Bike Safety!

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This week I would like to talk about the importance of Bike Safety, especially around Beachfront areas like Newport. A lot of people assume that beachfront Cycling is relatively carefree and safe. Compared to riding a bike downtown, it is. But there are still many dangers out there you have to keep an eye out for.

Most people think the old adage is true; You never forget how to ride a bike. That’s true, but I’ve found that most people do forget how to get along with other types of road traffic, including cars and pedestrians. Too often I see Cyclists not using proper turn signals, not watching out for pedestrians, and definitely not looking out for cars. I can’t even tell you how many times I watched as Cyclists were hit by opening car doors, or thrown over the hood of a car because they weren’t paying attention. Most Cyclists I’ve known have been Bicycle Messengers who felt they had the right of way in all cases; While this might be true, it doesn’t mean that all car drivers understand this, nor can car drivers stop, start and maneuver the way an alert and careful Cyclist can. In the end, it’s up to the Cyclist to be careful, especially when facing a two-thousand-pound piece of mobile metal. Remember, you can still get hurt if you’re not alert.

Cars
There are lots of cars driving alongside the beaches, and, though you might be on a stretch of road with it’s own bike lanes, cars can swerve in and out, putting you in danger. Maybe a driver is texting, or looking back to see if their child is okay in the backseat, changing the station on their radio, or looking out at the beach. Whatever the reason, drivers veer in and out of lanes all the time, especially if they feel that they won’t do any damage drifting into the bike lane.

The best way to prevent hitting a car or getting hit by one is to be far more alert than you might be while walking or driving. This seems like common sense, but many of those cyclists riding near a beach tend to pay more attention to the beautiful scenery around them and lose sight of the road in front of them. Not that one can blame them, but one should still be vigilant and watch for cars in their lanes, and should also be very careful not to veer into the car lanes.

Pedestrians
Many bike lanes are either parallel to pedestrian paths or cross them at some point. Since Pedestrians are not shielded by helmets or other safety gear, Cyclists have to be extra careful not to hit them or run over their feet. Make sure not to ride in a lane marked for Pedestrians or other foot traffic. Many larger lanes, like some in Venice or Newport beach, have lanes for Bikes, Rollerskates/Blades and Pedestrians, and no one should be drifting into anyone else’s lanes. Sometimes this can’t be helped, since someone might be stopped on your lane to adjust their brakes, or stopping to make a phone call; Yes, this is a pain and creates a very unsafe condition, but all you can do as a Cyclist is to be more alert than everyone else, and quickly maneuver to avoid obstacles without suddenly drifting into someone else’s lane. If you see an obstacle up ahead, begin to slow down, look around you, and see if you can help or figure out a non-intrusive way to get around. Remember, you don’t want to cause an accident by avoiding an obstacle. Better to go slow for a moment than to get hurt or hurt someone else.

Basic Bike Safety
Let’s talk about what you can do to make sure you and your bike are ready for a nice long ride down the coast. Got plenty of water? Great. Got your helmet? Awesome. Proper attire? Check. A little high-energy food to bring with you in case you get hungry? Sweet.

But have you checked your bike to make sure it’s in good working order? An extra minute or two going over the basic working parts of your bike can save you a ton of headache, and possibly an accident or two along the way. As my Mother used to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

So take that ounce and check your bike so you don’t have a pound of heartache later. Make sure to check that your brakes are working correctly, your tires are properly inflated, your pedals are spinning freely, all the welds are still intact, that your seat is tight and at the correct height, any clamps you might have are tight, and make sure that your bike is clear of dirt and muck that could affect your ride. Make sure that your pant legs are either pinned back with a velcro strap, or tuck them into your socks. Also, watch out for loose or dangling shoelaces. You can tuck them under the tongue of the shoe, or get shorter laces for cycling. Trust me , you do not want to get your laces stuck in your bike chain.

