Bike Often, Bike Safely

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The sunshine, the breeze, the burn in your quads—biking has a lot to recommend it. Heck, it’s awfully good for getting from place to place on top of all the physical pleasures. Too bad it’s hard to pull off without encountering several daunting hazards, from the mechanics of the bike itself to those danged hurtling vehicles hogging the lane and in such a hurry.

Strap on your helmet and heed the following safety recommendations to make your pleasure cruise or commute as safe as possible.

Make yourself obvious.

If drivers can’t see you, they can’t react in time, and half of them are texting, so their reaction time isn’t what you’d hope for. Do what you can to draw attention to your fine, pedaling self. Wear a reflective vest or band, or opt for fluorescent clothing—especially shorts or pants. Because your legs are churning, they’re more likely to catch the eye of drivers.

If you bike at night, make sure you have a quality light set. A flashing taillight is more likely to get noticed than a steady one, and the same principal applies for wearable lights as for clothing: light up your legs for best results.

Check your gear.

All gear failures occur at the farthest point from home; it’s science. Not all of them are predictable, but you can sure heed off a lot of them by checking out your bike before you get moving.

  • Take a close look at your tires. Make sure they’re inflated properly, and if you can see cuts or nicks, you’re in danger of a flat.
  • Test the brakes. Eyeball them to make sure your brake pads aren’t overly worn, and then test both brakes to confirm that you have stopping power before the brake lever reaches the handlebars. If your brake pads are hitting the tire rather than the rim, an adjustment is in order before you give yourself a flat.
  • Lube your chain. That’s not a euphemism. You work harder when there’s resistance in your chain. As you move a pedal backward, add a small amount of lube to the inside of the chain so that the whole thing gets a coat.
  • Inspect your wheels. If they’re hitting anything when they rotate, they need to be trued before you ride. It’s worth checking also that your quick-release skewers are nice and tight.

Protect your ride.

There’s really no scenario in which bike meets car and bike wins. You’re incredibly vulnerable on the road, which means that following bike safety guidelines is critical. Check with a local bike shop to find a bike safety class, and in the meantime:

  • Wherever possible, choose routes with slower traffic and fewer cars.
  • Travel in the same direction as traffic. You want to stay as far to the right as you safely can while cars pass, but move out into the lane a bit when cars are sparse; doing so helps drivers see you.
  • Let drivers know what you’re up to; use hand signals so they’re prepared for your turns.
  • Erratic movement puts you at risk. Don’t weave in and out of cars or move off and onto the sidewalk. You’re safest when you hold a steady line.
  • Look out for pedestrians. Bikes are to walkers as cars are to bikes.

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