The first rule of cycling safety is to find where the brakes are before mounting. I learned that lesson the hard way. In brief, I backpedalled to stop on a gently descending slope, panicked when nothing happened, and realised that the bike only had manual brakes after falling and suffering some nasty bruising (mostly to my ego).
There is, of course, more to cycling safety.
I will not delve on the obvious, such as the need to observe traffic rules. After all, a bicycle is a vehicle, which means that cyclists must stop at a red traffic light and cannot ride on pavements or across pedestrian crossings. However, legislation differs from country to country and even from region to region, so bear that in mind when cycling far from home. For example, riding a bike without a helmet is illegal in South Africa; in France, only children must wear helmets; and in Netherlands, no one has to.
Now, let us take a look at some lesser-known cycling safety considerations.
- Wear eyewear to protect eyes from dirt, wind and bugs.
- Do not wear headphones.
- On hot summer days, wear sunscreen and take along a water bottle.
- Wear bright or light-coloured clothing during the day and reflective or fluorescent clothing at night or in poor visibility conditions.
- If you go out on the road, do not go alone; rather find a partner (and remember to ride in a single file).
- Do not ride your bike through puddles; you never know what may hide beneath the surface (for example, a pothole).
- Only brake when the front wheel is straight.
When riding a bike that is not familiar to you, you need to adjust it to fit you. Here is how:
- Stand over the bike and make sure there is sufficient distance between your body and the top bar. For road bikes, this distance should be three to five centimetres, and for mountain bikes seven to ten centimetres.
- The seat should be level front to back and the seat height should allow a slight bend at the knee when the leg is fully extended.
- The height of the handlebar should be at the same level as the seat.
Oh, and remember to test the brakes before you set off!