Electric bicycles are a great way to get around, save money and protect the environment – all while having a blast. But as fun as ebikes are to ride, they still require attention to the best electric bicycle safety practices to ensure your fun rides can continue safely for as long as possible. Many electric bicycle safety tips are similar for standard cycling, but there are also some ebike specific tips that you should pay attention to each time you hit the road.
1. Wear a helmet
This tip is pretty simple but could save your life one day. I won’t go into too much detail here because I have a whole article dedicated to the helmet discussion. Let’s just suffice it to say, if your head is going to go bouncing off a car windshield or scraping along the road surface, it’s probably best that it be covered by something more than a baseball cap.
I like to use a full face helmet with a face shield that flips up. These give you lots of benefits including:
- all around protection
- sun protection (tinted screen and the upper lip physically blocks the sun from your eyes)
- keeps you warm in the winter
- walking around with it gives the impression that you ride something cooler than an ebike (if such a thing exists)Full face helmets do have some downsides though, including higher cost, somewhat limited visibility and that they get HOT in the summer. I often switch back to a regular bicycle helmet in the summer.
2. Use your lights
Most deadly bicycle accidents happen at night. How do you protect yourself when the sun goes down? It’s simple: put lights on your bike. The more the better. Those dinky reflectors that came on your bike simply aren’t good enough. Do you really want to pin your hopes for survival on a flimsy piece of plastic designed to be the cheapest way to minimally fulfill an outdated law?
Use at least one blinking front (white) and rear (red) LED light on your ebike. Even better, put more than one of each. An additional light on your helmet is even better. Spoke lights are great too. Anything that makes you more visible at night will greatly decrease your chances of being hit by a car. For more info on ebike lights, check out my article “Put the Right Lights on Your Ebike”.
3. Use warning devices
Install both a bell AND a horn on your bike. Bells are for warning pedestrians and horns are for warning cars (don’t mix them up, pedestrians don’t like getting blasted by an air horn). You’ll notice I said “air horn”. Leave the rubber ended trumpet for the clown cars.
What you are looking for is a bicycle air horn such as the awesome AirZounds bike horn. These suckers are LOUD. I thought I had damaged my hearing the first time I blasted it indoors while removing it from the packaging. An air horn is what you need to alert drivers to your position when they try to merge on top of you or start pulling out ahead of you. My AirZound horn has saved me from multiple close-calls and probably even a few collisions.
4. Ride on the proper side of the road, with traffic, not against it
This might sound obvious, but a lot of people believe it’s better to ride against traffic so that you see cars coming towards you and they can’t sneak up and hit you from behind. However, that type of rear end bicycle collision is incredibly rare compared to all other types of bicycle accidents. One study I read stated that those types of rear-ended-by-a-passing-car collisions make up just 2% of all bicycle traffic accidents.
Statistically speaking, you have a much higher chance of being hit by a car pulling out onto the road that didn’t see you because he didn’t check for traffic coming the WRONG way. Stick to riding with traffic and not against it.
5. Take the lane
On an ebike, ride in the lane if you can travel the posted speed limit of the road. Traffic in many urban areas, especially downtown and business centers, rarely surpasses 25-30 mph, and is often much less during peak hours due to stop-and-go traffic. It’s much safer for you to ride in the lane with the cars so that they can see you than trying to hug the curb and getting passed by cars.
Also, when cars pull out onto the road, they check the middle of the road for other cars and often miss a bicyclist who is riding on the extreme edge of the road. Giving yourself more space between you and the curb also provides you with room to work with should you find yourself needing to make any sudden evasive maneuvers. Lastly, it removes the chance of getting ‘doored’ by a parked car, which happens when a parallel parked car opens its door before you have a chance to move out of the way. At low speed these collisions are annoying and result in damages; at high speed on an ebike they have been known to be deadly.
6. Keep your tires properly inflated
Not only does this help you improve your ebike range, but it will also give you better control should you need to react quickly to avoid a collision. Keep your tires topped off so you have the best chance to staving off a crash when milliseconds count. While you’re at it, check your tire tread and make sure your tires aren’t bald. Worn tires and ebikes are a bad combination due to all that extra power you’re packing. You definitely don’t want to lose grip with the road when you need it most (or pretty much ever, for that matter.)
7. Be a defensive driver
Drive defensively and assume other drivers are out to get you. To be fair, they usually aren’t actively gunning for you, but sometimes it might appear that way due to their misjudging your speed on an ebike.
Most drivers see a bicycle and think “slowpoke” regardless of how fast the bike is actually moving. Years of seeing kids on bikes have seemed to reinforce this bicycle=slow mentality of drivers. This can be a big problem when you’re on a fast ebike and the oncoming driver assumes he has time to make a turn in front of you. You might think that he obviously realizes your current speed means he’ll never make it, but all he sees is a bicycle and assumes he’s got all the time in the world.
This situation happens much more often than you may realize and you want to take electric bicycle safety seriously then have to be prepared for it. I never give a driver the benefit of the doubt and ALWAYS assume they’ll take make a bad judgement call about when to make a turn or start slowing down. If I’m wrong then I get left with the pleasant surprise of meeting a competent driver, and if I’m right then I was already prepared to start braking or move out of the way.
8. Watch out for drunks, seriously
Be extra careful on weekends, especially Friday and Saturday nights. This is when the drunks are out in force. As bad as drivers can be on a nice, sunny Tuesday afternoon, Friday night it can be like there is a bounty on your head and the first drunk to get you will claim the prize.
9. Use a mirror
I love the Mirrycle handle bar end mirror, which costs just $12 at the time of writing on Amazon, but there are many other great options out there too. Like we talked about earlier, statistically speaking you aren’t likely to get hit by a motorist just happening upon you from your rear, but you ARE much more likely to be hit from behind if you suddenly swerve out into the lane to avoid something in the road.
Always try to look behind you or check in your mirror before moving further out into the lane. Compact cars are getting quieter and ever more popular electric cars are nearly silent. You often have no idea a car is coming up behind you and accidentally moving out in front of one is much more common than you might guess.
10. Make eye contact with other drivers, especially at intersections
Many bicycle accidents occur at intersections simply because a cyclist wrongly assumed a driver saw him. Never assume a driver knows you are there unless you specifically make eye contact with him. Even then, keep a healthy amount of doubt – remember tip #7. Intersections are dangerous places for bicycles/ebikes so it’s vital that you do everything you can to ensure other drivers know you are there.
Riding an ebike should be a pleasurable experience. Staying safe is your best bet to keep it that way. For a great run-down of the most common ways bikes and cars meet – and how to avoid them – check out BicycleSafe.com. Everything covered there is just as important for electric bicycle safety as for normal bicycles.