Bicycling Street Smarts


This manual will teach you safe bicycling on public roads and streets.

Most books about bicycling begin with the selection of a bicycle and accessories. This one is going to be different. We're going to start with bicyclists' attitudes about riding on the road.

The most important factor in how you ride your bicycle is how you feel about it. If you find bicycling enjoyable and reasonably safe, then you'll want to cover greater distances and go more places. But to do so, you usually have to ride in the company of motor vehicles - and sharing the road with them calls for an attitude of security and confidence.

Once you have that confidence, you can safely and enjoyably take on a commute to work in city traffic or a long day's tour on almost any kind of roads. Almost anyone can become a confident, streetwise cyclist. Start out with conditions under which you feel comfortable and work up to more difficult ones. This booklet will show you how.

Keep in mind that the rules of the road apply to all drivers of vehicles, regardless of vehicle type. But the laws themselves often describe only what a bicyclist is required to do, not how to do it. This manual describes how to do it. This manual will teach you safe bicycling on public roads and streets.


To ride safely requires the ability to process information about traffic conditions, just as when driving an automobile. That skill develops with age and education. Children are ready to ride on streets when they are capable of controlling the bicycle well, can ride reliably and predictably, and can understand and follow the rules of the road.

. When a parent or guardian is satisfied that a child is ready, start out in easy conditions (on quiet neighborhood streets or rural roads) under the close supervision of someone who understands the principles of safe street bicycling taught in this manual.


A few words about equipment -- you do need the right equipment to put the ideas in this booklet to use.


Your bicycle should match your riding style. There are many types of bicycles. Consider your level of skill and where you want to ride. A good bike shop can help you make the right decision.

For comfort, your bicycle must fit your body proportions like a good suit of clothes. Finding the right frame height by standing over the bicycle is just a start. Other measurements are equally important. For example, most women need to take extra care to buy bikes with a short top tube, since women's average upper-body length is shorter in proportion to leg length than men's.

Cranks, handlebar stem, handlebars and saddle can be changed to fit you better. A good bike shop will help you select the parts that are right for you when you buy a bike.

New or old-faithful, your bicycle must be in good working order. The gears must shift reliably, and the brakes must work smoothly. If you aren't sure that your bike is in top shape, take it to a qualified mechanic at a good bike shop.


A helmet is a bargain in injury prevention. Head injury is a very common result of a crash when cycling, and is what the helmet is designed to protect against. While usually very effective in falls and at modest speeds, a bicycle helmet cannot prevent serious injury in a higher-speed collision with an obstacle or vehicle. A helmet is only your final layer of protection -- skillful cycling is no less important when wearing one. Make sure your helmet is snug, level, and covers your forehead, or you won't be adequately protected.


A rear-view mirror can be helpful when maneuvering in traffic. A small, helmet-mounted mirror gives a wide field of view and good isolation from road shock. Aim it along the side of your head, looking directly back. You should see your left ear in the right side of the mirror. Or if you can not avoid looking “through” the mirror because your right eye is dominant, try placing the mirror on the right side. You'll need a couple of weeks to learn to use the mirror. If it still doesn't work well for you after that length of time, consider a handlebar-end mirror instead.


Fingerless cycling gloves improve your comfort on long rides by cushioning your hands against road shock from the handlebars. They also protect your hands in case of a fall.

Trouser Protection

To secure your trousers and keep chain dirt off them, simply wear socks that reach above your ankles and tuck your trousers into them.


A small tool kit, tire patch kit and frame pump -- and the knowledge to use them -- will get you back on the road when your bike has a flat tire or other common minor breakdowns. Most on-road repairs are simple and easy to learn.


A frame-mounted water bottle lets you drink as you ride -- important on any trip of more than an hour. A small handlebar bag or rack-mount bag will hold your tools, extra clothing, maps and other items you take with you on your rides. A bag on the bike is a far better choice than a backpack, which will leave your back hot and sweaty in warm weather.


Buy a good lock. Lock your bicycle's frame and any quick-release parts, or take them with you.