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Your Complete Guide to Cycling Safety

11 February, 2020

The freedom that comes with cycling is superb, however you are out in 'the wild' and you need to be completely aware of your environment. We have put together a collection information that will provide advice on how to stay safe while cycling.

To help you digest the info, we’ll talk through the following sections:

Riding the right bike

What do I want this bike for and where will I be riding?
Getting exercise while running errands, commuting, riding off road trails, mountain biking, or road cycling for fitness, road touring or racing, or a combination of these things.

What is my budget and how can I best meet my needs within it?
All bikes sold in Australia have to meet safety standards so whatever your budget you can be reassured that the bike will be safe. At Reid we have a full range to suit needs and budgets. For city riding our urban commuter the Urban X1 or the Harrier would be ideal. For more leisurely riding you may prefer the Ladies Vintage Deluxe which provides comfort and elegance.

What will the average length of my trips be?
A short trip means that generally any roadworthy bike will do. On longer or more regular trips then comfort starts to be important. Choosing a bike that fits you correctly and is designed for your type of riding will help make your riding an enjoyable and safer experience.

What frame size do I need?
A safe bike is one that fits you and is best not done over the internet. Visit or call our Reid stores to speak with our trained staff to get the best fit for control, comfort and riding pleasure.

How important are tyres?
Correct tyre choice makes riding safer by helping keep you upright. They also help reduce your workload thereby making your riding more enjoyable.

Before we get into the tyres lets bust some jargon:

  • Bead – The hard (sometimes wire reinforced) edge of the tire that keeps it on the rim.
  • Clincher Tyre – The most common type of tyre, they’re on 99% of all bicycles. The edges of the tyre hook over the edges of the rim, and air pressure holds everything in place.
  • Hybrid – A commuter style bike that combines road and mountain bikes.
  • Kevlar – A strong, heat resistant synthetic material used for durability and flexibility in tyre beads and puncture resistance.
  • MTB tyre – A tyre used specifically for Mountain Biking.
  • Pinch flats – Flats caused when the tube is pinched between the rim and a sharp or hard object.
  • Psi – Pounds per square inch, a measurement of tire pressure.
  • Rolling resistance – Friction created when tyres roll.
  • Tyre pressure gauge – Gauge that shows the pressure in psi measurements, used to determine proper tire inflation.
  • Tpi – Threads per square inch, a measurement of tire thread counts.
  • Tread – Patterns of rubber on tyre which make contact with surface
  • Tubular tires – Also known as sew-ups, these tyres are used primarily for racing. Tubes are sewn inside the tire, which is then glued on to the rim.

 

How do I make the best choice for my type of riding?

The right tyre choice
Bicycle tyres are specifically designed for the purpose and activity intended, be it on-road, off-road or a mixture of both. There are three main categories, commuting, road and mountain bike tyres.

Commuter
A commuter tyre is designed for commuting/road cycling and will be grippy and durable, but still fast enough for commuting purposes. Commuter tyres are usually wider than a road bike tyre with a larger contact area for grip and comfort and therefore are slightly heavier. They are also less puncture prone.

Road tyres
The road tyre is designed to offer a smooth tread pattern, good aerodynamics, low rolling resistance and comfort for the rider. Prices vary significantly ranging from not very much up to several hundred dollars per tyre.

Tyres come with tread or as slicks. Slicks can be great in summer but in winter you are safer to opt for a tyre that has some tread to cope better with wet roads.

Mountain tyres
The mountain bike tyre usually comes with raised knobs or “lugs” designed to dig into loose material and provide grip on all terrain. A good mountain bike tyre will provide low rolling resistance, ample grip and provide a degree of cushioning that will enhance the quality of your ride.

There is a lot of choice with MTB tyres and many manufacturers have front and rear specific tyres. This doesn’t mean you can’t use a “front” tyre on the rear, or vice versa, but that the tyre has been optimised to provide the best performance on the intended wheel.

Typically, a front tyre will have more directional knobs with lower profiles, these maximise speed and cornering traction. A front specific tyre can also be a larger profile as it typically encounters less of a problem with “digging in” and building up mud.

Come in and chat to us if you need advice on off road tyres as there a number of widths and tread choices that will work better in certain riding conditions, gravel or mud for example.

How important are tyre pressures?
Lower than optimal tyre pressures increase the effort required to cycle, increase the wear on the tyre, and over time can create cracking of the tyre wall which can result in premature tyre failure and or increased puncture rates. Tyre pressures affect the quality of the ride – lower pressures give more comfort and grip whilst higher pressures reduce rolling resistance and punctures.

