Bikes, Safety and Telephone Poles

by Jon Amel, American Red Cross Volunteer

kid bikingThey say that in the moments before a person experiences an accident, time seems to slow down, and the most important parts of their life flash before their eyes.

I can only speak for myself here, but I’m going to declare that statement to be a load of nonsense. You see, I was involved in an unfortunate biking encounter with a telephone pole as a teenager. I was innocently riding my bike on the sidewalk (Note: don’t ride your bike on the sidewalk,) when I veered onto the grass to clear the way for an oncoming jogger.  After passing him, I looked back to see if I’d given him enough space, and maybe get a friendly wave of thanks. He offered no friendly wave. Jerk.

telephone poleWhat I did see as I turned back around was the telephone pole coming towards me at full speed.

Now I can only assume this is the moment when time was supposed to slow to a crawl, and I was meant to see memories of old birthday parties and Christmas mornings. Didn’t happen. All I saw was thirty feet of splintered, rusty nail-covered misery. And time didn’t slow. That sucker was coming in hot.

I immediately realized I had no chance to stop or veer out of the way. Telephone pole and I were about to get intimate, there was no way around it. So I prepared in the only way I could on such short notice… I uttered an expletive and peed myself a little. Just a little.

I couldn’t have hit that pole more squarely if I’d aimed for it. My front wheel collapsed like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the back wheel reared up like an angry bull trying to throw a rider. And throw me it did, face first, right into the pole.

bike helmetIt’s reasonable to assume I was dragged away from the scene with a face full of splintered wood, and a skull full of rusty nails, but such was not the case, for I was wise enough to be wearing a well-fitting bike helmet. Bike helmet really stood up and took one for the team, sparing me from that caved-in skull look, which nobody finds appealing, and likely imposes severe limitations to any potential dating opportunities. Always wear a well-fitting helmet.

Let’s take a look at some other safety tips…

Use an appropriately sized bike: There should be one to two inches of clearance when you are standing over the top bar of a road bicycle, and three to four inches of clearance between you and the top bar of a mountain bike. Your handlebar should be at the same level as the seat, which should sit level from front to back.

Make sure the bike works: Everyone enjoys those internet videos of people slamming into things while on their bike, and rightfully so. Few things are as entertaining as seeing someone you don’t know say, “Hey, watch this!” only to end up plastered against a brick wall. What is less fun is actually being splattered against a brick wall because your brakes are broken or worn out. You might break something, or have to search for your teeth. Not fun. Make sure your brakes work.

Make sure people can see you: There is a reason you see very few ninjas on bikes. This is because it is a bad idea to wear dark clothing on a bike. You want other people on the road (especially people driving cars) to see you, and black is a bad choice for that particular goal. But don’t think white is going to keep you safe. Science says no to that too. Studies have shown that wearing white while biking doesn’t improve your visibility to motorists. You should be wearing the brightest colors possible. That means neon or fluorescent, and preferably something with a decent amount of reflective surfaces. You should also make sure that there are reflectors on both the front and back of your bike. If you have to ride your bike at night, you should have a light mounted to the front of your bike, and a flashing light mounted to the rear.

Go with the flow of traffic, and obey all traffic laws: Johnny law considers your bike a vehicle, and you a driver, so act like it. This means stopping at stop signs/ stoplights and yielding when appropriate (you always yield to pedestrians. Always)

Stay alert and focused: Put the phone away (unless you are looking at the Red Cross First Aid App) Facebook doesn’t need to know you’re on a bike, and that text can wait. You need to stay alert for things like pedestrians, cars, potholes, dogs, ninjas, clowns and telephone poles. Especially telephone poles. Those things jump out from nowhere.

Stay safe out there, folks and to check out additional safety tips go to:

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