Love a Good Story. I Love a Good Story. Don’t you just Love a Good Story?
Well, here is another Good Story.
Biking or bicycling is one of the best ways to exercise. Biking calls on all parts of the body. The legs and leg muscles (both upper and lower) are needed for locking you in, peddling, strength in peddling and changing gears; the arms and arm muscles are needed to keep the bike straight, make turns, keep the bike on its path riding up and down hills, and to break; the stomach muscles and back muscles are also used in biking. Biking is not just an exercise regimen. A bike serves as a means of transportation for some and for others, a means of enjoyment. Both men and woman bike to and from work and do other errands. Children enjoy riding their bikes (of whatever size) once they learn how. They enjoy the movement of the bike and the fact that they can make the bike “go fast.”
Going for a bike ride either alone or with a group does wonders for some. Once a person learns to ride, and learns about the bike, they can gain so much. For example, biking can enable a person to reach higher. Once you ride one mile, then the next day, you’ll want to go two miles, then three, four, and on and on. When a person sees progress, they can add more mileage until they reach their goal. This behavior flows over into the work-life, the home-life and with other projects. Biking can enable a person to pick up speed as they bike, eliminate the fear of riding up steep hills, passing people and riding in the street. A rider may first want to get off the bike and walk up a steep hill. But riding up steep hills helps the biker accept challenges and be successful with each. Biking can enable a person to develop more confidence, believing that challenges can be overcome. Biking is a rewarding experience for bikers and those who continue to bike over years see the improvement in themselves. I gained so much confidence in myself as I grew as a rider and saw that there was a way to tackle obstacles instead of giving in to those challenges. After I climbed a steep hill, even though I felt like I should call an ambulance, when I finally reached the top, I was ready to go back and do it again. I saw in my work life, even in getting to know people, that I could apply the same attitude.
Though a bike is a way to improve oneself, a means of transportation, it is also a dangerous activity when the rider does not do what is necessary to keep safe. I would like to discuss what I learned while biking. I have been a biker for many years and I often (daily, during pleasant weather) rode from thirty to sixty-five, even seventy miles a day. This advice comes from information passed along to me from bike leaders before a ride, what I saw on the streets and trails, and from my personal experience with my riding.
True bikers start out with one bike, maybe a hybrid, and then progress to a street bike once they are comfortable riding and making personal progress. True bikers have more than one or two bikes. I had three but gave one away. They have a bike for every occasion and take pride in showing off another, or new, bike. Even so, most have their favorite one.
Biking in a rural area, as bikers do for speed, differs vastly from riding in a city, especially Washington, DC. DC requires much more concentration, awareness, and quick thinking than riding on the outskirts of Maryland and Virginia. Riding anywhere, but particularly in DC, can be dangerous if the rider does not take great care.
To begin with, bikers need to take care of the bike regularly for an uneventful bike ride. A flat tire can delay the ride. Regardless of the number of bikes a rider has, before a rider takes the bike out on the street, it should be in good working order. Taking the bicycle for a yearly tune-up is helpful, especially if there are a number of miles on the bike or miles put on the bike in one season. For example, I put over 3,000 miles on my bike from April to September in one season. A lot of riding in a brief period. A complete tune-up would be needed to begin the next season or to ride from April to September during the next year.
A good biker has a good helmet. This should almost cover your entire head and needs to be brought down over your forehead as much as possible. When a biker falls, the head is protected. Women like to leave a portion of hair out. But the ride on the street is through grit and grim. Where are the street cleaners? Remember them? We rarely see them anymore. Hair should not be exposed if possible. It is helpful to wear a headband under the helmet to catch the perspiration.
A good biker wears the proper clothing – a shirt and pants – and they should be of good biking quality. Some pants have seams, some don’t. If a ride goes four or five hours, the seam in the pants can become uncomfortable for the rider. The pants, seemed or seamless, also do not twist around, and when the rider turns, the pants stay in place. There is no pulling or straightening. The shirt stays in place and the pockets in the back carry ID, food bars, car keys, etc. The biking clothes help soak up the perspiration, as well. Biking gloves (with exposed fingers) are needed to grip the handlebars without slipping. Remember that a ride is usually during warm or hot weather and the hands can get sweaty. Also, the handlebars get hot during the ride. Sunglasses that cover the eyes are also needed. Eyes need protecting and biking glasses will help with the protection from the sun and flying debris, such as leaves and flying insects. Biking shoes are necessary. Don’t use tennis shoes or other shoes, use biking shoes. They are sturdy and don’t give while riding. Of course, socks. A computer installed on the bike enables the rider to see the time, miles ridden, and the average speed. Bikers carry other things they need, such as a pump, tire patches, and repair gear, water and/or sport drink, as well as anything they need to make the ride more comfortable. But comfort comes, not necessarily from things, but from riding. A biker gets used to the bike. Biking can be a personal growth experience, improve tolerance, as well as an exercise regimen.