Where can I find out what my bike tyre pressures should be?
Talk to the staff at Reid when you purchase or look on the tyre sidewall. Manufacturers usually have recommended tyre pressures on their websites. There is a range – minimum to maximum. Think about your weight when deciding – a light weight person can ride safely closer to the minimum pressures whereas a heavier person needs to be closer to the maximum.

Pedals

Flat pedals
Flat pedals make it easy to put your feet down when you need to stop and are the safest option for new riders or those who don’t feel very confident. There are many different options for flat pedals and its best to talk to the staff at Reid to get the best fit for you.

Clipless pedals
You may choose to upgrade to a clip in pedal system for a more efficient system. There are two main systems, road and dirt.

The dirt system of pedal allows you to walk around easily and suits commuters. Road systems have an external cleat which makes walking difficult but offers the best power transfer to the wheels.

Clipping in and out of this type of pedal can cause issues when pulling up to the lights as you learn to use them. Practice on a grassy paddock for safety.

Lights
Every cyclist needs lights. It is a legal requirement to have lights on the road after dark and it’s critical to your safety.

There are two main categories of lights - road/commute use and mountain biking lights. Road lights also fall into two categories - those that enable you to see, and those that allow you to be seen.

With any light, you should consider the run time, how bright and can they be seen from the side. Most crashes at night happen when the cycle is turning and the lights are not seen head on.

Check out Reid's selection of lights here.

The Clothing

Helmets
Helmets are vital to safe riding and required by law. The basics of any helmet regardless of price are the same for all cyclists:

  • It should be the right size;
  • It needs to fit well and be comfortable;
  • It needs to be in safe working order;

Cycling helmets come in three basic styles: sport, road and mountain. All types are designed and tested to meet the Australia and New Zealand standards that make sure it will protect your head in an impact. 

 

Put your hands first
Gloves are essential for safe cycling. In a crash the first instinct is to put your hands down. A pair of gloves will keep your hands protected. In cold weather a pair of warm gloves is essential because cold hands reduce capacity to operate the bike safely.

Riding in all weather
Riding in summer requires the same attention to safety as at any other time of the year. Whilst it is tempting to not wear safety equipment because of the heat visibility and skin protection are still important. Riding in winter requires extra thought about visibility and comfort to stay safe.
Items to consider:

  • Thermal clothing in winter – base layers and warmers
  • Good rain wear
  • Bright reflective clothing and/or items
  • Glasses – especially anti-fog coated
  • Cooling items for riding in warm areas such as Queensland or Northern Territory

Rain wear
Staying dry by wearing a good jacket when you ride in the rain will help keep the winter colds away. Depending on how hardy you are you will want to move up to something a little more waterproof – look out for jackets made with Gore-Tex or eVent fabrics - they will be pricier upfront but will last the distance. You may also wish to invest in shoe covers to help keep your feet dry.

Bright clothing
Bright and reflective clothing is an important protection against being hit by cars. 3m’s reflective tape is an awesome option to increase your bikes reflectivity.

You can also get reflective straps to go around your legs and range of other places. Be a little creative with your safety.

Glasses
Cycling sunglasses are critical for protecting your eyes from not just the sun, but the dust and debris which you'll encounter on and off the road. Having glasses that are either photochromic – they lighten and darken depending on the conditions – or you can swap out the lenses is the key to riding both during the day and after dark. Antifog coating also provides extra safety when riding in all weathers.

Staying cool
Riding in hot climates can be challenging. A neck tie with water absorbent polymers inside which you soak for approx. five minutes can provide cooling for up to four hours.

Dress comfortably
There are a few benefits to lycra cycling shorts, such as no raised seams to press where they shouldn't and the chamois adds comfort while reducing chaffing when riding longer distances. On shorter commutes it's questionable whether you need specialist cycling clothing.
Town or hybrid bikes are better suited to riding in normal clothes as they usually have mudguards, skirt guards and a chain guard that stops loose clothing getting dirtied or caught in your bike.

There are some manufacturers that offer clothing that looks like normal but is designed for cycling. Come in and see us, we may have or be able to get what you want.

Basic maintenance
Bike maintenance is an essential element of safe cycling. We recommend getting your bike professionally serviced at least once a year but in between we suggest carrying out the following quick checks before you ride:

  • Check your tyre pressures. If you need to pump them up but don’t have a pump, your local bike shop will have a pump you can use.
  • Look at the brakes and check that there is ‘meat’ on the pads and that they line up with the rim.
  • Ensure your chain is lubricated.
  • Periodically check that your wheel nuts or skewers (the quick release axle for the wheels) are tight.

