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Active Outdoors: Bicycle safety is critical in any environment

  • Whether you ride on a roadside, a recreation trail or a woodland singletrack, summer biking is fun. Just make sure you have the equipment and awareness you need to bike safely. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

  • Whether it’s required by law or not, all cyclists should wear a helmet all the time. And it helps to keep both hands on the handlebars. If you are really being picky, they aren’t riding in single file, the rider with a helmet should probably also have eye protection and the closed-toe shoes are safer than open-toed sandals. TIM JONES / For the Monitor



For the Monitor
Tuesday, July 24, 2018

It’s the peak of biking season and chances are you’re seeing cyclists on the road every time you leave the house. Between 15 and 20 million new bikes are sold in the United States each year. Add those to the bikes already out there – a quality bike, well cared for, can last just about forever.

You end up with a lot of bikes everywhere – on the paved and gravel roads, on recreation paths and single track trails through the woods. There’s even a subculture of “Downhill Mountain Bikers” who ride ski lifts to the top of mountains and go careening down the steeps on two wheels.

With any bicycle in any environment, riding safely is critical. Trust me on this: breaking bones in a bike accident is no fun. Getting killed will put an even bigger damper on your outdoor fun.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a total of 835 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2016 (the last year with complete statistics), a 1 percent increase from 2015 and the highest number of bicyclist deaths since 1991. Bicyclists deaths have increased 34 percent since reaching their lowest point in 2010. Deaths among bicyclists younger than 20 have declined 87 percent since 1975, while deaths among bicyclists 20 and older have more than tripled. You can find more statistics at helmets.org. A friend of mine was killed in a biking accident in Arizona a few years ago (hit by an elderly driver in an intersection) and I admit I’m still a little shaken by it.

Most accidents could be prevented if both cyclists and motorists pay more attention to their surroundings, display common sense and courtesy, and obey the rules of the road. For motorists, that means being aware of cyclists, giving bicycles as much room as you can, passing safely, and checking your rearview mirror before you open the street-side door if you’re parallel parked.

Cyclists bear a heavier burden of responsibility. After all, they are the ones who really get hurt if something goes wrong. An appalling number of the bike riders I see on the roads clearly have no clue about biking safety. I often see cyclists not wearing helmets, riding against rather than with the flow of traffic (as the law requires), and wearing headphones, which means that they are not paying full attention to their surroundings.

Here are some basic rules for keeping yourself safe on a bike.

Ride aware

Use your eyes (wear eye protection!) and ears to keep track of motor vehicles (in front and behind), other cyclists, pedestrians, dogs and other hazards. The more aware you are, the more advance notice you have of potential trouble, the more time you have to avoid it. Never ride with headphones and never talk or text on a cellphone while you are pedaling (yes, I’ve actually seen it).

Obey traffic laws

Legally, bikes are vehicles, which means you must ride on the right with the flow of traffic and obey all stop signs and other traffic signals. Running stop signs or lights and riding against traffic are recipes for disaster.

Ride predictably

You are much safer if you ride in single file, signal turns, don’t weave in and out of traffic, or dart from sidewalks, side streets or alleys.

Ride defensively

No matter what the law says, you don’t have the right of way unless someone consciously yields it to you. If you challenge enough cars and trucks, eventually you will lose.

Be seen, be safe

Many experienced road cyclists dress in garish, neon colors, the better to be seen. More and more you see bright, flashing headlights and tail lights on bikes, even during the day. Given the number of distracted drivers out there, anything that will help make you more visible is a good idea

Wear a helmet

Estimates vary, but anywhere from 45 to 88 percent of the brain injuries suffered in bike accidents can be prevented just by wearing a helmet.

Don’t give me some line about how uncomfortable or how expensive they are, or how much they restrict your freedom or muss your hair. A helmet can keep you out of a wheelchair. Get a helmet that fits and wear it. (Sorry to sound so bossy, but I want you around to read future columns.)

Modern helmets are cheap, have plenty of ventilation so they stay cool.

Your helmet should fit snugly and level on your head. When you look up, the front rim should be barely visible.

If you don’t fasten the straps, you aren’t really wearing a helmet! The “Y” of the side straps should meet just below your ear, and the chin strap should be snug enough so that when you open your mouth very wide you feel the helmet pull down.

If the helmet moves when you shake your head, or if you can push the front edge up more than an inch, it’s too loose – tighten the straps, add thicker fit pads or get another helmet.

Never throw or drop your helmet. If it’s damaged in any way, replace it.

Once again, I’ll repeat the basic rule of bike helmets: get one; wear it.

Bike safety check

I know it’s just common sense, but before you jump on your bike, make sure the tires are properly inflated, check to see that your brakes work, that the chain isn’t so loose it’s going to come off, that your handlebars and seat are secure, and that the quick release levers which hold the wheels on the bike are properly tightened and seated. It’ll take 30 seconds, tops, and will help keep you safe.

It’s really all common sense, isn’t it? Ridden safely, bikes are energy efficient, healthy and fun. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

For more on sharing the road with cars visit bicyclesafe.com.