At one of our recent test ride events a rider asked me if I have ever had an accident on my bike. I’d never really thought about it but the answer, despite the many thousands of kilometers I have travelled on a bike in my life was…. well … No. Because I have never had an accident, I have always found it surprising that safety concerns are often stated as the reason someone doesn’t ride more often or at all.
The question however got me thinking about why I have never had an accident and what I am doing to be such a safe rider. So here are what I would consider the dozen ways to remain ‘hurt-free’ on a bike or e-bike.
Way 1: Make sure your brakes work effectively
Being able to stop quickly on a bike in any weather is often the difference between having a collision with something or not. Having good stopping power is essential for riding amongst cars but is also necessary on bike paths as they are often shared with dogs, people and kids who often run out in front of a bike because they don’t hear it coming.
When I was younger, all the bicycles I owned had brakes which stopped the bike by grabbing the outer rim with some form of rubber brake pad. Despite my good mechanical knowledge and ongoing maintenance, I found that a lot of effort was required to keep these brakes in adjustment so they worked well. They also weren’t particularly effective in the wet.
In the last five years the cost of disc brakes has come down significantly, so I have switched to hydraulic disc brakes which are the same brakes found on most modern cars. Since switching to disc brakes, I have had very few issues. This is why the Tiller Rides Roadster has hydraulic brakes front and rear - so you can stop with confidence in rain, hail, or shine.
Way 2: Cover your brakes
Whenever I ride near anything that is moving - be it cars, pedestrians, bikes or other road or path users, I keep at least two fingers over the brakes so that I can stop in a hurry.
Way 3: Take the bike paths, backstreets and wide streets
The more cars there are nearby and the faster they are going, the less safe you will be on a bike - especially when there isn’t a dedicated bike path. Personally, I never take busy main roads but instead plan my route, even if it is longer, around bike paths and backstreets. If I need to go on a mildly busy street, I only do that if it is very wide.
Way 4: Always use lights at night
If a bike doesn’t have lights, it is almost invisible at night - especially from behind. Safety wise, bike lights are less about seeing the road or path ahead and more about making you visible to cars and other riders. This is why our Roadster has built-in lights that start automatically - night and day.
I have also found that flashing lights are more noticeable at night as it is harder for a car driver to confuse them with a streetlight or distant car when looking up at an intersection to check oncoming traffic. For this reason I use flashing lights by default around city streets and only switch over to a beam when there isn’t enough light from streetlights to see the road in front of me.
Way 5: Give parked cars a wide berth
One thing I avoid like the plague is riding along car-lined streets. Unfortunately, sometimes this isn’t possible and so if I ever need to ride past cars parked along the side of a road (parallel to it) I always ride far enough out so that if someone opens their car door I can avoid hitting the door or the person. This often means riding further out into the road and closer to cars but in my experience taking a position on the road at these times is less risky than hitting a car door.
Way 6: Always wear a helmet
It can be confusing to know whether a helmet is a good idea given that there are many countries around the world where helmet wearing is not compulsory. To make things worse in those countries where it is compulsory there can often be found a small group of anti-helmet wearing protests trying to get the law changed.
What I can tell you with the greatest surety is that if you are involved in an accident on a bike where your head hits the ground you will want to have a helmet on. I personally know three people who either wouldn’t be with us today or would have serious brain damage if it wasn’t for their bike helmet.
For what it is worth, I think the anti-helmet movement is an expression of an ideological opposition to being told by a government what one can and can’t do. Much like climate change, despite research study after research study finding that helmets significantly reduce bike related head injuries, the anti-helmet group still assert that it is not the case. The research also found that in most cases helmet laws don’t change the number of people that will ride. No amount of research seems to be able to counteract strong ideology so it is my strong view that these groups are actually advocating a very unsafe behaviour.
What I would be personally open to supporting is a helmet-free-zone in a central business district so long as there are few cars and their speed is restricted to below 20km/h and bikes also have a speed limit.
Way 7: Slow down and indicate when turning
We all know how dangerous it can be when driving or riding along and a car doesn’t indicate when turning. Not indicating what you intend to do on a bike is similarly dangerous. The habit I have developed is to always indicate which direction I am turning when there are cars around that would like to know what I am doing. Whether it be as I enter a roundabout or approach an intersection I always put my hand out if I am turning.
The caution with indicating like this is that you need to take a hand off the handlebars. It is therefore safest to slow down to a moderate one-hand speed before indicating.
In saying this however, I never assume anyone has seen me indicate unless I get clear feedback from them. I therefore don’t proceed around a roundabout etc unless I can see a driver looking straight at me and slow down or stop in a way that indicates they have seen me.
