The Six Rules for Safe Cycling
|Mike and I sat in the driveway
with a backgammon board and cups of coffee between us. The newly washed
ambulance next to us glistened in the morning sunshine. A slight breeze
reminded us that just a week before snow had blitzed the town. Winter had
been long, as it is in Maine, and a hardened impassivity to its rigors
had etched vertical lines on just about everyone's face. The mood this
afternoon was light, festive. The mercury was destined to reach 70o
F. Everyone had spring in his step. College students had thrown their windows
open and flooded the neighborhood with Grateful Dead and George Benson.
Lawn chairs sprouted on door stoops and patches of grass everywhere. In
front of the student dorms the chairs lay abandoned, their only company
an odd tube of suntan lotion or an anthology of English Literature: "Ode
to Spring" flapping idly. For who could study? In the open quad beyond,
barefoot youths in shorts and tank tops hucked a frisbee.
I had just rolled a 6/1 and locked up the bar point trapping Mike into a back game when the call came in. In ten seconds we were in the ambulance. Jan, the dispatcher, handed us the address and details. A biker was down.
When we arrived at the scene on Elm Street a crowd had already gathered. We made our way through the mingled voices: "What happened?" "Is he going to make it?" And the very scared, tearful voice of a young woman, "I never saw him."
Jason, a sophomore in high school, was out enjoying the sunshine like everyone else. As he rode carefree down Elm Street, he must have been filled with giddiness and youthful vitality. When a car pulled out of a drive in front of him the panic he felt as he took evasive action lasted a mere second. His front tire collided with the curb and he was flung over his handlebars. When his head met one of those trees for which the street is named, it smashed like a dropped watermelon. Witnesses reported that he wasn't even going very fast.
|The First Bicycle|
the invention of the wheel, legs and wheels have worked together to move
and make things. The wheel, lying flat, has ground corn and sugar cane.
It has spun wool and made pottery. The greatest use of the wheel, however,
has been its contribution to horizontal speed and transportation. One of
the most popular and historically significant applications of wheel technology
is found in the development of the bicycle (see: The Bicycle Wheel, by
Jobst Brandt, Avocet, Inc.,1990).
The great artist-inventor, Leonardo da Vinci, is the most likely author of the first designs of a contraption that looks unmistakably like a bicycle. The Renaissance master's "Codex Atlanticus" is proof positive that da Vinci was fascinated by the
From the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci from a period around 1500
|powerful possibilities inherent in wheel technology - also featured in "Codex" are sketches of treadmills and waterwheels. Some however claim that da Vinci may well have been inspired by images of two-wheeled, muscle-powered conveyances found on the walls of Egyptian tombs and under the ashes of Pompeii.|
|The Modern Bicycle|
Lallement, a French expatriate who lived in Southern New England, is probably
the true inventor of the modern bicycle. In 1865 he rode a preposterous
contraption of his own creation several miles through the countryside near
Ansonia, Connecticut, USA.
Lallement's bicycle (veloce) ride ended abruptly when he lost control and crashed; but, a new transportation revolution was launched that day. By the turn of the 20th Century, bicycles were a common sight in cities throughout the United States and Europe. Bicycle technology played a major role in the early automobile and aeroplane industries. Today, developments in aerospace technology influence the latest bicycle designs and components and inspire new experiments in the bicycle industry. On 23 April 1988, Kanellos Kanellopoulos, a Greek cyclist, set a world record when he pedaled the MIT-designed winged Daedalus through the air 110 kms from Crete across the Sea of Crete to Santarini.
Pedalcyclists continue to push the limits on roads, wilderness trails, across deserts, on tracks, through obstacle courses, even on snow-covered alpine slopes. Whether riding the "boneshakers" of yesteryear, or the full suspension rock-hoppers and sleek aero-
The Eagle, a pedal- powered aircraft with the wingspan of a DC-9 jet flies across a California desert in proving trials for the Daedalus Project.
|dynamic fixed-wheel track bikes of today, one fact remains an immutable truth: in our attempt to defy gravity and reach new speeds, we cannot forget that we are mortal beings, not gods. The fun factor can be preserved only as long as safety issues are observed.|
the line between delight and disaster is very thin and can be crossed in
a nanosecond. According the U.S. Department of Transportation National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "more than 44,000 pedalcyclists
have died in traffic crashes in the United States since 1932 - the first
year in which estimates of pedalcyclist fatalities were recorded." NHTSA
has reported that "in 1997, 813 pedalcyclists were killed and an additional
58,000 were injured in traffic crashes." (An estimated 40,000 lose their
lives every year on America's highways in vehicular crashes.)
