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Going for a bike ride?

Keep safety in mind


Photo: Wavebreakmedia/iStockphoto

Bicycle sales have been boomed as people have looked for ways to exercise and spend time with family, according to media reports. Whether you’ve recently started biking or are a regular rider, you need to keep safety in mind.

Check, check

The League of American Bicyclists, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., recommends an “ABC Quick Check” to ensure your bike is safe to ride:
Air: Make sure the bike’s tires have enough air.
Brakes: Check that your brake pads aren’t worn. Then, firmly squeeze the brake levers. Is the gap between the levers and handlebar about the width of your thumb? It should be.
Chain and cranks: Pull on your bike’s cranks to make sure they aren’t loose. The bike chain also should be free of gunk and not rusted.
Quick release: Make sure all quick releases, which hold the wheels on, are closed, if applicable.
Check: Take your bike for a slow, brief ride to make sure it’s working properly.

The league also suggests pushing on the bike’s tires to check inflation. If they don’t feel hard, refill them so the air pressure matches the number on the side of the tire. If you spot bald spots, damage or loose threads, replace the tire.

See here

Make sure you’re able to “see and be seen,” the league says – particularly if you’ll be riding in the dark or rain.

“Dressing for the weather and the time of day is helpful,” said Michael Charney, a retired doctor and bicycle safety enthusiast from Cambridge, MA.

The best colors to wear are high-visibility yellow and green. Avoid dark-colored items. Bike shorts and other specifically designed clothing look great, but they’re not a necessity. Everyday clothes that aren’t excessively loose, sturdy shoes and a correctly fitted helmet are just fine.

In addition to dressing so you’re visible to drivers, make sure the lights and reflectors on your bike are in good working condition.

“Active lights are essential,” said Randy Swart, founder of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute in Arlington, VA. “You can’t ride at night without active lights. The reflectors only work when headlights are on them, because there has to be light to reflect back to the driver, and if there’s no light on your reflectors, they don’t do you any good at all.”

Protect your head

A properly fitted helmet is a must for riders of all ages. Guidelines are similar for adults and children, Swart said. After placing the helmet on your head, make sure:

  • The helmet rests no more than the width of two fingers above your eyes.
  • The straps form the letter “V” under both ears.
  • Movement of the helmet is minimal by shaking your head from side to side.

Another helmet safety check Swart recommends: Push on the front of your helmet with the heel of your hand. If it moves more than an inch, you need to fix the straps.

“Adjusting the straps is fiddly and sometimes irritating,” Swart said, “but if you take extra time to do it in the beginning, then the helmet will be there when you need it.”

Share the road safely

When riding in traffic, bicyclists are required to follow all street signs, signals and markings. The league, citing U.S. traffic laws, says bicycles can share the same lane with vehicles and should ride 3 feet to the right of traffic. When lanes aren’t wide enough to share, bicyclists should ride in the middle of the lane, but need to be farthest to the right.

Bike lanes are present on some roadways, and should be treated in the same manner as other travel lanes.

Charney cautions riders to remain watchful of parked cars, remaining outside the “door zone” – an area 3 to 4 feet from either side of a parallel-parked car. Many injuries occur when drivers open their vehicle doors just as bicyclists are passing by.

“You’ve got less than seconds, practically, to somehow maneuver or stop to avoid that door if you see it in time,” he said.

Charney developed an information campaign encouraging U.S. drivers to use their right hand to open their doors when exiting their vehicles. Called the Dutch Reach, this maneuver prompts drivers to pivot their bodies, check mirrors and look over their shoulder for approaching bicyclists.

Give a signal

The League of American Bicyclists wants riders to remember that signaling turns, lane changes and stops is also required by law.

“You’re a vehicle on the road, and you need to make signals,” Swart said. “You can’t expect people to just guess which way you’re going to go.”

Before turning or changing lanes, quickly glance over your shoulder and make eye contact with drivers.
Left turn: Fully extend your left arm to the side.
Right turn: Fully extend your right arm to the side or bend your left arm upward at a right angle, keeping your hand flat.
Slowing or stopping: Extend your left arm out at a downward right angle, keeping your hand open.

Aim to signal about 100 feet before taking the action, holding the signal for two to three seconds.

Sidewalk safety and more

Sometimes a sidewalk is a safer riding option, such as where a wide stretch of sidewalk is free of crossings or driveways situated along a fast, busy roadway. When riding along these sidewalks, remember they’re designed for pedestrians, who have the right of way.

In addition to pedestrians, possible sidewalk hazards include benches, trash receptacles and signs – all of which contribute to crashes. They also can obstruct drivers’ view of bicyclists, the league warns.

If you’re pulling a child or cargo in a low-riding trailer, help increase visibility by attaching a flag to the trailer.

Adult bicyclists should bring identification, a cellphone and cash with them.

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