A Bike Touring Primer

With spring in the air and the lure of the open road upon us, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about some basic safety concepts for bicyclists.

Bicycle touring has taught me a few things about safety and preparedness when taking to the road on two wheels. A few simple preparations can mean the difference between an enjoyable ride and disaster.

Preparation And Gear

  • Make sure your bike is in proper working order: brakes, chain, cables, etc. Check it before each ride, and have a professional tune-up once a year. If you don’t know how to check these things, contact your local cycling club, pick up a book on basic bike maintenance, or talk to your local bike dealer. Don’t embark on a long ride or tour unless at least one person in your party is skilled at bicycle maintenance.

  • ALWAYS carry water. Drink before you’re thirsty, and top off your bottle(s) at every safe opportunity. Dry climates, breezes, and other factors affecting evaporation rate can make your apparent rate of perspiration deceptive.

    Distances between watering holes can be far, so mount extra bottles or carry a pouch.

  • Carry patches or spare tubes, tire irons, air pump, and hex wrenches; also spare change for an emergency phone call (cell phones are handy, too, but not all areas have cell reception).


  • Wear brightly colored clothing, and consider strips of reflective tape for your clothing, bike, and helmet.

  • ALWAYS wear a helmet.

  • Wear eye protection against sun and insects.

  • Don’t let floppy pant legs or shoelaces become caught in your chain — tie them up.

  • Carry raingear.

    Rules Of The Road

  • Make certain the routes you plan to ride allow bicycles. Laws vary from state to state, and from one type of road to another. If in doubt, check the local telephone directory for the area in which you will be riding, and call the local office of the State Patrol.

  • Ride single file when automobiles are present.

  • A bike is considered a vehicle under most state laws. If this is true in your state, you and your bike are subject to the same rules as an automobile (stop signs, traffic lights, turn procedures, etc.)

    Especially important to remember:

  • Ride WITH traffic, never against it.

  • Use hand signals for turns and lane changes: Left arm straight out for left turn, right arm straight out for right turn (or left arm out and bent upward at the elbow), left arm out and bent downward at the elbow for stop.

  • Do not pass on the right.

  • Do not turn left except from the left lane (alternately, dismount and walk your bike, using pedestrian crosswalks).

    Common Sense

  • Avoid riding at night; if you must, have proper illumination and lots of reflective tape.

  • Avoid riding over gratings, drains, and subsurface maintenance holes.

  • Cross railroad crossings, “cattle catchers,” and other linear cuts in the road at a right angle or walk your bike.

  • Be alert for gravel and debris in the roadway, especially on shoulders and turns. In areas subject to snow in the winter, early spring riders should be especially aware of the traction sand and gravel that was deposited during the winter.

  • When it comes to sharing the road with cars, one cynic put it best: “Assume you are invisible and that everybody’s trying to kill you.” In other words, don’t count on the other guy. Be safe.

    Sally O’Neal Coates is a veteran pleasure cyclist and author of “Great Bike Rides in Eastern Washington and Oregon” from Wilderness Press.

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