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Staying Safe on Two Wheels

Lots of bicyclists out on the road these days, eh? And while some look ready for the Tour de France, others are looking, well, a little wobbly on their wheels.

And what's with all those bikers without helmets?

I, for one, live in fear of accidentally knocking a cyclist over when I'm driving my car., So, cyclists, for your own safety and for the peace of mind of those with whom you share the road, take a minute to review these bike-safety tips before you go out for your next spin.

1. Buy an appropriate bike. If you're ready for some serious riding, get thee to a bike shop and get fitted for a bicycle that fits your body and suits the kind of riding you'll be doing. Especially if you're commuting on busy roads, this isn't the time to dig your old Schwinn Stingray out of the basement.

2. Check your bike before you ride -- every time. Make sure your tires are inflated to the pressure printed on the outside. Check the brakes; make sure they clamp and release smoothly. Check the chain, and be sure your quick-release wheel is securely in place.

3. Know the rules of the road -- and follow them. Ride on the right-hand side of the road, with traffic. The slower you're going, the closer to the curb you should ride. Stop for stop signs, red lights, and pedestrian crosswalks. Use your hand signals and always turn from the turning lane. Check behind you before changing lanes. (Because staying steady while using hand signals or looking behind you can be tricky at first, practice in an empty parking lot until you're sure you can handle these maneuvers on the open road.)

4. Wear a properly fitted helmet. Your helmet should be snug, with space for two fingers between your brow and the brim. It should lie flat on the top of your head. The Vs of the side straps should rest just below your ears, and the chin strap should be snug but not so tight you can't move your head or breathe easily. Here's a site that spells all that out for you. Or check out this live-action video:

5. But don't assume a helmet alone will keep you safe. Check out this cool site that describes the most common bicycle accident scenarios and how to avoid them. The site's stance is that, while helmets may indeed protect your head if you fall, it's more important to avoid falling in the first place.

6. Be aware of road hazards. Nothing like getting your tire caught in a sewer grate to send you flying off your bike. Keep your eyes peeled for common hazards like skid-causing patches of sand or gravel, broken glass, and litter or other debris. If you're riding in wet weather, remember to leave extra time for your brakes to bring your bike to a full stop.

7. Read up on the risks. Did you know nearly 70 percent of car/bicycle crashes take place in urban areas? And that in 2003, 28 percent of fatally injured bicyclists had high blood-alcohol levels? (Please tell me you know better than to drink and ride!) Read more here.

8. Stay off the sidewalks. Lots of bike accidents happen on sidewalks, where riders tend to run into poles, posts, mailboxes, and other obstacles or to get hit by cars backing out of driveways. Leave sidewalks to pedestrians.

9. Be visible, day and night. Wear bright-colored clothing, use lights at night, and remember to stay where motorists can see you. Make sure your bike's reflectors are in place, and wear others on your clothing and helmet. Avoid traveling in vehicles' blind spots. It's to your advantage, as the smaller, more vulnerable party on the road, to make sure other drivers know where you are. At night, travel on well-lit, familiar roads.

10. Act like the driver of a vehicle. Bicycling on the road isn't kid's stuff. You're in command of a vehicle, just like the folks driving cars and trucks. Here's an excellent video, set in D.C., that walks you through the steps to safe cycling.

11. Get a mentor. An experienced cyclist can help you get accustomed to riding on the road and can tip you off to the particular challenges of the route you take. Employees of the federal Department of Transportation in D.C. have formed a bike-commuting group that makes mentors available. Or contact one of these other bike-rider groups:

Washington DC Area Bicyclists Association
Washington, D.C., Area Commuter Connections
NIH Bicycle Commuter Club
Washington, D.C., area bicycle commuting info

Here's to happy -- and safe -- cycling!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 28, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Bike Safety Special  
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