This article was originally published in the Friday July 2nd 2010 edition of the Lake Tahoe paper, the Sierra Sun.
Summer has finally (officially) arrived in the Sierras. These cloudless days of endless warmth bring cyclists of all types onto Truckee's roads, trails and bike paths. From bike commuters on their way to work, kids of all ages zooming through neighborhoods, sightseers touring Truckee on two-wheels and recreational cyclists enjoying the open road. While their ages, destinations and pedal-powered machines may be different, safety is common concern. Here's a few tips we can all follow to stay safe while enjoying a Tahoe summer on the bike.
Yearly Bicycle Maintenance
Bicycles are relatively simple machines, and require minimal maintenance to keep them running safe for decades. However, if you are blowing dust and cobwebs off your ride, it's worth a trip into the bike shop for a check-up. Tires can dry out and crack, bolts can loosen after a season of use and shifting problems can arise after a winter of shuffling a bike around the garage. Minor equipment issues left ignored can turn into equipment failures at mile 50 into a 100 mile ride. It's a situation easily avoided with a simply yearly check-up. Most shops will happily inspect your bike at no charge.
Helmets and Gloves for Protection
When it comes to protecting your head, wearing a helmet becomes a life-or-death matter. The only other safety device you have on a bicycle is your brakes. In the event of a crash, there is no seat belt, no air bags, no roll bars and no crumple zones to protect your body. A bicycle crash with head trauma can happen at 2 mph just as easily as at 20 mph. So whether it's a 5 minute trip to the general store or a 5 hour ride in the mountains, strap a lid on your noggin and preserve your brain trust.
In the event of a mishap, wearing gloves prevents a very common bike injury, road rash. If you have ever fallen off your bicycle, you know that's it is instinctual to reach out with your hands and attempt to brace your body for impact. During minor spills, wearing gloves could be the difference between a trip to the hospital for stitches versus a chuckle as you dust yourself off.
Understand Your Place on the Roads
Automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians are all trying to go somewhere in Tahoe. How can we all get along and stay safe? Cars are restricted to roads; bicycles are restricted to roads, bike lanes and bike paths; pedestrians have no restrictions but are safest on sidewalks and walkways. When you are on your bicycle, your are bound to the same traffic laws as when you are driving your car. The only difference is that you have access to bike lanes. Stop signs, stop lights, turn lanes and turn signaling laws apply to every cyclist on the street. Unless you are walking with your bike, avoid riding on sidewalks. Not only is it dangerous to yourself and those around you, but it's illegal in California.
By adhering to the rules-of-the-road, automobile drivers will be more aware of your presence. As more cyclists as a whole adopt these practices, the bicycle versus car incidents will decline. Truckee is trending towards being a bicycle friendly community and the best way to get there is if we all stay safe.
Team rider Nick Schaffner is the author of this week's Cyclepaths/Wild Cherries Racing column. Cyclepaths/Wild Cherries Racing (www.cwcracing.org) is a Truckee-based cycling team focused on racing and local bike advocacy.