Understanding Bike Safety

A list of the top 10 safety tips for cyclists to stay safe on Ireland’s roads.

cyclelaneThe Road Safety Authority are this week giving away free bike lights, in exchange for your personal details and submitting a safety tip.

Some of their “tips” on their Facebook page are of dubious quality/relevance, and don’t necessarily reflect best practise on bicycle safety, so I thought I’d share the current thinking on the best ways to stay safe on the road.

Top 10 Safety Tips for Cyclists

  1. Ride the correct sized bike – make sure the bike is the right size for you, and that the saddle and handlebars have been correctly adjusted for your height. Your local bike shop can quickly check the bike is sized correctly for you.
  2. Ensure your bike is well maintained – many accidents happen because of the badly maintained bike. Check over your bike to make sure the tyres are inflated to the right pressure and that there are no signs of damage on the wheels. Check brakes and gears function correctly, and there are no cracks in the bike frame. An annual service can also identify any potential problems before they occur.
  3. Make yourself seen – don’t ride in the gutter. When drivers scan the road looking for potential hazards, they often only look ahead of them, not to the side. So make sure you position yourself on the road where others will see you, particularly at junctions. And at night, make sure you’re visible to others. In the dark, the law requires you to have front and back lights – but you need to make sure they’re bright enough and well positioned to be seen.
  4. Don’t be afraid to “take the lane” – there’s a lot you can do to ensure your own safety, and remove the temptation of drivers to squeeze by you with minimal room. When there are pinch points in the road (such as road junctions, pedestrian crossings, narrow lanes, or blind bends), you need to move out into the middle of the lane. You may end up delaying the driver behind you by a few seconds, but that’s better than encouraging them to drive dangerously – and potentially having them live with the knowledge that they killed a cyclist.
  5. Obey the law – many cyclists who jump red lights or cycle the wrong way down one way roads are placing themselves in risky situations. You may think you have seen all the potential hazards and that it’s safe to proceed, but other traffic can appear from nowhere and they won’t be expecting you to be there.
  6. Be aware of your surroundings – don’t do anything to block your senses. If you restrict your vision (by wearing a hood) or your hearing (by listening to music) then you’re not going to be aware of all the traffic moving around you.
  7. Be especially wary around lorries and buses – they have very limited visibility of the road, and often can’t see people on bikes because of various blind spots. Never go down the inside of a lorry if it looks like it may be about to pull off and/or turn. You will be much safer to wait behind the lorry until it moves off.
  8. Make eye contact with drivers – if someone is coming up behind you, or a car is waiting to pull out of a side street, always try to make eye contact with the driver. It helps you establish that they’ve seen you, and sub-consciously makes a human connection between the pair of you. Many drivers will behave much more safely towards someone they’ve looked in the eye.
  9. Consider your needs for protective equipment – things such as bike helmets should always be considered as the last line of defence against road hazards. You should do everything possible to eliminate and avoid risks, rather than relying on a helmet to get you out of trouble.
  10. Get cycle training – if you’re new to cycling or haven’t done it for a long time, then you may be apprehensive about going on the roads. The Dublin Cycling Campaign have a Bike Buddy Scheme who can advise people on route selection and road safety.

It’s always a good idea to keep yourself safe on our roads, but you should also remember that cycling isn’t dangerous!

The health benefits of cycling outweigh the risk by around 20 to 1.  Cyclists live, on average, 2 years longer than non-cyclists, and have 10-15% fewer sick days each year.

Richard Bloomfield

Richard is the founder of Dublin Bike Blog. He commutes to work every day by bike, come rain or shine, on his Dutch city bike. You can read more from Richard on his blog richardbloomfield.ie.

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