Bike safety is important part of the fun

This article submitted by Stephanie Everson on 05/06/97.

by Stephanie L. Everson
Now that summer is finally here, bicycles have taken the place of skis and ice skates, as a common source of recreation. Unfortunately, despite all the fun and enjoyment a bicycle can bring, it can also be a factor in tragedy.

The accident records for bicycle/motor vehicle collisions record almost 1100 fatalities and 70,000 disabling injuries annually; and, in 1994, more than 500,000 children alone went to hospital emergency rooms or doctors' offices with bike injuries.

Accidents are most often caused by three factors:
1. Bicyclist doesn't obey traffic rules
2. Motorist doesn't see the bicyclist
3. Motorist doesn't obey traffic rules

The statistics aren't hopeless, though. If children are taught bicycle safety from the start, they will continue to be responsible and safe cyclists throughout their life. Children don't have the perceptions that adults do. They don't have a fully developed sense of danger, and may not understand why it's dangerous to ride out in front of a car. The child may assume a driver sees them and will stop. The child may also have difficulty judging the speed and distance of oncoming cars, or the direction of sounds.

Most children look forward to the day their mom and dad buy them a bike; but before purchasing a bike for your child, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is my child old enough, mentally and physically, to ride a bike in neighborhood traffic?
2. Do we live in an area with minimal vehicular traffic?
3. Are there safe places for my child to ride near my home, like empty lots, parks, or bicycle paths?

When you decide your child is ready to have a bicycle, it is necessary to give them basic riding instruction away from traffic. Work with your child until they are capable of the following things:
1. Stop-Look-Listen before entering traffic.
2. Riding with traffic on the right side of the road.
3. Obeys traffic signs and signals
4. Is cautious around parked cars.
5. Always uses hand signals.
6. Obeys local rules and regulations.

The recognized hand signals are as follows:
Left turn
- left hand and arm extended horizontally beyond the side of bike.
Right turn
- left hand and arm extended upward beyond the left side of bike, or the right hand and arm extended horizontally to the right side of bike.
- left hand and arm extended downward beyond the left side of bike.

Bicycle laws
There are several Minnesota state laws regarding bicycles that, if followed, ensure the safety of cyclists as well as motorists. In summary, according to chapter 169.222, regarding the operation of bicycles:

1. Traffic laws apply. People riding a bike have all the same rights and duties that apply to drivers of motorized vehicles.

2. No extra passengers. No bicycle should be used to carry more people than what it is equipped for, except
a. In a baby seat attached to the bicycle,
b.In a seat attached to the bicycle operator.

3. No clinging to vehicles. Anyone riding a bike, coaster, roller skates, toboggan, sled, skateboard, or toy vehicle should not attach themselves to any other vehicle on the roadway.

4. Ride on the right-hand shoulder or curb.
a. Anyone riding a bicycle on a roadway should ride as close to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except:
when passing another vehicle going in the same direction;
when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway;
when it's necessary to avoid hazardous road conditions.
b. Travel in the same direction as traffic.
c. Do not ride more than two side by side, and in single file.
d. Yield to pedestrians. One also must give an audible signal to a pedestrian before passing them.

5. Don't carry anything that prevents the cyclist from operating the bike or the brakes.

6. Don't ride at night unless the bike is equipped with a lamp which emits a white light visible from at least 500 feet to the front and a red reflector visible from all distances from 100 to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of the lower beams of the head lamps on a motor vehicle.
b. Bicycle must have a brake.
c. Do not ride a bike on a highway if the bike has handle bars raised to the degree that the operator must have their hands above the level of their shoulders in order to grasp the normal steering grip area.
d. Don't ride a bike that is so big it prevents the operator from stopping or supporting it comfortably.

7. Don't sell a bike that's not equipped with lawful reflectors and equipment.

8. Use arm signals.

9. A person may park a bike on a sidewalk unless prohibited by local authorities or the bicycle impedes the normal movement of pedestrian traffic.

