No wonder bicycling is booming. Almost a third of U.S. workers now live within five miles of their workplaces, and the cost to maintain a bike is just $300 a year compared to thousands for a car. From 2000 to 2010, the ranks of bike commuters grew 40 percent. Riding peaks in May—it's National Bike Month—and especially on Bike to School Day, May 8, and Bike to Work Day, May 17. Here's how to be a streetwise bicyclist.
- Be hardheaded Head injuries cause three-fourths of U.S. bicycle fatalities. But a bike helmet worn properly is up to 85 percent effective at reducing head injury risk during a crash. It should sit level, one to two finger widths above your eyebrows, and the straps should be snug enough that it can't move more than an inch in any direction.
- Stand out in the crowd Wear bright clothing to make yourself obvious to the cars around you. Equip your bike with both a headlight and a taillight for night riding. Add reflectors, too.
- Think with four wheels Bicyclists are motorists in the eyes of the law. That means drivers owe you the same courtesy and leeway that they owe to cars. But that doesn't make you special. Obey all signs and lights—just as if you were driving—and yield to pedestrians.
- Go with the flow Always move predictably and defensively, watching for hazards ahead. Ride in the direction of traffic, signal when turning or changing lanes, and stay to the right when riding among faster vehicles and bikes. Remember that in many places it's illegal for anyone but children to ride on the sidewalk.
- Keep a clear head Cycling under the influence of alcohol is illegal in many states for a reason: It's dangerous. In 2010, one-fifth of bicyclist fatalities involved a rider with a blood alcohol level at or above the legal limit for drivers.
- Love the one you're with You wouldn't own a car that doesn't drive easily, so buy a bike that fits and feels good. When you straddle a road bike, there should be an inch or two between you and the top bar; three to four inches on a mountain bike. Treat your bike to the same love you'd give a new car: Book regular checkups so the gears and brakes won't ever let you down.
Find help adjusting bike helmets and other tips at AAA.com/bike.
This article was first published in May 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.