Now, more than ever, people are hopping on a bike as a way to get around and get some exercise during otherwise uncertain times.
If you’re one of those people who are new to biking or back on a bike again after a long layoff, here’s a quick refresher course on how to get back into this great form of recreational transportation safely.
Wear A Helmet
Yes, even if you’re going around the block. When you’re on a bike, you’re exposed. It’s a surprisingly long way down to the ground, and when you hit an obstacle with your front wheels you tend to be launched over the handlebars and head-first toward the pavement, a parked car, or whatever happens to be in front of you.
Helmets don’t make you Superman; you’re probably not going to be able to bounce right back up after a head-over-applecart tumble. But a helmet will go a long ways toward saving your life in a case like that, and that makes it worth wearing — every time you bike.
Have A Headlight (And Taillight)
Biking is all about being seen. The more you’re seen, the safer you are. Using a headlight and flashing taillight day and night help you to be seen — and hence, help you stay safe.
Headlight/taillights are not something to scrimp on. Buy the brightest, most compact lights you can, and use them all the time — not just when it’s hard for you to see. You won’t notice the difference but drivers will…and that’s the important thing.
Tune Up Your Bike
A bike that doesn’t shift well, doesn’t stop well, and doesn’t handle well in slippery conditions is a threat to you, drivers, and other bikers.
The easy way to deal with that is to have your bike tuned up regularly. Have a professional check your tires and wheels, brakes, chain, and shifters — Campus Cycle and the Hostel Shoppe are a couple of local businesses that can perform tune-ups.
A regular tune-up costs the equivalent of a couple of tanks of gas, and is really a small price to pay for continued use of a fun, convenient form of transportation.
The No. 1 safety rule for bikers is: Assume that drivers can’t (or don’t) see you. Even in situations where you’re supposed to have the right of way, don’t assume you have it. Similarly, don’t assume that being in the bike lane means you’re safe from cars.
When making a turn at a busy intersection, try to make eye contact with drivers. Seeing them seeing you is not always a guarantee you’ll be able to proceed safely, but it’s a really good start.
Also, if you’re on a bike path that intersects with a road or street, make sure your way is clear before proceeding. Often cars are surprised to see a bike pop out of a trail, even though that’s what the trail is meant for and that’s what bikes do.
Use Hand Signals
In defense of cars and their drivers, they’re not mind-readers. They don’t know you’re going to turn if you don’t signal that you’re going to turn.
Use hand signals, and don’t be half-hearted about it. Give firm signals at least twice — early on, when you’re about to change lanes or when you’re starting to slow down, and then later, when you’re almost stopped or just ready to turn.
Will people mistake the signal for a right turn for a wave and wave back? Sure. But you’re doing all you can to let people know where you’re going.
Use Bike Lanes
Bike lanes are wonderful — so use them. Don’t ride on the sidewalk out of fear; that just makes sidewalks less safe for walkers and runners. Get into the bike lanes and bike confidently.
As more streets add bike lanes, drivers are becoming more acclimated to the presence of bikers, making these lanes even safer.
There’s a place for everyone on today’s streets: cars in the car lanes, pedestrians on the sidewalk, and bikes in the bike lanes. Use them confidently.
Be Alert When Driving Past Parked Cars
Just about every veteran road-biker has had an incident where someone in a parked car opened a door right into their path. Understandably, these encounters generally work out worse for the bike and biker than the car and its occupant.
When biking down a street with parked cars, do a quick scan of the cars for occupants. Look for taillights that indicate a car has been turned off or is just starting up.
Incidents like this can happen on quiet streets too, so always be alert.
Ditch The Headphones
Biking is called a “silent sport,” but aural cues are everywhere, and they can tell you what’s going on around you, in places you can’t see.
You can hear cars coming up behind you, trains approaching, or other bikers trying to pass you on a trail.
Of course, you can’t hear any of these things if you’re blasting your music or a podcast through headphones or earbuds.
If you bike open-eared, you’ll hear birds singing and kids laughing — as well as sounds that can alert you to potential dangers.
Biking safely is your responsibility, every time you climb on. Fortunately, it’s easy to do — and it can enhance your enjoyment of this fun way of getting around.