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Brandon West
Brandon West
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Cyclists Strap on Your Helmets & Turn on Your Lights – It’s Been a Rough Summer

6 comments

Santa Cruz is more than a beautiful beach town – it’s also a rich and diverse haven for cyclists of any discipline. With no shortage of back roads, challenging hill climbs, some of the best mountain biking on the West Coast and a significant population of alternative bike commuters, it would be logical to assume that riding a bike in Santa Cruz would be relatively safe. Generally speaking it is when looking only at total number of incidents – 2009 (most recent data) listed 1,100 occupant injuries reported in cars compared to 177 for cyclists. But the public’s confidence in bike safety is on shaky ground after three accidents in the last 30 days have left two cyclists dead and one injured.

Looking deeper into the accident numbers provided by the Office of Traffic Safety, one thing is clear, cyclists skimp on safety equipment. Of the 177 cycling injury accidents reported in 2009, 141 were found to not be using safety equipment. This equates to 79.6% of cyclists not wearing basic protection – a helmet! Of the three fatalities in 2009, none were reported to have been wearing basic protection.

What is a cyclist supposed to do?

Just yesterday I was asked this very question. The answer is simple – take steps to protect yourself. While not all accidents can be prevented – car, bike or otherwise, it is on our shoulders as cyclists to take the precautions we can to protect ourselves. The following short list is a starting point for cyclist safety:

  • Wear a helmet. Yes, it will flatten your hair, but not as much as the asphalt will if an accident were to occur. Proper fit and coverage are important for the helmet to absorb impact energy – if you are unsure of your size any reputable bike shop should be able to assist in selecting a proper fit. I personally use helmets made by Giro and Specialized. Regardless of brand, make sure the helmet complies with current safety standards.
  • Obey the law. Cyclists are responsible to obey traffic laws set forth by the vehicle code and local ordinances. This includes stopping at traffics lights and stop signs, using hand signals and riding on the right side of the road. You wouldn’t run a red light or a stop sign in your car, and a bike should be no different.
  • Be seen. Don’t make it a challenge for drivers to see you, day or night. During the day light hours, this can include bright colored clothes, reflectors and red flashing rear lights. Many cars have day time running lights and in the afternoon when windshield glare can hide cyclists riding in the shade, reflectors and flashing lights can be the difference between being seen and an accident. If riding at dusk/night, lights are not only an important safety precaution, but required by law. You wouldn’t drive your car at night without the headlights on – same logic applies to your bike. In California, the minimum requirements are:

    1. A lamp emitting a white light that, while the bicycle is in motion, illuminates the highway, sidewalk, or bikeway in front of the bicyclist and is visible from a distance of 300 feet in front and from the sides of the bicycle.

    2. A red reflector on the rear that shall be visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful upper beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle.

    3. A white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoe, or ankle visible from the front and rear of the bicycle from a distance of 200 feet.

    4. A white or yellow reflector on each side forward of the center of the bicycle, and a white or red reflector on each side to the rear of the center of the bicycle, except that bicycles that are equipped with reflectorized tires on the front and the rear need not be equipped with these side reflectors.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Always be aware of your surroundings – this is not limited to just the traffic in front of you. This includes road debris, broken pavement, small animals and traffic from behind. Daily I observe drivers turning into driveways without turn signals – and can only assume they fail to see me despite my visual precautions – I never assume drivers see me. Riding with headphones impairs your ability to hear – a major concern since bikes do not have rearview mirrors. Leave the music for the car or gym. Don’t forget killer squirrels – those little furry creatures aren’t as friendly as you might think.
  • Wear identification. In the event an accident occurs and you are knocked unconscious or separated from your bike (and the seat bag where you handily stored your ID), you need a method to tell the authorities who you are, who to call, blood type and if you have any special medical needs. I wear a Road ID around my ankle whether I ride on the dirt or road.

Riding your bike for pleasure, fitness or as an alternative type of transportation can be incredibly rewarding as well as part of a healthy lifestyle. I would know; I am in the saddle at least five days a week. By not taking proper precautions, too much is left to chance. Strap on your helmet and go enjoy the fun that cycling can bring.

6 Comments

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  1. tal says:
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    Thanks for a clear and concise article. It is unfortunately all too true that we cyclists are often the cause of our own incidents.

  2. Brandon West says:
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    Thanks Tal. Often times we are major contributors to our own accidents – though we also have to deal with a different set obstacles. It’s not like cars have to deal with Killer Squirrels: http://www.chainreaction.com/squirrels.htm
    ;-)

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    How can you omit the most important safety rule?: DON’T RIDE OFF-ROAD! Deaths and serious injuries from mountain biking are quite common (around 1-2 per week). That’s to say nothing about the environmental harm that mountain bking does.

    Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1994: http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/mtb10 . It’s dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don’t have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else — ON FOOT! Why isn’t that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking….

    A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it’s not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/scb7 ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

    Those were all experimental studies. Two other studies (by White et al and by Jeff Marion) used a survey design, which is inherently incapable of answering that question (comparing hiking with mountain biking). I only mention them because mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

    Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it’s NOT!). What’s good about THAT?

    For more information: http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/mtbfaq .

  4. Brandon West says:
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    Hi Mike –
    Thanks for your insight. Unfortunately, this discussion had nothing to do with the environmental impact of mountain biking. But I’ll bite. Following your logic, in regards to environmental damage, then not only should I not drive my car, but avoid paved roads due to impact on surrounding foliage, electricity (from production to the appliances that burn it), and all fish due to impact on the ocean ecosystem. Maybe I should avoid strawberries, potatoes and lettuce too – have to turn over dirt in a field somewhere, and that too will have a negative environmental impact. While I won’t disagree that mountain bikes impact the environment in which they are used, the car in your driveway and roof over your head has a greater negative impact than the mountain bike in my garage. If environmental damage is your concern, how about this – get plastic bags, Styrofoam and cars banned in your town. A much larger, more positive environmental impact.

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    Brandon, you completely ignored my point. While pretending to care about safety, you continue to promote mountain biking, which is extremely dangerous. If you still need evidence, see http://mjvande.nfshost.com/mtb_dangerous.htm for 200+ instances of serious injuries and deaths caused by mountain biking. How can someone who purports to be interested in safety ignore THAT elephant in the room? You aren’t being honest, apparently in an effort to shield your hobby from bad publicity.

    As to evidence of environmental harm caused by mountain biking (which is obvious and undeniable, of course), see http://mjvande.nfshost.com/scb7.htm.

  6. Brandon West says:
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    Hi Mike –
    I ignored one of your points, due to context – this post had nothing to do with mountain biking – but safety on the road. At no point did I imply that mountain biking was 100% safe – it has a long list of inherent risks. As does driving your car (http://www.ksbw.com/news/28525870/detail.html), going to a baseball game, flying in an airplane and walking through a crosswalk. The choice is yours whether you accept the implied risk or not. A risk acceptable to me may not be acceptable to you, but that is the beauty of choice – I can pick what risks I am willing to tolerate, as can you. If you want to make your anti-MTB message heard, I suggest going right to the top and contact the International Mountain Bicycling Association (http://www.imba.com) as they have much greater influence than I.

    There is no dishonesty or hiding about my riding or injuries – I have sustained multiple MTB injuries and those that know me are very aware of what I’ve gone through and why I continue to ride. I accept that risk every time I clip in at the trail head. But that choice is mine – just like every other person that does the same. Doesn’t mean that advocating use of safety equipment is ‘wrong’.