by: Martin Jansen
I am a regular commuter on many forms of two wheel transportation. On a bicycle, you can be particularly vulnerable to daily traffic. In your best boy scout behavior and as echoed in the song from the Lion King your best bet is to “Be Prepared”. You can start by making sure that your equipment is in good order.
Maintain your Bike
As I was riding to work one day, I was cut off by driver of a white car. He was so intent on getting in his driveway, he almost hit me. Aside from saying “Whoa” and few other choice words, I hit my brakes hard and was able to avoid a collision. If my brakes had not been changed at the beginning of the season, I almost certainly would have been sprawled on the ground and been injured. In the end, the driver apologized profusely saying he “didn’t see me,” the most common driver excuse. Fortunately, I arrived safely at work.
Bicycle maintenance is important. Make sure all moving parts of your bike are working correctly. Pump your tires for peak rolling efficiency. Make sure all your gears and brakes work. A yearly tune up by a professional bike mechanic is highly recommended.
Be Seen and Wear Safety Equipment Properly
My encounter with the errant driver happened despite being dressed in a bright red coat on a chilly morning. Dressing in bright colors and having lights on your bicycle aids in being seen by automobile drivers. Wisconsin law is that drivers need to avoid bicyclists by three feet to their left, but this is rarely enforced. It is your responsibility as a bicyclist to be aware of your surroundings and be seen by drivers in order to be as safe as possible. Wearing a properly fitted helmet is critical to your safety should an accident occur. I have seen plenty of children wearing helmets way back on heads exposing their foreheads to injury should they fall. Parents, please make sure your children are safe by helping them put on their helmets.
Avoid Heavily Traveled Roads
When commuting to work or anywhere in the community, it is a good idea to plan your route. I always try to plan my route avoiding high volume automobile traffic. In my case, my route adds a few extra blocks to my commute to work, but it does avoid high traffic areas where I could be potentially be struck by a car or truck.
Obey Traffic Rules
I have to admit, it does drive me a little crazy to see a bicyclist riding against traffic on the left hand side of the road. Traveling on a bicycle is not the same as walking. The state of Wisconsin considers bicycles to be a vehicle, traveling the same direction as automobiles and obeying traffic rules. For further information, please read this web page from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation: http://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/safety/education/bike/default.aspx
Appleton and surrounding communities are becoming more bicycle conscious. I applaud the many bike lanes that have been installed in the Fox Cities and look forward to more trails in the future. It is a little disheartening, however, to see a bike lane suddenly end. This leaves the bicyclist with that “What Now” feeling. I do have confidence that things will only get better for bicyclists as time goes on.
Be Safe Out There
Bicycling is a lot of fun for the whole family and can provide basic transportation for local commuters, but taking a few precautions can help keep you safe.