Cyclist: A man, woman, or child lightly clad in spandex shorts and tee-shirt, sporting a hard-shell styrofoam cap to protect the noggin, balanced on a two-wheel 9 kg vehicle traveling at speeds between 2- 60km; shares the road with 2 tonne steel behemoths.
You can do the math. When a 2 tonne car collides with a 9 kg bike it ain’t pretty and we all know who gets hurt. Riding a bike involves cycling on roads in motor traffic, where every year hundreds of cyclists are involved in collisions with vehicles.
To stay safe, cyclists need to have a road-worthy bike, good cycling skills and well-tuned street-smarts — to know and follow the rules of the roads. But safety for cyclists also depends on motorists understanding that bicycles are legitimate vehicles with which they must share the road.
Here are 20 cycling safety tips to help everyone have a good summer and arrive home safely.
Routine Safety Checks
When you cycle in traffic you want to minimize the chances of an accident due to mechanical failure. Get in the habit of doing a safety check before each ride to ensure nothing falls off or goes flat on your bike while you’re on it. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Look, listen and feel. If something doesn’t look right, feel right or sound right, take your bike to the shop and have it checked by a pro.
1) Pump Up: Low tire pressure can lead to flats. Keep tires topped up with air. You can find the correct air pressure range on the side of your tire. While you’re there, check the quick release levers. They should be locked and the wheel nuts snug.
Lift the bike and slowly spin the tires, checking for splits, cracks or bulges. When tires look worn, replace them.
2) Handle Bars and Bells: Stand, holding the front wheel firmly between your legs. Try turning the handlebar from side to side. If there is any movement check the stem and bolts. Tighten if necessary. Does your bell ding? If not, buy a new one.
3) Brakes: To test the brakes apply both brakes and push the bike forward. If you can pull the brake lever to the handle bar before the brake stops the wheel, have your brakes checked.
4) Drop the Bike: Lift the bike a few inches off the ground and drop it. Did you hear anything? If you heard clanking, or worse, if something falls off, take your bike to your cycling store for maintenance before you ride it.
5) Gears and Chain: Make sure the bike chain is adequately oiled and the gears are properly adjusted. If the chain jumps while you’re on the road, looking down to fiddle with it is distracting and can lead to an accident.
6) Inspect the Bike Frame: Metal can become fatigued and crack. Do a visual check of the frame and run your fingers on the underside of the tubes. Check for cracks or bulges which could lead to a break. You’re in for a nasty spill if the frame snaps.
Cycling In Traffic
Now that your bike is ready to go, how much of the road are you entitled to? According to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA), as much of it as you need to cycle safely. A bicycle is a legitimate road vehicle with the same rights and responsibilities as a car. When cars and bikes follow the same rules, the roads becomes safer and more predictable for everyone.
7) Slower Traffic Stays Right: No matter how fast you’re going, if you’re on a bicycle this means you. How far right? The HTA says one meter from the right-hand edge of the road or curb.
8) Parked Cars and Flying Doors:
If you ride down a street that has parked cars, maintain a straight line at least one meter from them. Be vigilant and watch for drivers, passengers and those pesky car doors flying open when you least expect it.
Motorists: Always check over your shoulder before opening your car door. If you nail a cyclist while climbing out of your car you could be fined ($110 and 2 demerits in Ontario) as well as possibly causing injury.
9) Taking a Lane: Cyclists are entitled to as much of the road as they need to cycle safely. If the road is obstructed by vehicles, construction or parked cars it’s legal to take up the whole lane. Shoulder check before doing so, then signal and shoulder check again before moving to the centre of a lane or changing lanes.
Motorists also have a responsibility to share the road. Drivers must allow enough room for cyclists to maneuver safely on the road. Even small cars take up most of a lane. Drivers should never attempt to hold their lane and squeeze by a cyclist. If the driver of a vehicle wants to pass a cyclist they should do this the same way they would pass a car: take up the necessary space in the oncoming traffic lane when it’s safe to do so and allow a safe distance (at least one meter) between their car and the bike they are passing.
10) Beware of Right-Turning Traffic: It would be helpful if all drivers signalled before making a right turn. But they don’t. To make sure you don’t get squeezed between the curb and a car making a right turn, give yourself enough room for a safety cushion: if possible, a meter between you and the curb, and you and the car next to you. Stay behind vehicles making right-hand turns or pass them on the left.
11) Trucks and Buses: These big vehicles have large blind spots and take up a full lane. Keep far enough behind them so they can see you. How far is far enough? If you can see the driver in his sideview mirror, it means he can see you.
12) Bad Roads: Pot holes, railway tracks, road bumps, loose gravel, broken glass and debris — all of them can cause falls, injuries and damage your bike. Be vigilant.
13) Three Words About Sidewalks: Stay off them! Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not cyclists. Many accidents between cars and bicycles happen when cyclists ride off sidewalks onto the road into car traffic.
The Strong Arm Of The Law
Now that you know the rules of the road, here’s what happens when you break them. The Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA) has a long list of fines for cyclists who disobey traffic laws. You can check out the Ontario Ministry of Transportation website for the complete list. Here are a few highlights.
14) One Way Streets: It’s confusing and annoying for motorists when they encounter cyclists riding the wrong way down a one-way street. Shortcuts are tempting but you’re breaking a traffic law and if you get caught you could be $85 out of pocket.
15) Stop Signs and Traffic Lights: Stop signs and traffic lights aren’t just for motor traffic. If you fail to come to a full stop you can be fined. Fine: $85.
16) Signalling: Drivers of motor vehicles aren’t mind readers. When you make a turn you must signal to let traffic know where you’re going. Left turn: left arm straight out. Right turn: left arm bent up at elbow or right arm straight out. Fine for not signalling: $85.
17) Crosswalks: You are not allowed to weave around pedestrians at crosswalks. You must stop for them. Read, full stop. If you use a crosswalk to cross a street while riding your bike, you must walk the bike across. Hey, that’s what crosswalk means. Fine: $85.
18) School Buses: When the school bus flashes those red lights and that little arm flies out, that’s not a signal for you to speed by on your bike before the door opens. You must come to a full stop. There’s a $400 fine if you don’t.
19) Bells and Brakes: Gotta have them and they’ve gotta work. Fine: $85.
20) Lights: They’re not optional. If you cycle between a half hour before sunset and a half hour after sunrise you must have a white front light and white reflective tape on the front wheel of your bike and a red rear light and red reflective tape on the rear wheel. Fine: $20.
Have fun and play safe out there.
© 2008 Laurel-Lea Shannon (originally published in The Ottawa Citizen, June 02, 2008)