Bicycle types
Bicycles are manufactured in five basic types:
Single-speed middleweight.
Multi-speed lightweight.
All-terrain or Mountain.

Bicycle fit
Many people, especially children, have bicycle accidents because the bike is too big for them to ride. A poorly fitted bike is both uncomfortable and dangerous.
Frame Size. To ensure comfort, there should be 2-3 inches of clearance between the rider's crotch and the top-tube while straddling the bicycle.

Saddle height. A proper saddle height reduces knee strain and injury. Adjust the saddle height so when seated, or heels are on the pedals while pedaling backwards without rocking side to side. Legs should not be fully straight while cycling, but rather, approximately 95 percent extended at the bottom of the stroke, with the balls of the feet squarely placed on the pedals.

Handle bars. Standard handle bars should be set with the grips at seat level. The upper part of dropped-down style handle bars on multi-speed, lightweight bikes should be level with or slightly below the seat. The grips should be tilted down at about a 10-degree angle. High-rise handle bars should be lower than the driver's shoulder.

Safety Note. Never raise a seat post or handle bar stem higher than the marks inscribed by the manufacturer. Without enough post or stem inside the frame the frame may cause the top part of the tube to break off.
Bicycle size for children.
Under 5 years*. . . . . . . 12" to 16" wheel
5 to 7 years*. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20" wheel
8 to 10 years. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24" wheel
11 and over. . . . . . . . . . 26" to 27" wheel
*supervision is necessary even on quiet streets.

Bicycle tips
When preparing for a bicycle ride, the following should be kept in mind:
1. Wear light or bright colored clothing.
2. Carry packages in a basket, carrier, or back-pack.
3. Keep your bike in good condition, checking and oiling parts regularly.
4. Wear a helmet that is ANSI or Snell approved.
5. Don't wear headphones.
6. When carrying a baby, use a well made, sturdy carrier that mounts on the back of bike. Don't carry an infant under six months in a carrier seat.
7. Don't ride after dark or in bad weather, if possible.
8. Ride on bike paths or on lightly traveled streets.
9. Don't carry passengers that your bike isn't equipped for.
10. Lock your bike, using a U-shaped lock.

While riding, remember to always:
1. Watch for opening car doors when on streets where cars are parked.
2. When with a group, form a single line, one bike length apart.
3. Keep both hands on the handle bars, and at least one at all times.
4. Be predictable to other motorists.
5. Yield to pedestrians and automobiles.
6. Don't block crosswalks.
7. Ride on the right side of the road, and in the same direction as traffic.
8. Never hang onto other vehicles.
9. Move to the side of the road when stopping your bike.
10. Be aware of other riders and motorists around you.
11. Always use hand signals.
12. Stop-Look-Listen before crossing a street.
13. Obey traffic signs and signals.
14. Walk your bike across a busy street.
15. Don't weave between parked cars.
16. Avoid road hazards, such as broken pavement.

Bicycle helmets
When cycling, always wear a helmet. Head injuries are the leading cause of death in 80 percent of bicycle accidents.

First, choose a helmet that is ANSI (American National Standard Institute) or Snell Foundation approved. Look for the sticker inside or outside the helmet.

Second, a helmet won't work if it's not fitted on your head properly. A helmet should fit snugly and comfortably and not be able to tip forward or backward. Helmets should be level from front to back, and extend down to about two fingers (3 cm.) above the eyebrows. The front and rear chin straps should meet just below each ear, and should fit snugly without pinching.

Always replace your helmet after a crash. Even if you don't see any damage, the inner liner may have been destroyed. Also, a helmet may need to be replaced after four to five years, because the materials that make up a helmet tend to decay in sunlight.

Maintenance is also an important part of bicycle safety. Remember to periodically check your bike for wear and tear, and have bicycle equipment checked at a bike shop at least once a year. Also, children aren't the only people that need to be aware of safety precautions. Both parents and other adults need to take the proper safety precautions; remember, someone is depending on you. Summer is a time for new outdoor activities, and with the necessary safety precautions can be the setting of many fun lifelong memories.

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