Helmets
By now I’m sure you’ve seen the rather dizzying array of different helmet designs available. All helmets are designed to protect the head from lacerations and absorb impact, but some go above and beyond to help the head stay cool and ventilated, and some have much higher standards for head protection. Myself, I like the classic “BMX” style, which doesn’t have much in the way of ventilation, but gives me what I feel is more protection, especially if my head were to land on an uneven surface. I also like that BMX-style helmets don’t have to be replaced every time you hit, as long as you’re not in a major accident. There are also a lot of variations on this helmet, including some very fashionable cap-styles that are gaining popularity. Let’s face it, it never hurts to look good while you’re riding, but make sure you’re also protected from any accidents you might run into along the way. Don’t forget, 95 to 97 percent of cyclists who died in crashes were not wearing helmets.

Make sure you wear your helmet correctly. It should fit your head snugly, but not too snug. The front of the helmet should be no more than an inch or two above your eyebrows, not too far down or too high. Common sense should tell you how your helmet should fit. Also make sure that the strap isn’t too tight or loose; the strap should be no more than two finger widths from your chin, a little more snug if it’s comfortable for you. If your helmet is too loose, it can move around as you’re hitting the ground, and it might not only not be where it’s needed to prevent injury, but it could actually cause more injury if it’s too loose.

Where to ride
Back in the 70’s it was common to ride against traffic so you could see what was coming, but now the law has been changed to make sure we don’t ride against traffic, because it causes far more accidents than it prevents. Other than all the basic traffic problems a bike rider will encounter, perhaps the best reason you shouldn’t ride against traffic is the combined speed factor: If you are riding your bike at 15 miles per hour, and a car is coming at you at 25 miles per hour, the possible collision will occur at 40 miles per hour, which will do far more damage than 15 miles per hour would. It’s just not worth the risk to ride against traffic, and, since it’s now against the law, you could be facing a hefty fine for doing it. Most people ride against traffic because they need to be on that side of the street for whatever reason, but it’s always better to ride correctly and safely, then cross at the corner and walk your bike down the sidewalk.

Sidewalks
There is a real problem in the SoCal area with people riding their bikes on the sidewalk. Part of it is the casual lifestyle that SoCal offers, but I think some people just feel like Bicycles and Pedestrians can co-exist on a crowded sidewalk. This simply isn’t true. What if you are riding past a store, and a child runs out in front of you, and you can’t stop in time? What if a car pulls out from between two buildings, and you end up flipping over it because you couldn’t stop in time, like a pedestrian can? Sidewalks are meant only to support pedestrians, and bikes, especially Beach Cruisers, simply can’t safely co-exist with other traffic.

Music
We all like to listen to music, and sometimes the right music can make a ride at the beach even more enjoyable. But it’s more important to be able to hear the sounds around you than it is to listen to music. You might hear a car coming too close, another Cyclist coming up behind you, or even the ticking of your loose shoelace hitting the chain-guard. In some states it’s illegal to wear headphones while riding a bike or car. The fewer distractions the better, when it comes to bike riding.

Signaling
Do you know how to properly signal your steering intentions? Most drivers understand the basic hand-signals, and they’ve become even easier since I was a kid. If you want to turn left or right, you simply stick your arm out and point that direction. If you want to stop, put your arm out and make a 90-degree angle with a closed fist. It’s also a good idea to “wave’ the direction you’re going to turn, kind of using your hand as a blinker and creating movement to make sure drivers see it.

In the end, the best safety accessory one can have at their disposal is being aware of your environment, whether it’s cars, pedestrians, other bikes, or the road conditions in front of you. Keep your eyes peeled for Rumble strips, Cracks, Potholes, Pavement Buckling, Water, Railroad Tracks, or, perhaps most importantly for those riding around Beaches, Sand and Gravel.

If you keep these tips in mind, it will make for a more enjoyable ride around the beaches of Newport, or anywhere you happen to be.

Safe riding!

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