Woman kneels down to young girl on bike to teach bike safety image

Biking Basics

Riding a bike is a great form of exercise, recreation, and, if possible, our favorite way to commute. Whether you are new to riding a bike or you’ve been riding for years, there are some biking basics you should know in order to ride safely.

Dress Bright and Tight

  • Wear brightly colored clothes and reflective materials so you can be more easily seen.
  • At night, Maine State Law (§2084) requires bicyclists to use a headlight visible for 200 feet, a rear reflector, and reflectors on your pedals or feet. It never hurts to have these things even in broad daylight.
  • Avoid loose or flowy clothing while riding to avoid getting tangled in your chain, brakes, or tires.
  • Tuck in your shoelaces, wrap up your pant cuffs, and secure any loose straps.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and consider wearing gloves to protect your skin.

Wear a Helmet

  • It is against Maine State Law for anyone under the age of 16 to ride a bicycle without a helmet.
  • No matter your age, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine highly recommends the use of a helmet while riding a bike. In unexpected circumstances, a helmet can help protect you from serious head injuries.
  • Bicycle-specific helmets are the lightest and most comfortable, and should be should be certified with either a Snell or CPSC sticker.
  • Helmets should be replaced every three years, or immediately if cracked or damaged. You should also replace your helmet after any hard impact to your head.
  • For information on how to choose and fit your helmet correctly, click here.

ABC Quick Check

  • Air: Check to see that your tires are inflated to the proper psi suggested on the wall of the tire. There is typically an ideal range.
  • Brakes: Your brake levers should move readily and engage about halfway through the lever’s movement. If your lever pulls all the way to your handlebar, your brakes are too loose. Check your brake pads to be sure they are not touching the rubber of your tires. If you see metal, uneven wear, or cracking, they need to be replaced. Functioning brakes are essential to the safety of your bike; if you are unsure about brake maintenance, visit your local bike shop.
  • Chain and Cranks: Your chain should be silver, not rusty or dirty. You can clean your chain with any degreaser. After cleaning, use chain-specific bike lubricant to re-grease your chain. Your pedal cranks should be secure and not bent.
  • Quick Check:  Give your bike a quick once-over to be sure all elements are properly aligned. Make sure your quick releases are closed and secure. Spin your wheels—if they wobble excessively, visit your local bike shop.

Rules of the Road
Maine State Law gives bicycles the same rights and responsibilities as any other vehicle, and expects riders to follow the rules of the road. Doing so provides a measure of legal protection in the event of a crash.

For a Rules of the Road printable resource, click here.
For Maine’s Bike Laws, click here.

  • Always ride with traffic on the right side of the road.
  • You have the right to take possession of a travel lane to set up for a left turn, to pass another vehicle, or to avoid an unsafe situation.
  • Leave plenty of room when passing parked cars to avoid opening doors.
  • Always be predictable. Ride in a straight line and remain on the road. Be alert and plan ahead to avoid obstacles.
  • Obey any and all traffic signs and signals. Failure to do so is against the law.
  • Use hand signals to communicate the direction that you are traveling. The standard hand signals are left arm out for “left turn,” right arm out for “right turn,” and left arm down for “stop.”
  • Yield to pedestrians in all situations.

Riding with Kids

We think the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center does a great job describing best riding practices with children. You can check out their suggestions here, or read some brief recommendations below.

Kids under 10 are safest in controlled, traffic-free environments. Driveways, empty parking lots, and multi-use paths are ideal. If riding in the driveway, emphasize the need to stop at the end. These locations are safest until you are confident your child has the skills to control their bike near traffic and other obstacles.

Sidewalk riding is acceptable for children 12 and under. However, sidewalk riding has its own risks because it puts bike riders in a location where drivers and pedestrians are not expecting them. Please note that bike riding on sidewalks is illegal in some towns in Maine, so be sure to check your local ordinances.

Older kids with control of their bicycles can ride safely on streets in quiet neighborhoods. It can help to ride with your kids to identify roads that are appropriate for them. In general, kids should ride on roads with speed limits below 30 mph. All teen riders should be aware of Safety Tips for Bicyclists

It is important to share these basic rules with your young rider:

  • Always alert pedestrians that you are approaching by saying, “Excuse me” or “Passing on your left.” Always yield to pedestrians.
  • Watch for vehicles entering and exiting driveways.
  • Stop at street corners to look for cars and make sure drivers see you.
  • Enter streets at the corner and not between parked cars.

How to Choose a Bike

A safe bike is one that fits. A bike that is too large is dangerous during unexpected emergency maneuvers. For guidance on choosing the right bike, refer to the graphics below. For help with fitting or adjusting your bike, visit your local bike shop.

When choosing a bike for your child, never pick a bike that they will “grow into.” Start simple: if your child is just learning to ride, consider a balance bike. These bikes allow kids the opportunity to practice coasting. Another option is a simple pedal bike with training wheels, no gears, and a coaster brake. This basic bike will allow your child to practice maintaining their balance while pedaling. If your child is able to balance and propel themselves comfortably and confidently on their single-speed bike, they likely have the technical skills necessary to advance to gears and handbrakes.

Biking Basics PSAs

The Basics of Bicycle Safety
The Basics of Pedestrian Safety
How to Safely Pass a Cyclist
Bike Helmet Safety
Tips for Group Rides

Bicycle Coalition of Maine