bike safety

riding your bike safely to school or work

Editor’s note: We’re guessing that lots of kids and adults found a  shiny new bicycle under the tree. (Ours arrived earlier in December.) Seems like a good time to brush up on on how to ride safely, as reviewed by SLAC writer Glenn L. Roberts.

SLAC physicist Ken Moffeit has logged more than 10,000 miles biking to work during his 40 years at SLAC, has pedaled from Canada to Mexico, and next summer will complete the final leg in a multiyear cross-country bike trek, spanning the 730 miles between Marine City, Michigan, and Boston.

While he takes bike safety seriously, always wearing a helmet and getting routine maintenance on his set of wheels, he learned a hard lesson in late November when he was struck by a car and suffered a concussion while biking to work at SLAC.

He lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital, and says he feels fortunate his injuries were not more severe. Moffeit recovered and is biking to work again, but he is more cautious after the scare and now takes care to walk his bike in crosswalks.

Bike safety experts at SLAC encourage bicyclists – and motorists who share the road with them – to be vigilant about safety, particularly during the rainy season, when slick roads can prevent quick braking, and in construction zones that introduce bumpy roads, slick metal plates and barriers, such as temporary signage, that can impede bike travel.

Some bike safety tips shared by experts at SLAC and Stanford:

1. Tune-up Checklist

- Air apparent: Make sure your tires are properly inflated; check for cracked, gouged or worn rubber.
- The squeeze test: Check your brakes before you ride to make sure they apply enough pressure to stop your bike.
- The right height: Check that your handlebars and seat are adjusted to the right height and are fastened tightly.
- Look, Ma, no holes: Make sure there are no cracks or other damage to the inside or outer shell of your helmet and that the helmet fits snugly and sits low on your forehead, just above your eyebrows.
- Chain reaction: Cycle through all the gears when you first set out to see if the chain and derailleur are functioning properly and to spot problems, such as chain slippage.
- Leave it to the pros or “DIY”: Basic bike tune-ups cost about $50 to $75 and are available at a number of local shop. Or take a class so you can do it yourself.

2. Get Your Gear On

- Don’t lose your head: Helmets are required for all SLAC cyclists and are part of the Stanford Bike Safety Pledge. And while helmets are not mandatory for cyclists 18 and up when riding outside the lab grounds, bicycle safety advocates strongly encourage all cyclists to wear them at all times.
- Make a fashion statement: Wearing light, bright colors and reflective materials helps motorists see you.
- I can see clearly now: Sports sunglasses keep dust, bugs and other stuff from obstructing your vision.
- I pad: Padded gloves and shorts improve your comfort and safety.
- Get comfy: A comfortable seat can go a long way.
- A time to reflect: When riding at night, state law requires cyclists to use front white lights, rear red reflectors and pedal and side reflectors. Red rear flashing lights and additional reflectors are a good precaution, too.
- Eyes in the back of your head: Get a rearview mirror.

3. Road Rules

- Bicycles are vehicles, too: Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers. That means you must stop at stop signs, avoid riding on sidewalks, maintain the legal speed limit, travel in the same direction as traffic and observe all other traffic laws when riding.
- Sidewalk and crosswalk have “walk” in common: When using a crosswalk as a pedestrian, dismount your bike and walk it across. When you want to use the sidewalk, dismount and walk your bike.
- Pedaling on metal: Metal objects, such as manhole covers, construction plates and train rails, and painted surfaces can be particularly slick, especially when wet, and may prevent you from braking quickly. Take care when riding over such surfaces.
- You’re on defense: Don’t ever assume vehicles can see you. Stay alert.
- Share the road and pathways with all users. Use common courtesy and respect when passing pedestrians on shared paths, and call out or use a bike bell when passing on the left.

Photo by Brad Plummer

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