When it comes to riding bicycles, most of the major dangers are pretty well known, and safety precautions like wearing a helmet and avoiding cars are common practice. However, automobiles aren’t the only hazard on the road, and in fact, there are a number of unexpected dangers when riding bikes. From potholes to people, here are some unexpected safety hazards for cyclists to be aware:
- Other cyclists – Most people on bikes are on the lookout for automobiles, but other cyclists can also pose a danger, even the ones with whom you’re riding. Leave enough room between bikes so that if one person needs to avoid an obstacle or hits a bump, they don’t take down the rest of the group with them.
- Ill-fitting helmets – Most bicyclists understand the importance of a helmet; they can literally be life savers. However, what many don’t realize is that the helmet needs to fit properly to do its job and fully protect the rider. A hand-me-down helmet may look OK, but be sure to take the correct steps to properly fit it. It should fit snugly but not be uncomfortably tight, and the brim should sit low on the forehead. And of course, be sure to tighten the straps before hitting the road. The NHTSA provides a helpful, step-by-step helmet fitting instruction manual with more details.
- Dehydration – You may be looking all around you, but the true health hazard could be coming from within. If you work up a sweat but don’t drink enough fluids, you’re in danger of becoming dehydrated. It may sound like a minor ailment, but it can cause everything from headaches to fainting, and serious cases can even require a trip to the hospital for intravenous treatment. Carry a water bottle with you when possible, and make sure to drink it throughout your ride. Dehydration can sneak up on you, but being proactive can help you avoid it.
- Light – Perhaps more accurately, a lack of light is a major danger to cyclists. Even if sunset is just beginning, dusk can be a dangerous time to ride your bike, since the darkening sky makes it more difficult for drivers to see you. As a safe bet, always wear reflective clothing, and make sure your bike is outfitted with reflectors on both the front and back. Depending on your state, they may need to be white in the front and red in the back. Wearing bright colors can also help increase your visibility.
- Car doors – Moving cars are of course a huge danger to cyclists, but parked ones too can be hazardous. Many drivers don’t think to check if a rider is coming up before opening their door, so always give ample clearance to allow doors to open; if one swings open unexpectedly, you’ll be able to avoid it.
How to Avoid These Hazards
Being aware of the above safety hazards is helpful, but there are a lot of steps you can take to make your ride safer. Four particularly important ones are:
- Look where you’re going, but also look where others are going – It’s easy to get lost in your own mind while riding. Bicycling can be extremely relaxing, and a lot of people enjoy using it as a time to decompress and even meditate. However, it’s necessary to pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of not just where you’re headed, but also the possible paths of people and cars around you. Don’t assume that a car is going straight because its blinker isn’t on, for example, and always leave enough room to account for sudden lane changes, braking, or turns.
- Ride in off hours – Assuming you’re not using your bike for your work commute, try to choose times that are not as busy for your rides. Early morning hours are perfect, and they’ll also be cooler, which is great during the hot summer months.
- Ride like you’re invisible – How would you ride if you knew no one could see you? You’d probably be pretty careful to avoid others and account for their possible paths. This is the way to ride a bicycle. Defensive driving is much safer than aggressive.
- Listen to your music another time – We bring our iPods and phones with us everywhere nowadays, and it’s tempting to plug in while you’re riding, particularly if you’re on your way to work. However, listening to music deprives you of your sense of hearing, which can help you avoid potential accidents. Even if you think the volume is low enough, it’s still impeding your ability to hear and quickly react to the world around you.
While there’s no fail-safe way to protect yourself from any and all accidents, taking these three safety steps and being aware of the potential dangers while riding can help you significantly reduce the likelihood of an accident while also allowing you to enjoy the fun and relaxation that cycling has to offer.
Kara Alcamo is a concerned mother, freelance writer and contributor to the Ross Feller Casey, LLP blog.