Way 8: Use your bell
Because a bike is relatively silent you often find yourself in situations where there are people, usually pedestrians or other riders, who don’t know you are coming. It is here that the bell can be the difference between a safe interaction and a collision. I always use a bell when passing pedestrians or other bikes.
And if you don’t happen to have a bell on your bike… a short ‘Bring Bring’ or ‘ Coming Through’ will do the trick.
Way 9: Don’t ride too close to other bikes
As any road racing rider who regularly rides in a peloton can probably tell you, it is much more dangerous to ride close to other riders. This is mainly because the handlebars can easily get caught on another set of handlebars and once that happens an accident is almost always going to happen.
As a general rule then, I never ride close together side by side where my handlebars can get entangled. Also, when riding behind someone I always stay to one side so I won’t run into the back of them if they suddenly stop.
Way 10: Beware of grooves, edges and cracks
Once you can ride a bike it is easy to forget that a bicycle requires constant adjustment of the front wheel to remain upright. Believe it or not, if you want to turn right your brain actually turns the handlebars to the left for a moment to lean the bike to the right and cause a right turn.Because of this constant adjustment of the front wheel to stay upright, if your front wheel gets caught in a crack of some sort it can be hard to stay upright.
Train or tram tracks
Obvious cracks like where concrete is joined are a common riding hazard, as are train and tram tracks, especially those that are across a road or path but at an angle rather than straight across.
There are a set of these angled train tracks on the Western Australian holiday island, Rottnest and I personally know of several people who have fallen off as a result of getting caught in them.
Another hazard to watch out for, but that has been mostly removed from city streets worldwide (but sometimes still found in old carparks), are road stormwater drains with slotted metal covers. The slots are usually wider than a bike tyre and if they run in the same direction as you are riding, your front wheel can get caught in them and cause you to fall off.
An often unrealised hazard is the little edge that is often left on a concrete driveway where it meets the road. If you are riding along the road and decide to ride up onto the driveway you need to cross this edge at a reasonable angle so that your front tyre rides up and over the edge rather than running along it.
All these hazards are significantly reduced through the use of wider and softer tyres. This is why all our Roadsters come with 50mm wide, soft ‘balloon’ tyres.
Way 11: Obey the road rules rules but don’t expect others to do the same
This is not a ‘always do the right thing’ type of suggestion - what it is about is behaving on the road in a way that is predictable by the other road users so they can avoid you. If you as a rider choose to ride through intersections when the pedestrian walk signal goes off, don’t indicate, or ride alongside a car when going around a roundabout or ride between cars at a traffic light you will often be in a location where a driver doesn’t expect you to be - and probably won’t see you. I have had a couple of near misses doing this when in a rush and have since stopped doing it.
Way 12: Match your speed to the situation
Another thing I do unconsciously now is to match my speed to the situation - and that doesn’t always mean slower is safer.
If I am riding amongst pedestrians, for example through a main street or along a shared path, I will go slow when I am near people as their movement is often more random than a bike and they often don’t just walk on one side of the path. This is more important when you come across a pedestrian with earphones in as they usually don’t hear you coming.
Around other bikes it is usually safer to go at a similar speed to them so that you have less relative speed difference and so there is no need to pass or be passed - which is when an accident is more likely.
As mentioned in Way 3, I usually stay away from streets where there are fast cars and instead take the back streets where cars are moving slower. In a city centre however, where cars are often going slower because of the large number of pedestrians and other cars, it is usually safer to go at the car speed or slightly faster so that they don’t have to try and squeeze past you. As an example I was recently riding our Roadster through the streets of downtown Melbourne and was surprised how much safer I felt going along at 25Km/h (the max assisted speed of an e-bike in Australia) compared to the day before when I rode the slow, heavy share bikes around the same streets.
Way 13: Pretend you don’t exist
Unless I see the eyes of a driver look straight at me and give some indication that they have seen me, for example by stopping their car after going to take off at an intersection, I always assume that they haven’t seen me.
This means you never ride in front of a car at a Roundabout, T or X intersection unless the driver is looking straight at you. Sunglasses and tinted windows make it harder to see a drivers eyes but my personal rule is if in doubt slow down or stop until you are sure they see you.
Flashing front lights make you much more noticeable so having them on day and night like on our Roadster is a great help.
Well that my top 12 suggestions for riding safe on the streets of a city. I hope they were good food for thought and can help you ride safer from now on.
By Julian Ilich, Co-Founder of Tiller Rides