My husband and I have encountered all these hazards and more in the 700+ miles we've logged over the last 2 months to train for our upcoming bike trip. How do you not freak out? With T-minus-2 days til we roll out, it's time to tie up the safety plan for our tour down the California coast.
Here are my top six rules for staying safe. No matter where you are or what kind of bike you ride, I hope these tips will help you keep the wheel side down and the smiles on full wattage.
Be visible. Here's the safety kit I have assembled during our training. Note the neon orange shirt. It's super light-weight for comfort and highly visible. The jacket for cool or wet weather sticks out too. The neon flag and flashing lights (one on the rack, one on the back of my helmet, one on the front) make it hard for drivers to not see me. But just to be sure, I keep an eye on them through the mirror on my sunglasses.
Cover up. This is even more important on a recumbent with your arms and legs stretched out in front of you (sunscreen only goes so far) but it's necessary any time you will be out for hours baking in the sun. My lightweight neon shirt is not only visible, it's SPF 70. Gloves and capris (we used to call them pedal pushers) cover my hands and legs and guard against road rash. I always wear sunscreen and if I'm riding into the sun I add the visor.
Carry a whistle. This was a lesson from a three-day "shakedown" practice tour. On day one while climbing a steep grade with the bike fully loaded, the biggest German Shepherd I have ever seen made a break from his owner, leaped into the air and collided teeth-first with my arm. He didn't break the skin but left a nasty bruise and the whole experience was rather unpleasant. We learned two things that day:
Seal up the meat. We had just picked up some fresh pork sausage for dinner from the market and stowed it in my left pannier, so I was between the dog and the pork 😉 I have some extra ziplocks packed now for such a situation.
According to the local park manager and sometime bicycle police trainer, if you blow a loud whistle it will confuse a dog and stop him in his tracks. I haven't actually had a chance to try it yet, but the whistle is part of my kit now.
Take the lane. A lot of cyclists and drivers have the idea that we are supposed to ride as far to the right as possible. That's actually a dangerous place to be, as this article explains well: http://www.commutebybike.com/2008/03/18/top-5-reasons-to-claim-the-lane-and-why-its-safer/ Make no mistake: if there is a safe shoulder, bike lane or path to ride on, I'll be there. If not, I'm a legal vehicle and I'll be out there where drivers will see me and be less tempted to squeeze by me.
Do the work. Studies show that fear of falling increases the risk of falling. I sure found that to be true in the early stages of learning to ride a new bike. The more anxious I was, the more I found myself on the ground. Even after I got past the initial fear, I needed a lot of experience to really feel comfortable. Drills like riding with one hand at a time, pedalling with one leg at a time and riding all kinds of roads and hills improved my strength, skills, balance and safety. The one bright spot in my dog encounter was that I did not fall off the bike. If you have a big trip coming up, respect the distance and get your miles in. You'll have more fun, and you'll be better prepared to keep your wits about you if you run into wet roads, gravel, rocks or other surprises.
Wear a helmet. I almost forgot this one; it's just an automatic thing, but it's alarming to see people without them. Broken bones can be repaired; a brain injury is a lot harder to fix. If you have kids, insist that they wear a helmet and put yours on too. You need each other.
I'm eager to hear any other advice out there for staying safe on the bike, so please feel free to post comments with your tips and war stories.
And we're off! We'll be posting trip updates on the Crazy Guy on a Bike website, It's National Bike Month, so let's strap on those helmets, get out there and travel light!