Bicycle Safety

By: P. Michael Shattuck, M.D. – Community Health Network Family Physician

The League of American Bicyclists has declared May as National Bike Month. Biking is a great activity to include in your quest to be physically active. We live in an area that has great opportunities for biking. It is just too bad that it is so cold for much of the year. However, bicycling can be dangerous. Actually riding a bike has a higher risk of being killed or injured than riding in a car. What can bicyclists do to be safer on their bike?

Bicyclists and motorists use the same roadway. One key to safety is for the cyclist and motorist to recognize that the road should be shared. Motorists can help promote safety by keeping alert for bicyclists and giving them enough room. Sometimes motorists don’t realize that the cyclist may be moving at a fairly fast speed. Motorists tend to concentrate more on the other cars and can lose track of the bicyclist. Likewise cyclists can promote safety by moving over for cars, obeying traffic signals, avoiding darting in and out of traffic, and giving motorists the right of way when appropriate.

Bicycle riders can reduce their chances of injury by following some common sense precautions. The biggest risk is an encounter with a motor vehicle that leads to a collision. It is advised that a cyclist always ride on the right side of the road with the traffic. Also, cyclists should obey the traffic signals and signs so motorists can anticipate their movements. Actively communicating with the motorists by making eye contact and using hand signals will reduce the chance of a collision. Remember that the left arm extended indicates left turn, left arm flexed at the elbow pointing up means right turn, and left elbow flexed pointing down means stop. Try to avoid using the middle finger as a hand signal to communicate feelings about the motorist since that really never helps. Cyclists wearing bright colors and reflective clothing along with lights or flashers in low light conditions are more easily seen. Cyclists should ride defensively and never assume that the motorist is going to stop since cars always win in bicycle versus car collisions. Cyclists should avoid riding close to a parked car since the occupant may unexpectedly open their door. When possible, use of bike lanes or bike paths helps avoid motorists. There are paths like the Mascoutin Trail in the area that do not allow motorized vehicles. Also, avoiding riding during the peak traffic times will result in fewer encounters with vehicles.

Even when there are no motorists, accidents can still happen. In our area, cyclists need to be watchful for deer, turkeys, and other animals that can dart out and cause an accident. Also, debris, potholes, or sewer grates can throw a bike off balance. Rain and wet pavement can create hazards for cyclists. Painted areas on the road can be slippery when wet. Remember that brakes do not work nearly as well wet as when they are dry. Also be especially cautious around loose gravel since this can cause the tire to lose traction with the road and cause the tire to slide on turns. Another safe riding habit is to point out or call out to fellow riders when you see an obstacle or danger in the path.
Of course, wearing proper clothing including shoes and using proper equipment is important to be safe while biking. Bicycle helmets are readily available and comfortable. Helmets should fit snugly and be worn. Also, unless you are trying to be on America’s Funniest Home Videos, be careful with loose pants, shoestrings, or other objects that can get caught in the chain or spokes. Lastly, take a moment to check the bike for loose wheels or broken cables that could cause an accident.

Bicycling is a great way to have fun, be active, and get where you want to go. By taking some precautions you can reduce your chances of having an accident or being injured. Stay safe and healthy my friends.

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