Bike Safety 101 – Staying Safe on the Road
Training for a triathlon (or any sport for that matter) has its hazards and risks. This is why there are rules and regulations in place to help ensure the safety of competitors. Race rules are there not only for a fair playing field but also to provide a safe one. While racing though, we still have to be responsible for our own safety and be considerate of the safety of others. You still have to decide, based on your own experience and skill level – how fast you choose to ride down a hill or take a corner. But overall the risks and hazards are reduced for us thanks to the race competition rules and regulations put in place for us. Racing, however, only forms a small portion of the actual time we are out swimming, cycling and running. The majority of our time is spent training – where we have to try to navigate the hazards around us and negotiate the risks for ourselves.
Riding, in particular, forms a large part of our weekly training and, with it comes lots of hazards and risks. Cars, pedestrians, weather, poor road conditions, and even other cyclists are all dangers we have
to navigate while training and riding on open roads.
“We know cyclists are among our more vulnerable road users as they are don’t have the benefit of a car cabin or safety features like airbags. TAC figures show cyclists are 34 times more likely to be seriously injured than vehicle occupants, and 4.5 times more likely to be killed in a crash.” 
These are some pretty significant stats and a timely reminder of how vulnerable we all are as cyclists on the road. But thanks to the tireless work of organisations such as the Amy Gillett Foundation – the A Metre Matters campaign – we are slowly seeing changes to laws and legislation that are aimed at increasing rider safety.
But with the ever-increasing concern for rider safety, there is a growing popularity for indoor training such as Zwift and boutique indoor cycling studios. These provide a safe environment for riders to train in, in the comfort of their own home or newly decked out studios. The risks are effectively diminished and they can be fun (but hard!) sessions. But honestly, nothing compares to riding in the fresh air and on open roads. No amount of technology can replace that feeling, which is why most of us will still don our riding gear and head out on the road for training, pleasure – or simply commuting to work.
If you are someone who enjoys the pleasure that riding outdoors provides, whether it be solo or with friends, then there is plenty you can do to help ensure the safety of yourself and of those around you. In this article, I’ll share with you general road rules you must follow; important bike safety guidelines and, riding gear and equipment that will help keep you safe. I’ll also share additional tips for those commuting and what to look for with insurance.
Selfies: Overseas may have different rules but in Australia it’s a big no-no while riding. Rules: Although riding two abreast is permitted, on a narrow road it may be smart to ride single file.
General Road Rules
Road rules are regulated by each state and territory, and just like motorists, cyclists are bound by these rules to help ensure safety and reduce the risk of accidents. Cyclists are required to obey the same road rules as drivers, plus additional bicycle-specific rules. And just like all road users, cyclists can be fined for failing to follow any of these road rules. On top of regular road rules, there are a few universal bicycle-specific rules that every cyclist should be aware of:
Mobile phone use: using a mobile phone is prohibited, except to make or receive a phone call or to use its audio/music or GPS function. But only if the phone is secured/fixed to your bicycle, or can be operated without touching the phone, i.e. the phone is in your pocket and operated by headphones. Yup, that means the bike selfie is out of the picture!
Brakes and bells: all bicycles must have at least one effective brake and a working bell (or similar warning device). Yes, you can get fined for not having a bell/warning device!
Riding two abreast: Despite what motorists might argue, you can ride two abreast, BUT you must not ride more than 1.5 metres apart. So, get cosy with your riding mate!
Hands on the bars: You must have at least one hand on the handlebars at all times. The no handed selfie is a no-no.
Check with your state/territory for a full list of road rules and bicycle specific road-rules before your next ride on the road. And obey all road rules – even when you think no one else is around. There is no quicker way to lose the respect of fellow riders and motorists. If you wouldn’t do it in a car, don’t do it on a bike.
Bicycle Network is a great resource for cyclists that provide fantastic information, tips and advice for promoting bike safety, rules and regulations.
Vigilant: The most common place for an accident to occur with a motor vehicle is at an intersection. Add inclement conditions and darkness, and it is a recipe for danger.
Bike Safety Guidelines
Apart from road rules, there are other general safety guidelines that you can adopt to help ensure you and those around you remain safe while riding on the road.
