May is a wonderful month! It’s full of many wonderful things – my birthday (May 2), Mother’s Day, Memorial Day (aka a long weekend), lilies of the valley, warm weather, and this year, a baby princess was born on my birthday! I’m sure that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will name Princess Cambridge after me.
But May is also <drumroll please> National Bike Month! And the start of the National Bike Challenge! And Bike to Work Day is May 15th! And Bike to School Day is May 6! So many bike things to celebrate this month, so dust off those bikes and get out there!
But before you get too excited, I’d like to share some thoughts about how to make it a better experience for all of us. I’ve observed some things in my days, weeks and years of biking around that are unsafe, illegal, or discourteous, and it concerns me, because I spend a good deal of my outreach time listening to people ranting about how “those bicyclists” are putting drivers and pedestrians in danger by their careless behavior. I know there are people out there who follow the rules and are careful and are victims of careless, discourteous and unsafe drivers nevertheless. But I think it is important to try to do the right thing. I’d like to see a day when drivers have nothing to rant about – maybe then they would realize that car drivers are worse than bicyclists and pedestrians!
So let’s talk about some things I’ve observed.
Helmets – a bike helmet is meant to be worn on the top of your head, right above your eyebrows, parallel to the ground, not on the back of your head, the side of your head, or backwards. The helmet should fit TWO finger widths above your eyebrows. Tighten those straps under your chin, if it won’t stay on properly; that’s what they are there for. Check out this really great article from KVAL.com – an oldie but a goodie. This is especially important for children – please please please make sure their helmets not only fit properly, but check them frequently if you are biking with them to make sure they stay like that.
Hand Signals -Using your hands to indicate which way you are planning on turning is no different than using turn signals in a car (you do signal before you plan on turning, right?). But it’s important to make sure that others actually see your hand signal. I specifically am referring to the practice I frequently see (if I see a cyclist signaling a left turn, that is) where the person on the bike flicks their hand out around their waist area. If I didn’t know what it meant, I would have NO idea that it indicates a desire to move to the left. Stick your arm straight out! It’s not hard! Consider it a good time to stretch your shoulder. Make it obvious to the people behind you that you intend to do something. You won’t win cool points if you flip your hand and someone fails to realize what you are doing.
Bike Correctly in the Bike Lane – In the last week or two, I have come across people biking towards me in the bike lane. No! Not only is this incorrect, it’s scary – geez, we don’t have enough threats to worry about without other cyclists making it worse! If you are riding in a bike lane, you need to go the same direction as the traffic, unless of course you are in a two-way bike lane. Those, however, are few and far between outside of Pennsylvania Ave in DC, so chances are good that you are not. Seriously, it is bad enough that runners think they can run the wrong direction in a bike lane, please, please, if you are on a bike, find the proper place to be.
Stay Out of the Way If Stopped – If you need to stop for some reason, do not stop in the middle of the lane. Move to the side, so that you are not creating a potential traffic jam. If your car suddenly dies in the middle of a lane, what do you do? You try to move it out of the way of other cars. Same with a bicycle. I’ve seen kids do this and I’ve seen roadies do this. It’s unsafe.
Red Traffic Lights – Technically, bicyclists are supposed to stop at red lights. Legally, bicyclists are supposed to obey all traffic signs, signals, lights, and markings. I make an effort to stop at red lights, so at least once a week (sometimes daily), I will see someone bike past me, then swerve into the pedestrian crosswalk to continue biking through the red light. This does not make it okay! This is still going through a red light! The pedestrians have a “don’t walk” signal too! Swerving back and forth between the road and crosswalks/sidewalks confuses me, confuses drivers and confuses pedestrians. Also, when stopping at a red light, don’t stop in the middle of the intersection and start up as soon as the opposite light turns yellow.
Whether you are new to biking, starting up again after time away, or think you know it all, brushing up on rules and etiquette during National Bike Month is a good idea, sort of like changing smoke detector batteries when the Daylight Savings ends and begins. Just get into a habit of occasionally reviewing a few websites. I’ve linked to a few of my favorites here:
Lastly, I encourage you to sign up for the National Bike Challenge, if you haven’t already. The five-month challenge rewards you for just getting on your bike, so regardless of where you go, how far you ride, and what type of bicycle you prefer, this challenge is for you! I hope to see you in the bike lanes (modeling good behavior, of course)!