23 Aug 2014
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Wheels and Heels: Crash Course in Bike Safety

After a bike crash during this week's Georgia Rides to the Capitol, it's a great time to explain what you can do to avoid a spill on the pavement

Wheels and Heels: Crash Course in Bike Safety Wheels and Heels: Crash Course in Bike Safety Wheels and Heels: Crash Course in Bike Safety Wheels and Heels: Crash Course in Bike Safety

For the first time in 20 years, I’m not wearing a wedding ring.

It’s not what you think.

My husband didn’t divorce me. I injured my left hand and ring finger when I crashed on my bicycle on Tuesday during the sixth annual  Georgia Rides to the Capitol event.

As a result, I had to remove the plain gold band from the swollen finger.

I should have known better. I was riding and writing while pedaling in a pack of hundreds of other cyclists from Decatur to downtown. Then, I tried to take pictures with new digital camera in my right hand. Just then, another cyclist either slowed down or stopped right in front of me.

Without both hands on my brakes ready to control my bicycle, I went down.

Humiliated and aching in front of hundreds of my biking buddies, I caught my breath, got back up on the bicycle and kept pedaling. My hand hurt and blood was trickling out of a crescent shaped series of puncture wounds from the chainring on the back of my right leg. 

Even though my injuries required only some bandages, a tetanus shot and some ibuprofin, I'm embarassed that I took such a foolish risk. It’s never a good idea to ride a bicycle without having both hands on your brakes. But it’s especially foolish to do so when you’re riding with a group of people.

Other cyclists can stop abruptly, slow down, or veer in front of you, and only a quick reaction will prevent a crash. Rule of thumb, when two bicycle wheels tangle up – calling “kissing” wheels – the bike behind is going to go down first.

I should know better. I’ve been trained to teach others how to ride a bicycle safely. I’ve been an active cyclist since the mid-1980s. I rode my bicycle through Europe – England, Holland, Poland, then-Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy and France. I’ve done the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia more than a dozen times, and cycled the Silver Comet from end to end.

Heck, I’ve even biked SAFELY on Buford Highway, where I had a weekly medical appointment. (The street has six lanes; plenty of room for cars to get around me.)

The key to being safe on a bicycle is operating the thing SAFELY.

 ABC QUICK CHECK: If your bike isn’t in good mechanical order, it’s not safe to ride. Each time you ride, you should do an ABC Quick Check, as recommended by the League of American Bicyclists.

  • Check the AIR in your tires, and make sure they’re inflated to the pressure recommended – the PSI number --on the sidewall.
  • Check your BRAKES to make sure they are engaged and work properly. Lift your bike and spin each wheel in turn, and be sure that a squeeze of the brakes produces an immediate stop.
  • Check CRANK, CHAIN and COGS on your bike, to be sure the chain is on properly, the crank and cog work well.
  • Check the QUICK release levers on your wheels, seat and brakes to be sure they’re tight and appropriately engaged.
  • Then do an overall safety CHECK of your bicycle to be sure everything is working and that the bike is safe to operate on the road. Without this quick check-up, a rider is liable to pedal a few strokes and have a chain bind up and slam them into the ground, or have a wheel come off because the rider didn’t engage the quick release the last time they rode.

RIDE RIGHT: On the road, bicyclists should obey and observe all traffic laws that pertain to other vehicles, including stopping at stop signs and stop lights, hand signals, and especially riding on the right side of the road. No matter who told you it was safer to ride into oncoming traffic, they were wrong. WRONG! It’s MUCH more dangerous to do this, not to mention illegal.

RIDE ON THE STREET  or in a bike lane, not on the sidewalk. Some folks think riding on a sidewalk is safer, but bike safety studies say otherwise. In fact, Georgia law forbids bicycles from riding on sidewalks (but I’ve never heard of anyone being cited for this). According to Georgia Bikes, a statewide cycling advocacy group, Sidewalk cycling is a significant contributing factor in bicycle/motor vehicle collisions. Motor vehicles see a bicyclist on the road, but they’re not expecting a fast-moving vehicle on the sidewalk, when they back out or drive into the many driveways that cross a sidewalk. Also, sidewalks have curbs, stumps, cracks and other obstacles that make riding on a sidewalk far more tricky – and therefore less safe – than riding on the road.

WEAR A HELMET. True, it’s not mandated for adults, but that helmet is a whole lot cheaper than brain surgery, which is far uglier than helmet hair. I see many helmet-less parents riding bicycles with their helmeted children. What kind of message do they think it sends to the child? If mom really thought a helmet was important, she’d wear one, wouldn’t she?

USE A LIGHT If you’re going to bike at night, have front and rear headlights and wear as much reflective clothing as you can. When you wear dark clothing and ride a bicycle at night, motorists can’t see you.

One last thing: it's not a good idea to try to answer your cell phone while your riding. Don't ask me how I know. Just trust me on this one.

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