NJM Blog

How to Ride a Bike Safely

Silhouette of man riding bicycle on road against sky during sunset.

The adage is true: “You never forget how to ride a bike.” Still, it doesn’t hurt to refresh your memory on bike safety and etiquette. Every bicyclist has a preference for where to cruise. You might bike down paved trails or dirt paths, city streets or country roads.

  • Before Starting
    Purchase a well–fitted helmet designed for your activities and approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Wear it every time you ride. In the event your helmet sustains an impact, it is unreliable and should be replaced. If you hit your head, even while wearing a helmet, you should always screen for a concussion. Use reflectors and lights, and wear bright–colored clothing when biking at night.

  • On Shared Paths and Trails
    In certain environments, bikers and pedestrians share the path. When biking on these paths, yield to pedestrians. Use a bell or verbal signal (“On your left!”) to warn walkers when you are coming up from behind. Be cognizant of dogs, who may react excitedly or aggressively to your approach.

  • On Local Roads
    Bicycles must follow the rules of the road, just like cars. Use the bike lane or shoulder when possible. Although pedestrians should walk in the opposite direction of traffic, bicyclists should ride in the same direction of traffic. This makes you more predictable for drivers, and it is an easier way for you to be sure you can follow traffic signals, road signs, and rules of the road. When biking near large vehicles, avoid passing them on the right, which is a blind spot for trucks and buses.

Over 900 bicyclists are killed each year in traffic crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the highest factor in fatal bike crashes is failing to yield the right of way. The next highest factor is bicyclists not being visible to drivers.

  • On City Roads
    Do not bike on the sidewalk where pedestrians walk. (However, children under the age of 10 should stay on the sidewalk.) Follow traffic signals, not crosswalk signs, when biking through intersections; or use the crosswalk sign to walk (not ride) your bike across an intersection. Keep an eye out for potholes and any puddles that could disguise them.

  • When Riding an E–Bike
    Check your speed regularly; prioritize lower speeds until you get the hang of riding the e–bike. Because you are going faster than you would on a traditional bike, you should also adjust your braking time. E–bikes are heavier than traditional bikes, so be careful when mounting, dismounting, and walking yours.

After checking for traffic in their path, bikers should signal their turns as follows:

  • Stop: Extend your left arm in an upside–down L shape.

  • Left Turn: Extend your left arm straight out horizontally.

  • Right Turn: Extend your left arm in a right–side–up L shape, or extend your right arm straight out horizontally.

Bicycle Safety. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. nhtsa.gov
Bike Safety. KidsHealth. kidshealth.org
Bike Safely and Enjoy Your Ride. National Safety Council. nsc.org
Coexisting with Bicyclists: 10 Rules for Drivers. Edmunds. edmunds.com
Urban Cycling Safety Tips. Harvard School of Public Health. harvard.edu

The information contained in this article should not be construed as professional advice, and is not intended to replace official sources. Other resources linked from these pages are maintained by independent providers; therefore, NJM cannot guarantee their accuracy.