safe biking

8 Tips for Safer City Cycling

July 15, 2013 at 11:23 am , by

What do I have in common with Leonardo DiCaprio? Sadly, not much. I’m not a famous Hollywood heartthrob and I’ve never been nominated for an Oscar. But Leo and I share one common interest: bicycling. In fact, we’ve both participated in New York City’s new bike share program by hopping on Citi bikes and pedaling around the Big Apple.

Leo and I aren’t the only ones. Since New York’s bike share program launched a little more than a month ago, New Yorkers have pedaled more than 1.28 million miles, which is enough to bike to the moon 5.3 times. Similar programs are catching on in other cities, too. Chicago’s bike share program launched in June, San Francisco’s program will debut in August and Portland will add a program next spring. There are currently more than 12 established bike shares nationwide.

Convenience is the main reason these programs are catching on, says Susi Wunsch, founder of the bicycling website Velojoy.com. The bikes are available year-round at all hours of the day, and customers can pay to rent a bike for a short period of time, or they can buy a weekly or monthly pass.

Although urban cycling is a healthy, eco-friendly and economical alternative to public transportation, there are some risks involved. Most  accidents happen when bikers slam into a car door that someone is opening, says orthopedic surgeon James N. Gladstone, M.D., co-chief of sports medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. (A good reminder to look first before you open one!) Another is when drivers make illegal right turns from the left lane. When these accidents happen, bikers risk road burn, kneecap bruising, fractures of the collarbone and wrists—and sometimes worse injuries.

Before you test your pedaling prowess on busy streets, Susi suggests you practice on roads with less car traffic and always ride at your own pace. Once you do gear up to cycle next to traffic, be sure to follow these tips to stay safe and get the most out of your spin:

1. Ride in a straight line. It’s tempting to cheat traffic lights or cut close corners, but Gladstone warns against swerving or zig-zagging through traffic. You never know when someone in a car will suddenly change lanes without signaling or rush through a light. You should also ride in the same direction of traffic, not against it.

2. Use hand signals when changing directions. They might look a little silly, but they’re important to ensure that other cyclists and drivers know which way you’re turning. Refresh your memory on the standard hand signals here.

3. Avoid the “door zone.” Ride at least four feet away from parked vehicles or cabs to avoid car doors that open unexpectedly.

4. Don’t ride distracted. “Sure, having your earbuds in makes for a nice ride, but it’s not smart in the city streets,” Gladstone says. And, of course, don’t text and bike.

5. Ring the bell. They aren’t just for kids! Use a bell to warn other cyclists, drivers and pedestrians of your approach.

6. Get a helmet that fits. The best helmets sit level on your head about two finger-widths above your eyebrows. And only two fingers should fit beneath the chinstrap. Bike share programs don’t provide helmets, so you’ll need to bring your own.

7. Look up and look ahead. Don’t just look down! Gladstone says a lot of bikers keep their eyes on the road, but instead need to be aware of traffic lights, doors of parked cars and potholes.

8. Stay visible. Wear bright colors, or even a fluorescent neon vest if you feel so inclined. You want to be sure that everyone you share the road with can see you (even if you’re not Leonardo DiCaprio).