For more detail about maintaining your bike check out our blog post on bike maintenance.

Safe riding tips

Rider etiquette

Always follow the road rules, such as stopping for red lights and riding on the correct side of the road and pay attention to what’s happening around you. Signal your intentions to other drivers and cyclist early including stopping suddenly and at traffic lights.

When overtaking walkers and/or other cyclists give them warning that you are coming and about to pass and if you don’t have a bell politely say “rider passing” or something similar.
When you pull up at lights do not push ahead of everyone else even if they are slower. Wait and pass them safely on the road.

No phone zone
Do not use your phone while riding because it is unsafe. We also advise against listening to music while riding because it’s more difficult to hear approaching cars and pedestrians.

Predictable is good
Ride predictably. Safe riding requires others on the road to be able to predict your movements and make adjustments accordingly. This applies to riding in cycle lanes or pathways where there are other cyclists about.

Scan ahead
Cycling is safest when you know what is ahead. Scanning your environment will give you the most time to allow for obstacles, potholes, cars at intersections or other cycles.

Eye contact
The most common accident is where a car pulls out of a side road, car park, or driveway and hasn’t seen you.

There are two kinds of possible collisions here: You're in front of the car and it hits you, or the car pulls out in front of you and you ride into it.

As you approach an intersection try to make eye contact with drivers to ensure they have seen you. Riding with a headlight, day or night, helps people see you. Flashing modes give the best visibility during the day. If you can’t make eye contact then lower your speed to hopefully avoid a collision.

Ride away the curb
Around town you might feel safer riding close to the curb, however the crash statistics suggest it is safer a little further out. The number of cyclists hit from behind is incredibly low but riding further out puts you closer to where cars travel and where drivers expect road users to be – making you more visible.

On faster roads, eg those with speeds above 70km/h you are safer to ride closer to the shoulder as there will be fewer side roads and intersections where crashes happen.

Single file or two up?
You are within your rights to ride two-abreast while cycling except on particularly narrow roads. Around town we recommend riding single file as many city streets are too narrow for it to be safe to ride two abreast.

Also if it is really narrow and you feel it is unsafe for cars to overtake safely, you are allowed to take the lane, forcing other vehicles to stay behind you until it is safe to pass.
Parked Cars

Dooring is one of the most dangerous crashes for a cyclist as the impact is usually very nasty. You can lower the risk of this situation. Keep an eye out for parked cars with the door ajar or with people in them. In rows of parked cars it is hard to see inside vehicles so riding further into the lane reduces the risk, and at night look for a car’s internal light.

Cars and trucks have blind spots
If you can’t see the driver in the mirror they can’t see you. Even if you can see them, do not assume they have seen you.

Stay out of drivers’ blind spots, especially at traffic lights or stop signs. If you creep up the inside of a truck at the lights be aware it is very unlikely they can see you. At the front of a truck they may not know you are there so it’s safer to stay behind them. Always try to make eye contact with the driver.

No hands
Safe riding practice requires at least one hand on the handlebars. It is generally against the law to ride with no hands.

Signalling your intentions
Turning signals require you to lift one hand off the bars which in a novice rider can mean veering in the direction of the signalling hand. If you are not confident about your signalling skills spend time practicing in a quiet area. These are the general signals you need to know:

  • Left turn, extend your left arm straight out, parallel to the ground.
  • Right turn, extend your right arm straight out, parallel to the ground.
  • Stopping, not commonly used in Australia but extend your right arm out and bend the elbow 90 degrees so that your hand is vertical.

Build relationships
If a driver goes out of their way for you signal your thanks and acknowledge their effort.

Adjust to the conditions
Wet roads are slippery with hazards such as paint and manhole covers which need to be avoided if possible and safe riding means lowering your speed and increasing braking distances. Tram tracks are best crossed at about a 45 degree angle – they are VERY slippery when wet.

Learn how to brake
Being able to stop quickly is critical to cycling safely. Global Cycling Network has a neat video that runs you through the braking basics.

Don’t drink and ride
View our comprehensive article on the law across Australia regarding riding and drinking.

Tools for the road
Taking a multi tool can be very useful if you have mechanical troubles while riding. Some tips on maintaining your bike can be found here.

Most important is have fun! Cycling is all about enjoying the great outdoors, so don't forget to smile while you signal.