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General Safety Tips for Cyclists

Rule 1: Obey the rules of the road
Bicyclists are obligated, by law, to follow the rules of the road. Never ride against traffic. Ride to the right of traffic on the road, however, never pass cars on the right. In an intersection, ride behind cars when going straight, and never ride in anyone's blindspot in an intersection. Should you feel obligated to ride on the sidewalk, ride at walking speed, and don't expect motorists to see you at crosswalks.

Rule 2: Choose your route carefully
The issue of choosing a route on a bike is one of the instances where we see a difference between bikes and cars. In an ideal world, you could ride your bike wherever you wanted. But the truth is that there are many streets that are not safe for cyclists, whether because there are too many cars traveling at high speeds, lots of parked cars on the side of the road, or any other dangers that cyclists face. Think carefully about where you choose to ride and don’t be afraid to take a route that might be a little longer in the name of safety. 

Rule 3: Be flexible with your road position
One of the common mistakes of novice riders is that they often pick a spot in the road to ride and stick with it, regardless of the traffic around them. You should ride predictably, and not weave in and out of traffic. However, a cyclist’s road position should be flexible, based upon the surrounding environment. A good rule of thumb: the closer you are going to the speed of traffic, the closer you should ride to the traffic. If you are going much slower than traffic, ride far to the right. If you are going almost as fast as everyone else, ride near the traffic stream. This helps make you visible and discourages drivers from turning in front of you. If you are going as fast as other traffic, ride in traffic. Never, ever ride fast in the gutter. Drivers will not be looking in the gutter for fast-moving traffic.

You should also be aware that your road position is very important at intersections. If you plan to go straight through an intersection, do not pull to the right. This gives drivers the impression that you are thinking about going to turn right. This may seem simple, but this one change can help you avoid 20-40 percent of all car-bike crashes. 

Rule 4: Learn to use your brakes effectively
Braking might seem simple, but experienced riders have a sophisticated technique for stopping under varied conditions. In general, your rear brake can stop the bike significantly faster than the front brake. Your rear brake is the handle on your right. If you're on a cruiser, where you pedal backwards to stop, be sure to give yourself extra time to stop. When the road is slippery for any reason, you should use your front brake after you've used the rear brake for a few seconds.

Rule 5: Make yourself visible
Every bike should be equipped with both a rear light and a headlight. Don’t skimp on cheap lighting— you want these lights to be reliable. If you do a lot of riding at night, consider getting a reflective vest and reflective gloves. Reflective gloves allow you to signal at night. The NJ law actually requires a front headlamp, and a rear red taillight. Your local bikeshop should have the lights you need, and with today's LED lights your batteries will last much longer than you'd expect.

Rule 6: Grab a helmet
In New Jersey, those who are of ages 17 and under are required by law, to wear a helmet. However, a helmet is a wise choice anyways whenever you are pedaling. Spend a few bucks more for a lighter one that you'll actually not mind wearing, particularly when you get one for your child. Many cyclists can attest to how their helmet saved their life, so join the smart crowd, and grab a helmet.

Joseph M. Ghabour
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Auto, Bus, Pedestrian, Motorcycle accident, medical malpractice and worker's compensation attorney.

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