Cycling Blog Series – One: Cycle Safety
At BREATHE, cycling has been an important part of our culture for over three decades. Starting in the mid-80’s, we brought hundreds of people together every year for the Emigrant Trails Bike Trek, where we celebrated the joys of a healthy and adventurous lifestyle, while raising funds for our organization’s most important programs. We’ve worked with other non-profits to promote environmentally friendly (and necessary) transportation alternatives for our car-centric culture. And now, we’re expanding our outreach to promote safe cycling for Sacramento-area families with our first annual Breathe Bike Rodeo this April 23rd.
So, how do you and your family safely and comfortably start to enjoy cycling’s many benefits? In this series, we’ll explore important elements of safe cycling. As a life-long cyclist, I’ve learned many of these pointers through personal scrapes or by witnessing the occasional misadventures of my cycling friends. (Ouch!) Hopefully, you can benefit from our experience.
Safe cycling begins before you even get on a bike:
- Before you ride (especially, if it’s been a while) you need to check the condition of your bike. Does it fit you properly? If you’re checking your kid’s bike, have they outgrown it?
Are all the nuts and bolts tight? Are the tires properly inflated and in good condition? Do the wheels turn true, without wobbling? Did you check to make sure that the brakes are properly connected, properly aligned, and in good working order? (I know someone who didn’t check their brakes before a ride and ended up in the ER.) You should also check to make sure that your chain is properly lubricated and stays on when you shift to your largest and smallest gears, both front and rear.
- Is your helmet in good shape and properly fitted? (I’m not even considering the possibility that you might think of riding without one!) Helmets that have been damaged in a prior accident or are several years old need to be retired. If you’re not sure, a close inspection is in order. (I recently checked mine and was surprised to find cracks that would have caused it to fail in a crash. It’s now history.) If your helmet strap is hanging loosely below your chin (a common sight), there’s a good chance that it’s not going to work, at all. It needs to be comfortably tight so that it stays in place when you need it.
- How visible will you be out on the road? While bright colored clothes or cycling kits are good, a recent study has shown that brightly colored socks – because they’re rapidly moving as the rider pedals – are even more effective at catching motorists’ attention. A number of websites sell flashy cycling socks that will add both pizzazz and improved visibility to your cycling outfit.
- Daytime running lights have become common in recent years and improve your visibility significantly. (There’s a reason why they’re now required on motorcycles.) Make an investment in good quality, bright lights and resist the temptation to purchase the cheap, dimly lit ones that are all too common. Prices for lights have come down dramatically in recent years, just as the lights have become much brighter. If you’re on a budget, find somewhere less critical to save a buck.
- A little pre-ride planning can pay big dividends. Is your proposed cycling route appropriate for the age and skill level of your family and friends? Most bicycle clubs maintain online archives of local routes which are conveniently linked to maps on Ride With GPS, Map My Ride, or Strava. The maps will list mileage and elevation gain for the route, so you’ll get a good indication of the difficulty.
Google Earth is another convenient route planning tool. By zooming-in to a roadway, you can easily see if the route you plan to travel on has bike lanes. Keep zooming in and Street View will let you take a look around – you can check out the route’s appeal or, even, point the camera down to check out the pavement quality. (I’ve done this many times when planning group rides.)
- Make sure to have a decent repair kit with you. That starts with a spare inner tube, in case you get a flat. (Don’t forget your kid’s bikes!) You should also have patches and an emergency tire boot, tire levers, a mini tool, and a way to inflate your tire. Either a hand pump or CO2 cartridges (with a dispenser, often called an “air chuck”) will work and both have their advantages. Your Local Bike Shop (LBS) can help you get set up. Please give them your business so they’ll be in business when you need them.
If you haven’t changed a flat before, it’s a really good idea to watch a YouTube video. Try it first in the privacy of your own garage before you have to do it out on the road, kneeling in the weeds with an attentive audience. BTW, it’s really easy to forget exactly how your particular air chuck works if you haven’t had to use it for a year or two. (I once tried to fix a friend’s flat while only carrying one CO2 cartridge, which I wasted relearning how it worked. The ride ended before it even started.)
Here are links to a couple of excellent videos on how to fix a flat:
- Basic skills: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xNxyS32taA
- Advanced skills – Tips from a professional bike mechanic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Suh1-o6KBo8
- Although it’s uncommon for cyclists to carry a first aid kit, it’s a really good idea to have a small kit with you if you’re riding with children, or even teenagers. (When I led mountain bike trips for teenage Boy Scouts, I quickly became an expert in first-aid.) For everyday road rides, I always have a packet of aspirin or ibuprofen, plus a couple of packets of hand sanitizer, in my tool bag. The ibuprofen has saved at least one rider and the hand sanitizer became a constant companion in the COVID era.
- PS: Don’t forget your sunglasses and sunscreen!
Now, let’s go ride.