Biking 101 - Pitfalls and How to Stay Safe

  • By Brett Ratner

    Cycling is a very safe and healthy activity, especially once you’ve gained some experience.

    One problem new riders may face is that they don’t know what they don’t know. In other words, there are easily-avoidable dangers out there. It’s best you don’t learn about them the hard way. Here are some examples:

    • Busy Streets
      If you are used to driving, you may think the common streets you drive every day are the same ones you will bike on.  Not necessarily.  It’s pretty easy to find a safe route on side streets or quieter streets. Think about Union Avenue and Poplar – avoid those!

    • Wet manhole covers, train tracks, and painted lines
      When it rains, you can still get decent traction (grip) on the pavement. But metal and painted surfaces can get slick. Ride around wet manhole covers if you can, ride over wet – or any – train and trolley tracks at a “T” angle (perpendicular), and be wary of white and yellow lines on the street after a rain. When riding over a slick surface, it’s important to not make any sudden turns of the bars, or abrupt use of the brakes. Let the bike coast where it wants to and you’ll be fine.

    • Sewer Grates and Other Stuff in the Street
      Sewer grates sometimes have slots that run parallel to the road. These are just wide enough to grab onto your front tire, sending you over the handlebars. Fortunately these are located to the far right, so they’re easy to ride around, especially on Memphis streets.  Also be on the lookout for sand, glass, and anything that may make you slip or pop a tire.

    • Car Doors
      New cyclists are often concerned with the cars passing them from behind on the left. The greater dangers, however, can be parked car doors suddenly opening to your right. “Dooring” is one of the most common bike vs. car crashes. While you may feel safer hugging the parked cars, you’re much better off riding a few feet away from the parked cars, giving you time and space to avoid a door that opens suddenly. Other tricks are looking out for signs a driver is in the car, like glowing taillights, and a face in the driver-side mirror. These tactics can also help you avoid a parked car that suddenly pulls out in front of you. As a side note, taxi cabs or Ubers sometimes stop in the middle of the street, creating the danger of a passenger opening a right-side door in your path. If you see a cab stopped in the street, proceed with caution.

    • Water-Filled Potholes
      After a heavy rain, potholes can sometimes be hidden by standing water. Always approach puddles with caution, because you never know how deep the water is.

    • Plan Ahead
      This isn’t so much a pitfall as it is a strategy. Experienced riders know to scan far down the street, anticipate potential problems, and make adjustments well before danger can present itself. Here are some examples:
      • Kids throwing a ball in the yard
      • A dog off its leash
      • A car waiting to pull out of a driveway or parking spot
      • A “stale” green light that is about to change to yellow
      • A car that looks like it might turn into your path
      • A taxi that could suddenly stop when it sees potential customers


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    About the Author
    Brett Ratner ( has been a professional journalist for more than 25 years. He has contributed to dozens of publications, including The Chicago Tribune, The Nashville Tennessean, The Nashville Scene, Guitar Player and Musician. Brett began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping, and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he also occasionally races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel.