Update: With spring coming, I thought it might be a good idea to review the basics of bicycle safety for all of us who ride bikes for exercise and for mothers of children who ride bikes for fun. I am taking many of the ideas from an article in the March-April issue of the USAA Magazine, written by Richard Lukin, who claims to have ridden his bike almost daily for 40 years from Central Park to Wall Street. He said, "I like both my all-weather contact with nature and the bicycle's respect for the environment. Cycling in the city (Manhattan), I like the ever-changing human scenery plus being able to reach appointments on schedule, even at rush hour. Most of all, I like the exercise and the idea of moving my 175 pounds under my own steam."
He told of a prominent New York physician and avid cyclist who took evasive action in Central Park when a jogger burst from the trees onto the bike path. This physician flipped over backward and fractured his skull. "What can I tell you?" one of the responding police officers said. "It was one of those no-helmet accidents." From his experience and the experience of others, Lukin has developed eight simple principles for cycling safety.Rule 1: Wear a helmet - period. This rule may save your life, even when you violate one of the other rules. More important, a good helmet can be your only defense against the things you can't control. Most serious head injuries occur when no helmet is worn, or when it is worn incorrectly. So, be sure the helmet is certified, and wear it correctly on your head.
Rule 2: Never surprise anyone and never be taken by surprise. Consciously or otherwise, the responsible cyclist is constantly thinking: "What if . . .?" A car at the curb opens its door; the green signal is hiding a light-runner; a dog by the road suddenly spots a bird and runs out in front, etc.
Rule 3: Leave yourself a margin of error. Always leave yourself space to see what's coming; don't ride too close to any obstacle that might hide your path. Don't linger between two moving vehicles without plenty of space; don't pass pedestrians without leaving room for an unanticipated move.
Rule 4: Don't take your eyes off the road. The list of menaces is endless - and so easily avoidable. The discarded spark plug, a small pot-hole; even a raised edge of the roadway can topple you to the ground.
Rule 5: Don't relax your grip - ever. It doesn't take much to jerk the bar out of your hands - a bump, a crevice, a slippery spot. Keep both hands where they belong, on the handle bar.
Rule 6: Keep your bike, and the way you ride, problem free. Conditions change. A loosened accessory, such as a hanging bag or bungee cord, can stop a wheel; an overloaded rear rack can make you oversteer. Do you wear clothes that make you more visible? What about riding at dark or in the rain? Do you have lights or reflectors to increase visibility?
Rule 7: Know your limitations and listen for tips. Do you have enough experience for the kind of cycling you want to do? Can you handle riding in the rain or early morning fog, when brakes can be useless and wheels can slip?
Rule 8: Learn from your mistakes. Every close call offers a lesson that you may need someday. Look at every such incident and figure out how you can avoid it in the future.
Did you know . . . that a large proportion of accidents with kids occur as the children emerge from driveways or cross streets? That alcohol plays a part in about half of bike accidents? That most bicycle accidents occur between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.? That in most accidents, the cyclist is at fault?