Bicycle Safety: Road Hazards, Accident Prevention and Risk Mitigation
(part 1)

Next: Part 2

Biking is not without hazards. But one can take proactive steps to substantially mitigate risks.

1. Things to Know (and Address) Before Heading Out On the Road:

Your State-/government-enforced Traffic Laws: if you live in the US, your State's DMV (aka BMV) has them on their web site. You can also stop in at your local DMV office for a hardcopy. This is the same document that you need to study in order to obtain a Motor Vehicle (Driver) license. As a law-abiding bicyclist, you will do much of your riding on the road with the traffic. Why? Through studies and research, State and Federal transportation agencies have concluded that, other than a dedicated bike path or lane, this is the safest place for a moving bicycle. And it's your right! The rules vary a bit from state to state, so familiarize yourself with your state's specific regulations.

Important Notes:

Riding While Under the Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substances (and this should go without saying): Because you are legally considered identical to a motor vehicle driver, you will be punished just as severely if found operating your bicycle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Ditto for wearing headphones or using cell phones.

Physical Health, Disabilities, Illness and Medication: Bicycling requires a sense of balance, excellent vision, good physical condition and reasonable mental health. This makes biking considerably more demanding (and challenging) than operating a motor vehicle. Do not ride a bicycle for the same reasons you would not drive (or be permitted to drive) an automobile. In addition, if you suffer from any disease exacerbated by physical activity, such as cardiovascular disease, do not ride a bicycle without your physician's approval.

Plan Your Trip: If you're going on trip to new location, be sure you have charted your route before leaving home. Use maps or online resources (such as Mapquest) to plot your trip -- and take a copy of the map or directions with you. If you get lost don't guess or wander around aimlessly. Get off the road and examine your map or directions. If you're still unclear, go to a nearby gas station or convenient store and ask for help. top of page

A. In order for you to safely ride your bike, you must feel comfortable on it. Discomfort is distracting and potentially hazardous:

New Bikes and Frame Geometry

When purchasing a new or used bike, select a frame geometry that is best suited for you (this is mostly based on your height). Your bike dealer should be very thorough when it comes to sizing your bike.

Make Sure The Seat Post (Height) is Adjusted for You. Here's how to do it:

  • Place the bike next to a wall. Then remove your shoes, mount the bike and support yourself against the wall with your hand.

  • Move the crank arm to its lowest position and put your heel on the pedal. Your leg should be straight. If not, adjust the seat height accordingly.

  • Put your shoes back on and take the bike for a ride. Make sure you're comfortable with the riding height. If not, readjust seat height accordingly.

The "best" position for shoes (feet) on the pedal:

  • Place the widest part of your feet on the axle of the pedal.

  • Set the crankarm so that it is parallel to the ground. The depression on the side of the knee (immediately behind the kneecap) should be in-line (directly above) the pedal axle. If it's in front of the axle, loosen the seat saddle, and move it back slightly. If it's behind the axle, move the seat saddle slightly forward.

If you follow my recommendation below, and use platform pedals, the foot/pedal position is less critical. top of page


Seat comfort is important for touring and long commutes. A good seat is one that minimizes the need to re-position yourself (very distracting) because your butt has fallen asleep or is otherwise uncomfortable. For me, seat padding is especially important because I have very little natural cushioning (body fat). It took some time but I finally came up with a solution that works (for me anyway). Look at this picture:

custom-designed seat
Above: A custom-designed seat. The seat here -- the widest, most padded model available -- is further improved with a fabric-covered gel-pad. The original, one-piece seat post was also replaced with this shock-absorbing model. This is a very comfortable seat!

Next: Part 2

Guide to Bicycle Safety: [Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7]

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