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How To Ride Your Bicycle Safely

Jun 13, 2008
John was following his doctor's orders. The 50-something executive was taking his daily bicycle ride to improve his health. This evening, though, he altered his routine and opted for a more scenic route along a narrow, winding, two-lane road near his home.

With no shoulders, the road left no margin for error, however, and John was hit by a motorist who was trying to pass him. In trying to prolong his life, John inadvertently cut it short.

Each year, about 500,000 people require emergency room treatment due to bicycle crashes, and about 800 people die. Approximately 75 percent of the deaths result from a head injury. Following are some simple, easy-to-follow guidelines that will keep the pleasure in biking.

Use The Proper Gear

* The proper helmet can reduce head injuries by about 85 percent. Always wear a helmet with a label stating that it meets the Consumer Product Safety Commission standard. Select a helmet that fits snugly and sits flat on your head.

* Discard a helmet after it sustains a blow. Even a slight blow can affect impact-absorbing foam.

* Take a safety course. One organization offering courses for all ages is the League of American Bicyclists at (202) 822-1333, or their website.

* Know and obey traffic regulations, signs, signals, and markings.

* Ride a bicycle that "fits" your body and riding needs. You should be able to stand over the top tube, with the tube one or two inches below your crotch. Find a qualified salesperson to help you determine which bicycle, safety features, and accessories are best for you.

* Before riding, make sure all the parts are secure and working.

* Check your brakes before stepping onto your bicycle, and keep them properly adjusted.

* Wear bright or fluorescent clothing during the day. Be more visible by flying an orange flag from the back of your bike.

* Never wear headphones.

* Use a rearview mirror.

Take A Balanced Approach

* Find a safe place to ride. Many cities or bicycle clubs have maps of recommended routes.

* Cycle defensively. More than 70 percent of car-bicycle accidents occur at driveways or intersections. Expect a car to pull out from a side street, or turn left in front of you.

* If traffic is heavy, walk your bike across an intersection.

* Make eye contact with drivers, and signal your intentions.

* Cycle with the flow of traffic, and never against it.

* In a group, it's best to ride single file, unless you are off the road, or on quiet, secondary roads.

* Don't carry passengers or items that interfere with your control.

* Stay alert at all times. Look out for hazardous surfaces or obstacles in your path, such as potholes, loose gravel, manhole covers, cracks, railroad tracks, or wet leaves.

* Leave at least three feet of distance when passing parked cars to avoid doors being opened.

* Be predictable. Maintain a straight line when you're cruising.

* Stay at least three feet to the right of cars if you can. If there is a wide, clean shoulder, use it.

* Watch for pedestrians, especially kids or animals that might dart in front of you. If a dog chases you, stop, dismount, and use your bike as a shield.

* Before turning, look back, check all directions for traffic, and use hand signals.

* Avoid provocative actions that might irritate drivers.

* When in danger, shout!

* The bike will be less stable with a child in a seat. A cart towed by a bike is far safer. Plan to go slower, take turns gently, and avoid busy streets.

* Carry loads at the rear of the bike in cases designed for bicycles.

Riding After Dark

* Avoid biking at night. It is far more dangerous than riding during the day. Most bicycles need to be adapted for nighttime use.

* Add the brightest lights and largest reflectors you can find to the front and rear or your bicycle.

* Wear retro-reflective clothes or material, especially on your ankles, wrists, back, and helmet. White or fluorescent are not good enough.

* Ride only in familiar areas. Streets with bright lighting are best.

* Always assume that a driver does not see you.
About the Author
John Myre is the author of the award-winning book, Live Safely in a Dangerous World, and the publisher of the Safety Times Reproducible Articles..
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