With more and more people opting to commute by bike and cycling event season back in full swing, I thought it might be useful to review some biking basics to keep you healthy and safe while pedaling along.
- Wear a helmet — I can’t believe there is a need to say this, but wear your helmet. Events will not allow you to participate if you are not wearing a helmet, so get in the habit now — it could save your life.
- Get a bike fit — Make sure that you are using the right bike for your needs. For example, if you plan on riding more than say twenty miles on roads, you might want to look into riding a road bike. Beyond the fact that it is lighter with thinner tires than hybrids or mountain bikes so you can go farther faster, it also gives you a number of different ways to place your hands so that you don’t lock up your shoulders and arms, and it can be fitted to your own body. Without a good bike fit, I get all kinds of tendinitis. With the good bike fit, I feel healthier, stronger, and more flexible when I get off the bike than when I got on. In the DC metro area, the best guy to see is Clovis at Conte’s in Arlington. The man is a bike whisperer.
- Other equipment and clothes — Make sure you have a spare tube and CO2 cartridge on your bike if you get a flat. Even if you don’t know how to fix the flat, you will likely find a cyclist riding by who will stop to help you. Cycling gloves are a tremendous help to keep your hands from slipping on the handlebars, good ones come with gel to help you from getting things like carpel tunnel syndrome, and in the event that you fall, your hands are protected from debris on the road or trail. There are all kinds of different clothing options for riding in inclement weather like jackets with sleeves held on by magnets so you can easily remove them if the air warms up.
- Lights — If you are riding after dusk, you need a light. Flashing lights are an excellent choice to notify others of your presence.
- Signal your intentions — These rules are not an option, though many of my cycling buddies don’t seem to get that. Please don’t be one of those cyclists who give the rest of us a bad name. If you are going to pass a walker, runner, or biker, announce before you arrive that you are “passing on the left.” Use hand signals. Turning left? Hold your left arm out in that directions. Right? Hold your right arm out. Stopping? Place a hand on your lower back. Slowing? Hold a hand out behind you. You can also announce that you are “slowing” or “stopping” if you are on a crowded trail or road or riding with a pack. It never hurts to over-inform.
- Lights and stop signs — Ride safely. Stop at stop lights and at the very least slow down almost completely at stop signs to ensure that the intersection is clear.
- Riding on streets with parked cars — Be very careful that you have enough room between you and the cars parked along the side of the road in case someone opens a door unexpectedly.
- Carry identification — My ID of choice when riding is my Road ID. It’s a wristband with an engraved metal plate that lists your emergency contacts and other useful information like health issues.
The bottom line is that you have to ride defensively. Don’t assume that the car backing up ahead of you sees that you’re there or that the cars at the intersection will stop for you. Take care of yourself first, and you can feel good knowing that you’ll get to your destination safely and have fun along the way.