Biking Basics

By George Wyatt, Installation Safety Office, Fort Campbell, Ky.July 25, 2016

Biking Basics
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FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 25, 2016) - The bicycle has come a long way since its early days. Today's frames are stronger, yet lighter, and the wheels and tires are more durable. What hasn't changed is the need for cyclists to obey the rules of the road.

Despite what some may think, there is no special exemption to the law just because you're on a bicycle. In fact, many accidents occur because a cyclist failed to stop at a stop sign, did not signal at an intersection or ran through a red traffic light. Just as cyclists expect motorists to abide by traffic laws, they, too, expect you to follow them.

Where you ride in the lane is also important. Riding just right of the center of the lane gives you a better profile for visibility to other vehicle operators. It also keeps you away from parked vehicles on city streets, which can be an extreme hazard if someone opens a door in your path. Riding just right of the center of the lane also allows you to better maneuver to avoid potholes and other imperfections in the road and will keep you away from ditches, curbs and parked cars. Assertively maintaining your position just right of center lane will force drivers to pass properly while giving you a margin of safety from those who don't.

Riding your bicycle against traffic may give you a sense of security in that you can see oncoming vehicles. However, motorists don't expect you to be there, and it may be difficult to react to you, especially if you're on a two-lane road and the motorist must deal with you plus oncoming vehicle traffic. When you ride on the wrong side of the road, you approach intersections at angles and positions other motorists are not accustomed to seeing, which means they may not act or react as you anticipate. In some states, it's also illegal to ride against traffic, so check the bicycling laws in your area.

Riding on sidewalks may be legal in your area; however, it is not considered a best practice method of bike riding. Riding on the sidewalk introduces a new hazard -- the pedestrian. In most cases, pedestrians don't expect to see a cyclist riding on a sidewalk and may have difficulty reacting. And like riding against the flow of traffic, when you intercept a road intersection from a sidewalk, you do so at angles and positions that motorists are not used to seeing. If it is safe to ride on sidewalks because the density of pedestrian traffic is low, at least consider stopping at each road intersection to make sure it is clear before proceeding. If vehicle traffic is heavy, seriously consider walking your bike through the crosswalk.

Listening to music on your phone or iPod is also a bad idea when you're on a bike, and it's prohibited on Army installations when riding on or adjacent to roadways. Your sense of hearing is important when you're riding. Even on a parallel bike route, if you don't see a bad situation developing, you might be able to hear it if you're alert and if your hearing is not obscured by portable listening devices. Remember that intersections, side-street accesses and driveways are not normally protected on parallel bike routes, so you must remain alert and be able to see and hear your environment.

Younger riders - Motorists should always anticipate children on bicycles near schools and in residential areas. The speed limits are usually slow in these areas to reduce the risk of vehicle and pedestrian/bicyclist conflicts. Children can be unpredictable when riding, so it's the driver's responsibility to remain alert and avoid accidents.

Parents can also help prevent accidents by teaching their children the rules of the road as soon as they start riding bikes. The state driver's manual is a good place to start. Understanding the fundamentals of driving will help keep children safer on their bikes and might even make them better drivers when they're older. Be proactive in answering the child's questions when they don't understand the technical jargon of the driver's manual. As their bike-riding skills develop, so should their knowledge of the rules of the road.

Off-road biking - is a popular sport and, in most cases, eliminates the conflict between riders and motor vehicles. But it isn't free of hazards. It is important for the novice off-roader to take it slow and easy on trails and bike routes until they've gained some experience at negotiating rough terrain. Experienced off-roaders may have a tendency to occasionally push beyond their own or their bike's limits and take a spill as a result. Avoid overdoing it in areas where even a small mistake could send you and your bike sailing into a ditch, ravine, tree or boulder or even off a cliff.

Pedestrians also enjoy walking or jogging on off-road trails. Be cautious and courteous of others along the route to avoid mishaps. Also, be aware that you're probably in wild animal, reptile and insect country. They may not have a high tolerance for sharing their turf with you. Respect all wildlife and give them a wide berth.

Protective equipment - On military installations, all bike riders, regardless of age, are required to wear a Consumer Product Safety Commission-approved bike helmet. Some installations also require riders to wear a reflective belt diagonally across the body. Although state and local laws regarding helmets differ, it makes good sense to always wear one. A helmet can mean the difference between surviving and dying in an accident. Ensure your helmet meets or exceeds the impact standards of the American National Standards Institute or Snell Memorial Foundation.

As a cyclist, you should also go out of your way to be visible. Bright clothing (reflective at night) says a lot about your seriousness in sharing the road safely. Your bright or reflective shirt should be long sleeved so others can see your hand signals.

If you bicycle at night, a headlight is another important safety feature and, in some states, a requirement. Self-generating light systems are not the best option. While they shine bright when you are riding with some speed, they dim when riding slowly and go out when you stop. Consider purchasing a battery-powered light system at your local bike shop, preferably one with a tail light.

Bicycle riding is an activity that's fun for the whole family. When done correctly, it's also safe. Make sure you follow the rules of the road whenever taking your Schwinn for a spin.

Did You Know? According to Army Regulation 385-10, when bicycling on Department of Defense installation roadways during hours of darkness or reduced visibility, bicycles will be equipped with operable head and taillights, and the bicyclist will wear a reflective upper outer garment.

FYI information about bicycle helmets and state laws, visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute website at

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