Safe biking – Wheels of fortune

In the spring of 2002, a pickup truck crossed the centerline of a Louisiana road at high speed and plowed into a group of cyclists. Seventeen-year-old Timothy Cappo, one of the cyclists, was badly injured and died that night in the hospital. The truck driver was charged with negligence.

Learn how to take a spin without taking a spill

How can accidents like this be prevented? Cyclists need to take measures to reduce their odds of getting hurt.

Cappo was struck on a narrow, winding road that cyclists favor for training. Because they’re narrow, these roads can be dangerous when motorists are careless. Bikers should try to use either a bike path that’s closed to vehicles or a wide road with plenty of room for cyclists. Ideally, cyclists should stay 3 to 5 feet to the side of cars and trucks.

Whenever possible, choose roads that don’t have lots of traffic or, if possible, ride at times when streets aren’t busy, advises Robert Kennedy, M.D., associate professor of pediatric emergency medicine at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.

Be Seen, Beware

“Give trucks plenty of room,” says Douglas Koltun, M.D., medical director of pediatric rehabilitation and development at Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois. “They make wide turns and have large blind spots. Wear bright or reflective clothes in poor weather or on dark, gray days.”

To be seen, make sure you have reflectors on both wheels as well as on the front of the handlebars and rear of the seat. A headlight and taillights are required by law for riding at night.

Smart Moves

Cyclists must obey the same rules as drivers. That means cycling with the flow of traffic, not against it, as well as obeying all traffic signs and lights. Stay alert when riding by parked cars in case drivers pull out or open their doors. Leave the headphones at home too. Blaring music will block out the sound of screeching tires.

Like to weave around cars? Bad idea. Riding in a straight line makes your movement predictable to cars and other riders. Always be on the lookout for obstacles such as potholes, rocks, and sewer grates. Focus about 20 feet ahead so you can plan how to safely swerve around objects.

To stop safely, apply both brakes at the same time and shift your weight backward on the saddle. It may take three times as long to stop in wet conditions, so allow plenty of time to slow down without skidding.

Gearing Up

Each year, approximately 750 people die from injuries due to bicycle crashes, and more than 500,000 cyclists are treated in emergency departments. While 90 percent of all deaths involve collisions with motor vehicles, most non-fatal injuries are the result of falls.

“One of the biggest mistakes that cause bicycle injuries is not wearing a helmet,” stresses Dr. Koltun. “An accident can cause brain trauma so severe that nobody should ever get on a bike without a helmet. A met protects your head and everything inside by absorbing and dissipating the impact.”

The use of bicycle helmets reduces the risk of head injuries by 85 percent. A properly fitted helmet protects the forehead as well as the back and sides of the head. Make sure the helmet rests no more than two finger-widths above the brow. Also, the chin straps should be snugly fastened at all times. Check that the helmet has been approved by an organization such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Beyond a helmet, it’s also smart to be outfitted with elbow pads, kneepads, shoulder pads, and a chest protector–especially if you’re mountain biking.

Protective eyewear will shield you from tire bullets. A tire bullet is a small rock that gets pinched between the road and your tire. It can be flung at top speed in any direction.

Paul Martin, a champion Paralympic cyclist, offers a last defensive strategy: “Ride your bike like you’re invisible. Pretend no one can see you so that you are forced to stay out of their way.” Then, enjoy the ride.

Mountain Bikers’ Alert

A recent study presented at the Radiological Society of North America conference found that male mountain bikers who rode for more than two hours a day, six days a week, produced one-third the amount of sperm as those who were not bikers. These avid mountain bikers could be risking their fertility.

If you are a dedicated mountain biker, you can prevent damage by equipping your bike with a wider, padded seat and shock absorbers.

The Right Fit

Does your bike “fit” you? Is it in good repair? Do you know how to use the gears? Many accidents occur while riding a friend’s bicycle that didn’t fit or one that the rider didn’t know how to use. By following these tips, you can ensure that your racing or touring bike fits properly:

  • Check the bike’s frame size. There should be a 1- to 2-inch clearance between the top tube and your crotch when you stand flat-footed straddling a boy’s bike. Allow a clearance of 2 to 3 inches for ATB bikes.
  • Check saddle height. Sit in a comfortable riding position with your hands on the handlebars. When the pedal is at its lowest point, in the 6 o’clock position, your knee should be slightly bent.
  • Check that the saddle’s position isn’t too far forward or backward. Sit in a comfortable riding posture while someone holds the bike steady. Place the pedals at the 3 o’clock position. A plumb line held directly behind your kneecap should fall straight past the ball of your foot and down to the pedal axle.
  • Check handlebar height. Position the handlebars and stem 1 to 2 inches below the bottom of the saddle. For correct stem length, hold one of your elbows against the tip of the saddle, and extend your forearm straight toward the stem. Your middle finger should reach halfway across the length of the stem.