Bike commuting is a relatively safe way to get where you need to go—provided you're doing your part to lower the risk.
While cyclists undoubtedly have to rely on laws to protect them and other motorists to be careful around them, riding a bike among the masses also means keeping your safety priority No. 1.
Here are six ways to do that:
Wear a Helmet
File this one under "common sense."
Bicycle accidents will happen if you ride long enough. The question is, are you prepared for one?
According to several studies, a majority of bicycle fatalities in the United States involve cyclists who are not wearing helmets. Don't be one of them. Buy a helmet, and always wear it.
It's dangerous to assume that motorists see you. It's dangerous to assume that motorists are going to stop at the red light, or at the four-way stop. It's dangerous to assume motorists know your rights as a cyclist.
Be paranoid. You are ultimately in charge of your own safety (just the way you want it), so leave the assumptions at home.
Make Yourself Visible
Motorists have a hard enough time seeing cyclists as it is, particularly if they're not used to sharing the road with bikes. Make it easy on them.
Among the ways you can stand out is to wear reflective gear, have a blinking bike light, and even consider having a bike light shining even during the day.
It also helps to wear bright clothing. According to Patrick Brady in his book The No-Drop Zone, Brady states to "stick to red, orange and yellow if you are concerned about being noticed."
"Just think," Brady adds, "if dog poop were red, no one would ever step in it."
Obey the Laws
The laws apply to you. You are not allowed to fly through stop signs and red lights, and doing so is dangerous (and gives cyclists a bad reputation, to boot).
"Following traffic laws, especially when you commute on the same route over and over again, goes a long way to building goodwill among motorists and those who might come to recognize you," said Jesse Hammond, a longtime bike commuter. "A bike commuter who is arrogant enough to run the same stop sign day after day isn't seen as just a jerk on a bike, but over time ends up representing all cyclists—setting back the cause of sharing the road for everyone."
Make sure you're watching for cars. For potholes. For ice patches (if it's really cold out) or broken glass or tree branches. Never stop darting your eyes around your surroundings and making sure you're on top of things.
Another good tip from The No-Drop Zone: Look behind you occasionally at traffic. As Brady explains, "the brain is attuned to notice faces, and turning your head toward nearby drivers may help them notice you. Making eye contact with drivers to let them know you see them can have a powerful impact on your safety."
Take Care of Your Bike
Make sure your bike is in good enough shape to get you where you need to go. Oil the chain, wash the bike, inspect it regularly and be on top of any issues it might face. Doing so will keep it safe—and keep you safe.Search for a cycling event.