a buffer for stopping in these cases. Visibility is also an issue when it’s raining, so always wear reflective gear to ensure that motorists can see you.
- Always use proper hand signals when you’re out in traffic, especially for any turns. Drivers can’t read your mind and may make the wrong call if they try to pass.
- It’s recommended that you walk your bike on pedestrian crosswalks and overpasses, as this provides you with a legal right-of-way and reduces the risk of a collision
- Pay close attention when passing cars, parked or otherwise. A moving vehicle may stop, slow down or turn suddenly in front of you, and someone may open the door of a parked vehicle without warning.
- For added safety, keep both hands on the handlebars, both feet on the pedals and avoid passengers if the bike wasn’t designed for them
- Younger children on smaller bikes may be difficult to see to drivers of large vehicles and trucks, especially when backing out of driveways in residential areas. Keep young children close to you at all times and never let them move too far ahead or fall too far behind you. Also never let younger children cycle alone.
Cycling is a simple pleasure that allows you to stay active in the great outdoors. Just make a plan to put safety first and you’re good-to-go.