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The Five Layers of Bike Safety

Things You Can Do to Help Ensure Many Happy and Accident-Free Miles on Your Bike


The keys to being safe on a bike are almost entirely in your hands. As outlined here, these five layers of bike safety lay out those simple things that make you a more effective, predictable cyclist and that go a long way to ensuring many happy miles on your bike.

This information was developed by Dan Guiterrez, Brian deSousa, Mighk Wilson and Khalil Spencer, all cycling instructors certified by the League of American Bicyclists. The information was developed individually and collectively by these very experienced cyclists, and all deserve credit.  It is reproduced for your benefit with their permission.

1. Layer 1: Control your bike

Bike in traffic
Stockbyte/Getty Images

About half of all cyclist accidents are single rider crashes. If you can skillfully control your bike by starting, stopping, and smoothly turning, you can better avoid falling. Learn how to control your bike when you need to stop or turn quickly.

2. Layer 2: Know and follow the rules of the road

Couple on road bikes in rural hills
Scott Markewitz/Getty Images

A bike is a legal vehicle in all 50 states. As a vehicle driver, you are required to obey all traffic laws, signs, and signals. Ride in the direction of traffic, on the right side of the road. Never ride against traffic.

Use the right-most lane going in the direction you are traveling. Use correct lanes for turns. Intersections are where most auto/bike crashes occur so be especially alert as you move through them. Before you get to an intersection, position yourself in the proper lane, and use hand signals whenever possible.

When riding with other cyclists, stay alert and follow good group riding procedures. Use hand and voice signals. Cyclists riding in a group are much more likely to collide with one another than with motor vehicles.

3. Layer 3: Ride in the smartest lane position

sign Bikes May Use Full Lane
from the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices

Know when you should take the full lane and when it is OK to share the lane with motor vehicles.

Use your lane position to let other drivers clearly signal your intentions. Many inexperienced cyclists will hug the far right edge of the road in an attempt to not obstruct motor vehicle traffic. Doing so on a narrow road leaves the cyclist no room to maneuver. Eventually a foolish motorist will try to squeeze by when there is insufficient room, putting the cyclist in grave danger.

In lanes that are too narrow to share with cars, you should ride closer to the center of the lane, instead of trying to squeeze closer to the right. By using smart lane positioning and the first two layers, most accidents can be avoided.

4. Layer 4: Manage hazards skillfully

Girl on bike
Scott Markewitz/Getty Images
Learn and practice evasive maneuvers such as the quick dodge, quick turn, and quick stop to either dodge obstacles or to avoid motorist's mistakes. In tight traffic, taking evasive action might force you into another vehicle’s path. When it isn’t safe to dodge or turn, you’ll need to master skills like riding or hopping over obstacles (potholes, debris, rocks, glass, trash), riding through hazardous surface conditions (oil slicks, sand, gravel) or stopping very quickly without losing control of your bike.

5. Layer 5: Utilize passive protection.

Trek Anthem C Elite Helmet
When all else fails, helmets and gloves are your last line of protection. Make sure your CPSC-approved bike helmet fits properly. It should not wobble or flop around on your head when your chinstrap is buckled. Even with a great helmet, you might be unconscious if you crash. Carry ID, any important medical info, emergency contacts, and your insurance information. Cell phones can be handy in an emergency.
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