Commuting by bike? These tips will help you get there safely

Throughout the pandemic, more Oregonians chose bikes as a means of travel and recreation. As the days get longer this spring, we offer ways to stay safe on the road.

“People are reaching for bikes.” 

That’s a sentiment expressed by Ryan Barrett, marketing manager for River City Bicycles, a SAIF policyholder based in Portland. But it’s a trend noticed by many across the state and country. 

Early in the pandemic, people turned to bikes to get out of the house and exercise safely. For those who wondered whether this was a short-term trend that would ease along with restrictions and businesses opening back up – it wasn’t. At least not in Barrett’s world. 

“For the early adopters, it was nice [in 2020],” Barrett says. “Traffic calmed with so many staying home.” 

Two years later, traffic is back to prepandemic levels and road hazards are prevalent. So, it’s more important than ever for cyclists to follow steps that will keep them safe. 

As with many things that are safety-related, it all comes down to, as Barrett puts it, “Being prepared and being seen.” 

Choose the right gear 

Depending on the season, time of day, and where you’re going, selecting the right bike, clothing, and gear is crucial. 

  • Find a bike that matches the purpose of the ride. If you’re riding mostly city and neighborhood streets, consider something lightweight and navigable. 
  • Have a front and rear light. Lights are critical for early morning and evening when it may be dark during your commute. Lights can also make you more visible during a daytime rain shower. 
  • Wear clothes that increase your visibility. During the daylight, fluorescent colors can help drivers see you. At night, fluorescent gear should be traded for retroreflective clothing, which reflects light back to the source. Reflective clothing on the ankles can help drivers see movement and make the cyclist more noticeable. 
  • Always wear a helmet. Check out the guide from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on how to properly fit your helmet.

“I often see people riding with poorly adjusted helmets.” says Jim Nusser, safety and health division advisor at SAIF. “Take time to adjust your helmet and the helmets of children you ride with.”  

Plan your route 

If you’re commuting to work or an appointment, have a plan before getting on the bike. 

  • Pick up a map of your city’s bike routes from your local bike shop or city website. 
  • Opt for bike lanes when possible, even if it means going out of your way a bit. “They are set up to be more efficient with less stop signs, traffic, and lights,” Barrett says. “You’re not really having to worry about sharing the road.” 
  • Practice. It never hurts to try out the route on a weekend or the day before an appointment, just to make sure you’ve got it down. “If you are new to bike commuting, you might try it when the weather is nice.” Nusser says. “If you like it, you can invest in some good rain gear so you can commute year-round.” 

Be predictable 

“We’re at a disadvantage on the road. In cars, people are distracted in their thoughts, songs, and phones. So when you don’t have lights and you have a small footprint, you can disappear into people’s blind spot quickly,” Barrett says. 

  • Follow the rules of the road. Check out the Oregon Bicycling Manual from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) for everything you need to know. 
  • Keep a steady pace. When sharing the road with cars, avoid the temptation to speed up. Maintain a steady pace so cars can anticipate your movements. 
  • Signal early. Make sure drivers have time to see your signals and react accordingly. 
  • Ride defensively. Always be aware; prepare as if cars/drivers do not see you. 

“I find commuting by bike to be a good source of regular exercise that improves my mental health.” Nusser says. “Following these tips can help you stay visible and increase your safety on the bike.”   

For more information on bike safety and laws in Oregon, visit ODOT’s pedestrian and bicycle program and speak with an expert at your local bike shop.