Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
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Biking on Campus 101

Summary: Ideas for easier and safer biking around campus.

Helmet, of course

You need a bike helmet even to ride to class, and you have to take the time to fiddle with the straps to fit it well. Road rash and broken bones heal, but brain damage is often permanent. Consider what you are investing in your college education. Consider how you enjoy being smart and capable. Wearing a helmet protects that. Fitting it is a one beer job.


Check and maintain your bicycle regularly. Ha. At least every now and then when it breaks, but do pay attention when something feels wrong. Keep it clean, so your clothes don't get grungy on the way to class. Make sure all nuts and bolts are tight at the beginning of the school year, and they will most likely rust and stay that way. Your brakes must work - - both of them. Keep your chain lubed or it will squeak and eventually break from the excess friction. Keep some air in your tires or they will roll off the rim on a turn or let the rim cut the tube on a sharp bump. If you don't do your own bike maintenance and can't find a campus bike guru to help, most bike shops offer checkups at reasonable cost. Ask other campus riders what they do.

Being seen

White, neon or brightly-colored clothes and helmets help make you more visible. Reflective stuff makes you easier to see at night, but not much. If you ride at night, even to class, a headlight, a blinkie LED taillight, and reflectors are vital to your safety and are required by law if anybody ever enforced the laws. Your are not "just riding on the campus paths," because you have to cross streets and you will encounter peds with dark clothes on.

Being safe

The most important part of safe bicycling is being predictable. That means following rules, whether they are laws or "just how bikes always behave." On a road, you are part of the traffic, so some rules are in your best interests:

  • Ride with traffic, not against it. Riding on the left side of the road or the wrong way on a one-way street is a common cause of crashes; it increases your closing speed with a car and puts you in an unexpected position for car drivers.

  • Scan all directions at intersections

  • Pay attention to stop signs and red lights even if you are late for class.

  • Use sidewalks with caution. Car drivers don't expect you from there at an intersection, so be ready to yield to turning cars.

  • Ride at reasonable speed even if you are late for class. (riiiiight!)

  • Ride four feet out from parked cars to avoid being doored. People hunker down and hide in those cars to throw doors open in front of you.

  • Don't carry stuff like books or notebooks in your hands while you ride. Use a backpack or rack. This is a leading cause of crashes.

Being aware

Believe it or not, car drivers really just do not see bicyclists, even when you would swear they could not miss seeing you. They are not trained to scan for bikes. Never assume that they see you. Try to be visible by using hand signals and establishing real eye contact. Scream when necessary. The panic in your voice can cause an emotional reaction in a driver that a horn does not produce. Condition your thinking ahead of time so that if you are in doubt about a driver's intentions you are always ready to yield. Watch for oncoming cars to turn left into your path--they don't see you. Scan the road or sidewalk for hazards like potholes and drainage grates. You have to see hazards in time to avoid them without swerving into traffic. Use a helmet mirror to keep track of what is coming up behind you without swiveling your head. They are fussy little devils, but every vehicle on the road needs a rear view mirror.

Being sober or at least careful

Riding a bicycle requires skill, coordination, and paying attention to your surroundings. Alcohol and other drugs cut your ability to reason, to judge time or distance, to balance, and to control your bike. A study at Johns Hopkins showed that one drink multiplies your probability of serious injury or death by a factor of six. Four or five drinks multiplies it 20 times. (Not too surprising, you knew that.) Your helmet won't make up for that. So don't get on your bike when you're wasted, thinking it's better than driving! Smoking dope does similar things to the skills you need to preserve your life on a bike.

Sharing the campus

Bicycles are a fast way to get around on campus, but watch out when bikes and pedestrians mix, as in the ten minute rush between classes. On shared sidewalks you can avoid problems by keeping your speed down and warning pedestrians when you come up behind them with a friendly "bicycle passing on your left" or whatever. Be prepared to yield to pedestrians just as you would expect a car to - - you're bigger and faster. Never let your nose run, wash behind your ears at least weekly and eat daily helpings of healthful foods from all the major food groups.

Being there after class

Lots of bikes disappear on campuses. Many bikes that are stolen were not locked, so use a lock even on a junker. If your wheels are worth stealing, include them when you lock up, and loop in your helmet too. If you can, lock your bike in a well-lit area, and a place where pedestrian traffic may discourage theft.

Not being too heavy

Riding a bike on campus or off is fun, cheap, healthful and environmentally responsible. It declares your partial independence from our car-centric society. Don't let all these heavy tips weigh you down!

Inspired by Cornell University's tips.

You passed. Our graduate-level course will be offered next semester at slightly higher tuition.

Check out our page on Campus Helmets if you need to think about that.

Here is the UC Davis bike page. There is no place else like Davis in the US.

And here is Michigan State's page on bikes, including their video on safe campus biking.

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This page was revised on: October 30, 2020. BHSI logo