Be predictable and intentional: My biggest tip for riders is being predictable on the road. Look ahead and know what is coming so you can make early, predictable and intentional decisions. Make eye contact with drivers to make sure they understand your intention before entering an intersection/round about. Signal when you plan to stop and point out dangers/hazards/obstacles to riders behind you. Do all that you can to ensure that your intentions are communicated and your actions predictable. You want to avoid any last minute decisions, swerving, or change of pace as much as possible.
Use your voice and hand signals: Communicate your intention to stop, slow down, turn or point out obstacles. This form of communication not only lets your fellow riders know what you are doing, but also motorists. We don’t have indicators or brake lights, so using hand signals and your voice is your means of communicating to those around you. If you want to turn, you need to slow down, or there is an obstacle/obstruction ahead, start your actions as soon as possible. Signal, slow down, sit up and look around – all these cues will warn other cyclists and motorists around you that you are going to make a change or something is coming up.
Remain alert and vigilant: The most common place for an accident to occur with a motor vehicle is at an intersection. You can never assume a driver has seen you, so always remain alert and vigilant. Always slow down, make eye contact with drivers and ride through intersections with caution. Be aware of a cars blind spot, and expect that they may turn in front of you. When riding past parked cars be prepared for doors to open – some people still just don’t look.
Anticipate situations: Being able to anticipate situations is a fantastic skill to develop and adopt, as it can help you to be one step ahead of the motorists around you. So, awareness of what is going on around you and knowing what to look out for in these situations is crucial. Look at the headrest of parked cars to see if someone is in the driver’s seat – this can be a sign that someone may be opening their car door and you can be more vigilant and slow down. If riding next to a car, don’t just look for a blinker; keep an eye on the car wheel to tell you if it is going to turn. Look ahead to where you plan to go and keep an eye on side streets for entering traffic, and always stay focused when riding – even if you are nearly home.
Vigilant: The most common place for an accident to occur with a motor vehicle is at an intersection. Add inclement conditions and darkness, and it is a recipe for danger. Obey the rules: If it is on red, then stop. You wouldn’t run a red in your car, so don’t do it on your bike.
Choose when to ride two abreast: Although laws say you can ride two abreast, sometimes it is not always the best option. If the road is narrow, windy or hilly it may be a better option to ride single file so cars can safely and more easily pass. The respect you will gain from motorists goes a long way.
Avoid basic dangers: There are many dangers associated with riding on the road such as high traffic areas, poor road quality or visibility and weather conditions. Knowing your riding routes and locations is important and can help minimise or avoid your exposure to these basic road dangers. If you know a particular road is a high traffic area during a particular time of day, avoid it during those times. If you know a road is poor quality (potholes/gravel etc.), then find a different route. If the weather is looking like it will provide unsafe riding conditions based on your confidence/ability then opt to ride inside or postpone to another time/day. Above all else, safety should be your top priority.
Be courteous: Treat other road users as you would like to be treated. Wave cars through if you can see the road ahead is safe for a car to pass. Move to single file on narrow roads. Pull into turn out/passing lanes to allow cars to pass. If stopped at a red light and cars behind can turn left, don’t block their path simply move over slightly so they can get past. Even offer a friendly wave when a car overtakes you after patiently waiting behind you. Being respectful and courteous on the bike goes a long way to sharing the road.
Be patient: Every road user could do with having more patience. Just like we expect motorists to be patient, it is important we expect the same of ourselves. If cars have not long passed you on a road that doesn’t have a bicycle lane and you come up to red lights, don’t weave your way back up to the front of the line. Wait patiently where you are for the lights the change, otherwise, those cars are going to get frustrated when they have to try and get around you again. Be patient, share the road and we will all be safer for it.
Obey the road rules: It’s as simple as that. Regardless if you are running late, or those around you are running red lights. Set an example. It goes a long way to helping the motorist vs. cyclist debate – plus ensures your safety!
Dooring: If you are a city commuter, it’s a high risk scenario. Tramlines: Be very careful riding alongside these. A lack of concentration could be fatal when traffic is around!
Riding to work is a fantastic way to stay fit, save money and for some, even save commuting time. Generally, the times you are commuting are during peak hours though, which means more road users – including motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The more road users there are, the higher the risk to cyclist safety. Here are some key dangers to watch out for while commuting to work (and riding in general):
Car doors: One of the biggest risks to cyclists is a car door being opened onto your path. To reduce the risk, try and ride so there is sufficient space between you and the parked cars (if possible/safe to do so). Look out for drivers and passengers getting in and out of parked cars. If there are a lot of parked cars, it is best to slow down so you have more time to react.
Tramlines: Bikes and tramlines don’t mix. To avoid the danger (and the embarrassment) always be careful when riding near tramlines. Always cross them perpendicular and be extra careful when it is wet, as they become super slippery.
Pedestrians: These days so many people walk around with their heads down looking at their phone, or with earphones in, not concentrating on those around them or their surroundings. When riding in high pedestrian or built-up areas, slow down and keep an eye out for pedestrians who may step out in front of you without looking. It happens more often than you may realise!
Riding gear and equipment
Having the right gear and equipment when riding will ensure you are well prepared when out on the road.
Helmet: Must be worn and of Australia Standards.
Lights: When riding at night (pre-dawn/post dusk) or in poor visibility/weather, road rules require all riders have a white light on the front and a red on the back, and that both are visible from 200 metres.
Bell/warning device: It is the law for all bicycles to have a working bell (or similar warning device). There are plenty of brands that make small inconspicuous bells now.
Clothing: Make yourself visible – if riding in the dark or low light/poor visibility choose brighter coloured clothing and reflective gear. It is also important to dress for the conditions. Wearing layers allows you to strip down as the day warms up and you can throw in your pockets. A vest/gillet and arm warms are my go-to’s all year round.
Bike kit and spares: At a minimum, always carry a spare tube, air (small pump or canister) and tyre levers. Depending on your riding and location you may also want to carry a small puncture kit as an emergency. These can all be carried in a saddle bag under your saddle, in a container in a bottle cage or simply in your back pocket.
Multi-tool: Although many cyclists don’t carry a multi-tool, they can come in handy when you least expect it!
Nutrition: Plan your ride route and duration before you head out the door, and accordingly plan your nutrition. Always take a little more than you need just in case you are out longer than planned or you ride harder than expected. Being well fuelled and hydrated means you will be more alert and therefore safer on the roads.
Hydration: Always carry at least one bidon/bottle with you, two for longer rides or in warmer weather. You may also want to consider whether your hydration is water or a combination of water and electrolytes.
Identification: RoadID is my favourite form of identification, worn on your wrist and you can choose the details you have on these including name, emergency contact, allergies, blood type and more. Whatever ID you carry, remember it’s for emergencies, so don’t leave home without it.
Cash/card: You just never know when it will come in handy. Extra food, a train or taxi ride home …
You are not legally required to obtain insurance, however, it is highly recom-mended. Bicycle Insurance can cover some of the costs in the following areas:
- Injuries while riding, known as personal injury insurance
- Injuries to someone else or damage to their property that you caused, known as third-party insurance
- Damage to your bike and equipment while riding
- Theft of your bike
If you are in an accident that involves a motor vehicle it is important to report this to the police as you may be eligible to claim compensation from your states governing body such as TAC in Victoria.
There are a number of organisations that provide bicycle insurance as part of their membership including Bicycle Network and Cycling Australia. You can also arrange insurance through most insurance companies, some which offer stand-alone bicycle insurance cover, while others cover your bike as part of your home and contents insurance.
When looking at insurance it is important to understand what your insurance policy covers and what is excluded. Know whether it covers you racing or just training/riding on the road. Check if it covers you for when you travel, or you need additional insurance for this. Bicycle insurance can be expensive, so make sure you shop around.
Regardless of whether you choose to take out insurance or the type or level of insurance you choose, it is important for all cyclists to have Ambulance Cover as a minimum. This should be a non-negotiable no matter how much you ride, train, or race.
With a little bit of knowledge, some experience and general awareness, you can ensure you remain safe on the road.
If you want to build up and gain more experience so you do feel confident, contact Triathlon Australia or Cycling Australia who can put you in contact with a local club or squad who can assist you with developing the skills and experience on the road in a safe environment. Just like driving, cycling is a learnt skill so the more you ride, the more experience you will gain and the more confidence you will build.
Don’t be afraid of the open roads – enjoy the freedom cycling brings.
See you on the road!