In spite of the prevailing attitude that vehicles are to blame for a majority of the cyclists killed on America's roads, "biker error" cannot be ruled out as a major cause in many of the deaths. Even though pedalcyclists cannot be held responsible for the recklessness and ignorant behavior of motor vehicle operators, pedalcyclists must always be prepared for the unexpected threat. Pedalcyclists can be held responsible for crashes that are the result of their own recklessness, exceeding limits of control or good sense. It is clear that the threat increases directly according to increases in speed. Speed can kill. Pedalcyclist safety and fun can be maximized only by way of alert preparation. If you are going to ride your bike you must be cognizant of four conditions: your bike; your physical and emotional state; others who "share" the road with you; and environmental changes - weather, time of day, terrain, locales.
When these rules are forgotten,
disregarded, or otherwise broken, and the pedalcyclist is involved in a
crash, chances are the pedalcyclist will be the loser. The best lessons
in life come from the mistakes we make. Mistakes made while biking could
result in death. I've had my close brushes - most of them have been the
result of a lapse of concentration and, fortunately, they have all been
fairly inconsequential. Each event, however, left an indelible mark on
my memory, if not a scar on my body. I hope you will not need to have a
close brush with death or suffer serious injury in order to learn these
rules of general pedalcycle safety.
|1. WEAR A HELMET AT ALL TIMES.|
your head. This is the first and last rule of bicycle safety. A good helmet
may save your life even when you violate the other rules. Furthermore,
a good helmet may be your only defense against variables you cannot control.
Be sure you wear a helmet that is carefully fitted to your head - and fasten
the strap. A helmet that flies off in a crash will provide no protection.
It only takes an average of 12 pounds (5.5 kilos) per square inch (6.5
square centimeters) to break the human skull. Don't skimp when buying your
|2. ADHERE TO THE RULES OF THE ROAD.|
who ride like highway renegades seem to encounter problems more frequently
that those who follow traffic rules and regulations. Just as automobiles
and other vehicles on the road must follow standard operating procedures
designed to ensure safety, facilitate the flow of traffic and maintain
order on our roads, pedalcyclists, if they are to share the road with motorized
vehicles, must cooperate accordingly.
|3. ALWAYS HAVE AN ESCAPE.|
|The young man on
Elm Street violated rules 1 and 2. The crash that took his life may have
been avoided had he been riding carefully rather than carefree. Spaces
are not static. And empty space can be filled in the blink of an eye. Always
ride envisioning potential disasters. Don't ride too close to vehicles
- they may not see you, they may block your view of approaching hazards.
Leave plenty of space between you and parked cars or pedestrians so that
you can accommodate unexpected moves. Beware the individual who just got
into his car and closed the door - that door may suddenly open again. As
you pass a line of parked cars check each car for occupants as you approach.Check
the direction of the front wheels on cars. Look at the drivers, note where
they are looking. Don't challenge vehicles - they are bigger, heavier,
faster than you are. Always check intersections before crossing roads -
even if you believe you have the "legal" right of way. Check early and
keep checking until potential danger is behind you. Be alert to what is
approaching you - in front, from the sides and from behind.
|4. MAINTAIN YOUR BICYCLE IN EXCELLENT CONDITION.|
ride will be safer, more comfortable and more fun if your bike is in excellent
operating condition. Have a bicycle technician check your bike to make
sure it is the right size for you.
|5. KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS AND PLAN YOUR RIDES.|
you physically prepared for the ride ahead? Do you know where and how far
you are going? Are you dressed properly? Are you prepared for changes in
weather? Have you had enough to eat? Do you have enough water with you?
|6. LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE AND THOSE MORE EXPERIENCED THAN YOU.|
|Life's most valuable
lessons are served to us every time we make a mistake. If we go through
life carelessly we will continue to repeat past mistakes. The first-time
mistake, survived, is a blessing. To repeat the same mistake a second or
third time is worse than foolish, especially where personal safety is concerned.
Stay sober and be aware of the mistakes being committed by yourself and
others around you. Even if you are blameless, you can learn from these
incidents and avoid similar pitfalls in the future. Experiential learning
can only enrich your repertoire of life-saving insights and skills if you
are willing to participate and take note, learn and improve your performance.
|These six rules are easy to
remember and can be applied to other life adventures.
Have fun. Help others have fun.