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May is Bike Month all across the United States and in many places May 9-15 is Bike to Work Week. As a casual cyclist who has been biking to work since October 2012, I must start by saying: I love biking to work! If you are able to bike into work or to the store or just for fun around your neighborhood, I highly recommend getting a good bike and doing so.
When I began in late 2012, I lived approximately two miles from my workplace, so it was an easy four miles a day. I lost weight and gain muscle tone, and it was wonderful! Then at the beginning of 2014, I moved 4.1 miles from my workplace. At first, I continued biking there and back, for a total of 8.2 miles a day, but that ended up too much for my body to handle. (At the time, I was unaware that I was also anemic.) Since then, I have cut back to biking just the 4.1 miles to work, but my husband picks me (and my bike) up in the afternoons. Summer here in Phoenix is too hot (sometimes temperatures get over 115 degrees.) So I will wait until the cooler fall weather before adding one or two days a week to bike the full 8.2 miles again.
Since I began in 2012, I have learned a great deal about how to share the road with vehicles, sidewalk with pedestrians, follow local biking regulations, and fix a busted tire. As both a driver and a cyclist, I know the frustrations that come with both! I would like to share some basic bake safety tips to keep yourself and others safe.
1. Learn your city’s bike laws/regulations
As the popularity of biking continues to grow, more cities are putting bike laws into place. It is important for you to go to your city government’s web site and investigate what laws/regulations, if any, your city has.
2. Always wear a helmet
I know many will think that helmets do not look cool or will ruin your hairdo, but helmets are important for biker’s safety. If you should have a tumble, a helmet could prevent or limit head trauma. When we were kids, my older sister lost control of her bike going downhill, hit the curb hard, and flipped over the handlebars. Had she not been wearing a helmet, she would have had severe head trauma. Fortunately, besides a few bumps, bruises, and an impress scar on her elbow, she was fine.
Even if you never use a bike lane or share the road with vehicles, staying on the sidewalk does not necessarily mean you will never face the possibility of crashing or falling. Even if helmets are not required by law in your city, be safe and wear a helmet.
3. Use lights and reflectors
Make sure that your bike has reflectors and lights. You can find inexpensive light kits at many stores and these are very simple to put onto your bike. Lights are important if you ever find yourself biking after dark or in poor visibility. It is very difficult for drivers to see a biker in those conditions. If you must bike after dark or do so frequently, also consider purchasing a reflective vest to wear.
4. Obey traffic laws
I cannot stress the importance of this safety tip enough: obey traffic laws. Just because you are not a car does not mean you do not have to stop at stop signs or red lights. If the traffic light is RED or, when biking on the sidewalk, shows a DON’T WALK signal: STOP! I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed near-accidents because someone on a bike felt that the traffic laws did not apply to them and a car, who had the right away, only narrowly missed them. Never, ever try to “sneak across” an intersection against the traffic signal. Not only are your risking your life, but you are endangering others as well. And let me tell you: in a collision between a motor-vehicle and a bike, the bike will always lose.
5. Be aware of what drivers are doing
As someone who bikes to work on a regular basis, I have come to dislike headphones and earbuds. Many cyclists listen to music or programs to block out the sounds of the road, but this can be dangerous. You need to be vigilant when sharing the road and even more vigilant when using sidewalks. You have to be always aware of the cars around you so you can make wise decisions in a split second: is that car going to turn in front of me? Does the driver of that car waiting to exist the gas station even see me? Would it be safer for me to stop and wait for the car to turn? Am I in this car’s blindspot? Is that car coming up behind me sound too close? If you are drowning out the sound of the road around you, you are not using all of your senses to keep you safe.
1. Learn your city’s bike laws/regulations
Even if you never hop on a bike yourself, as a driver of a motor-vehicle, you need to know what the bike laws/regulations are in your city as some will apply to how drivers and cyclists interact on the road.
2. Give bikes space
Many cities have laws requiring a minimum amount of space between a bike and the passing vehicle when sharing the road, and this often falls on the driver of the vehicle. If you see a bike in your lane or in the adjacent bike lane, move as far over as you can safely or slow down some to give the bike proper space. The wind disturbance from a vehicle passing too closely or too quickly can knock a cyclist off the bike and clipping a cyclist with your side mirror can have serious, sometimes fatal consequences for the cyclist. Be courteous and give the proper space!
3. Always look for bikes before making right turns.
I cannot stress enough how many times I have almost been hit because a driver, making at right turn at an intersection, completely ignores the cyclist and pedestrians that have the right away! Whether you are turning right on a red light or have just gotten the green, always look to make sure that no bikes or pedestrians are crossing before you turn.
4. Be courteous
Whenever possible, please be courteous to bikes. You are in a vehicle that accelerates with minimal pressure from your foot. We are using our entire body to physically propel ourselves forward. Gaining momentum takes physical exertion on a bike, and when drivers cut a bike off, forcing us to break and unnecessarily disrupting our momentum, we have to start all over again. Meanwhile, you can simply break, wait perhaps a heartbeat or two, and then be on your merry way with no effort whatsoever. I could go into a rant about dozens of rude drivers I have encountered on the road, but instead I will tell you about how wonderful it is when a courteous driver politely waves you across the entrance/exit of a parking lot instead of zooming out in front of you, or quietly waits for you to cross before completing their right turn, or who give extra space (when able) as they pass you. There are hundreds of courteous drivers and your little acts do not go unnoticed.
Thank you for sharing the road!
May you have a fun but safe Bike Month and Bike to Work Week.