Healthy You - Every Day

Beyond the Basics: Safe Cycling on the Road

Our expert shares tips to help you have a safe ride

Safe Cycling on the Road

It’s often said that once you learn how to ride a bicycle, you never forget.

But while you may remember the lessons that helped you shed your training wheels, there are additional precautions you need to take now as an experienced rider.

Biking alongside cars, buses and pedestrians on the go requires preparation and confidence. So, before your next ride, brush up on these tips for safe street cycling.

For expert advice, we turned to orthopedic surgeon Neal Stansbury, MD, with Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute. Not only is Dr. Stansbury a gifted surgeon and Medical Director for Valley Preferred Cycling Center, he is also a competitive cyclist, winning gold and silver medals at the 2023 World Transplant Games held in Perth, Australia. As an avid cyclist, he knows his way around a bike and has helpful tips to ensure you enjoy this sport.

Perfect your setup

First and foremost, make sure your bike fits:

  • “Your feet should rest flat on the ground when you straddle the bike’s crossbar,” Dr. Stansbury says.
  • Raise the seat height until your knee bends slightly when sitting with your foot on the pedal’s lowest position.
  • Adjust the handlebars to a comfortable height and width to avoid seat and back pain.

If you’re a nighttime rider in Pennsylvania, your bike must have a front lamp and rear and side reflectors. “These make you visible to other vehicles as well as illuminate the road,” Dr. Stansbury says.

Looking for other safety accessories? Bells, horns and rearview mirrors aren’t required, but they can bring added peace of mind.

 “Helmets reduce your risk for serious head and brain injuries by 70 percent.” - Neal Stansbury, MD

Helmet how-tos

The most important tip for safe cycling: Always wear a helmet, no matter how short your trip. “Helmets reduce your risk for serious head and brain injuries by 70 percent,” he says.

Don’t buy a helmet unless it has the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sticker inside, and make sure it fits securely:

  • Fastened, your helmet shouldn’t wobble on your head.
  • The front of your helmet should rest just above your eyebrows.
  • If you can fit more than two fingers between the strap and your chin, tighten it.

“If you hit your head in an accident, replace your helmet,” Dr. Stansbury says. “The impact from falling crushes the interior material, decreasing its effectiveness.”

Pre-trip prep

Making yourself visible on the road is a must. In addition to installing reflectors on your bike, you can stand out to other vehicles by wearing bright, fluorescent-colored or reflective clothing.

Additional protective gear includes:

  • Well-fitting shoes  
  • Close-fitting pants
  • Padded gloves and shorts

Before you take off, check the brakes, chain and tires. “Make sure your body is in tune, too,” Dr. Stansbury says. “Cycling can be intense exercise, so hydrate and fuel up.”  

Rules of the road

Now you’re ready to roll! Bicycles are vehicles, so that means following the same road rules as motorists.

Key guidelines in Pennsylvania include:

  • Ride on the right-hand side of the right-most lane with traffic flow.
    • On busy roads, ride in the center of the right lane for increased visibility.
  • You may ride beside another cyclist. But only two cyclists can ride next to each other at a time.
  • Obey traffic signals, street signs and road markings.
  • Avoid distractions, like using your phone or wearing headphones.
  • Learn and use the proper hand signals:
    • Before you make a left turn, extend your left arm sideways.
    • For right turns, either extend your right arm or raise your left arm upward.
    • Signal decreasing your speed or stopping by extending your left arm downward.
  • Unless authorized by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, don’t cycle on freeways.

Taking precautions can prevent many biking accidents. Still, injuries aren’t uncommon. RICE – rest, ice, compresses and elevation – can treat minor problems, but see a doctor or clinician if issues persist.

Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute

Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute

The region’s leader in joint, spine and orthopedic care gets you moving again.

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