Recently, biking is something else for a new group of people. Perhaps it is due to the gas prices that more people are electing to ride their bicycle to work. From the news, there seems to be more bikers being hit by trucks, buses, and cars. Some bikers do not survive the collision. So far, there have been three or four on the weekly news. Why is this happening?
Many bikers purchase a bike and then ride it. I have witnessed people riding a bike where the knees are always deeply bent. They don’t get the bike sized for them, and they don’t look comfortable on the bike. Before purchasing a bike, the potential rider needs to find out from the store manager whether they will size the bike first. If your legs are too long, which causes the knee to have a deep bent while riding, or a rider has difficulty reaching the handlebars, or the handlebars are uncomfortable, or the seat is too low, too high, then the bike needs to be adjusted according to your size and needs. You may even have to select another bike if the adjustments made are not enough or you may need to have something added to the bike or something removed. A biker needs to control the bike. If the bike is not the correct size, then the biker cannot control the bike. Some people pick a bike they like and buy it without knowing that they can make a change or two on the bike. When a rider is uncomfortable, they will focus on that.
Unless it is a requirement, there are riders who don’t wear a helmet. I know this is hard to believe. Even if it is a requirement, riders feel the requirement is not for them. I’ve seen riders riding without a helmet but have on a hat. It is wise to always wear a helmet. Riders fall off the bike because of the uneven pavement; someone darts out in front of them; the rider approaching is not paying attention, and a collision happens. It is possible to hit your head on the pavement or even the edge of the curve. That could leave you with more than a headache. Even though the onlookers can see the beauty of your hair displayed across the pavement, you can end up with damage to the brain.
I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve seen riding in the street and the trail with flip-flops or sandals. It is dangerous to ride in flip-flops or sandals. A rider can lose their footing and thereby lose control of the bike. Biking requires a shoe with a hard bottom that does not allow give. For the sake of your knees and leg muscles, you need a hard bottom shoe. I didn’t realize that until I had a flat tire. I didn’t have a flat tire kit, either. I decided not to get one. On a ride, I ran over something and immediately my front tire went flat. I tried to ride the bike for as long as I could before I realized that if I continued riding, I would seriously damage the rim. I had to get off the bike and walk the final six miles in my tennis shoes. By the time I got home, I had blisters on almost all my toes. Had I purchased the flat tire kit, I could have simply patched the hole, and had I bought the right shoes, I would have been in a better position. It is not wise to skimp on what you need.
Another thing riders don’t do is to look either left or right to see if the way is clear before crossing an intersection or passing a person. These riders pull out, cutting off other bikers behind them or they go through the intersection as if the way has been cleared for them. If a rider does not see who is coming in an intersection, that can cause the driver of the car to slam on the brakes. I have seen this countless times. Usually, the biker did not stop and was totally unaware. The biker continued riding, oblivious to the “almost collision.”
From my personal experience on the streets or trails, bicyclists don’t seem to know the rules. They ride in the middle of the lane on the street and on a trail. They don’t keep to the right of the street or trail. If they are riding in a small or large group, they seem to think it okay to take the entire lane. Many times, these people are talking loud enough for others in front and behind them to join in on their conversation. When riding in the street, ride as close to the white line on your right as possible. In heavy traffic, slow down and keep your bike straight. It is a good idea to schedule breaks while riding in groups. Then the riders can have their conversation during the break. When riding on a trail, keep to the right. Remember that other people are also using the trail. Also keep the talking to yourselves. If a rider behind you is calling out to pass, you will not hear them, and if you are taking up the entire path, it is hard for them to pass you. It is wise for bikers to keep their mind on riding and what’s happening around them. Animals, especially deer, can come out of nowhere and stand in the street or on the trail watching you. If you are talking, you may not act as quickly as you need.
Some bikers don’t use or know the hand signals that bikers use when turning, changing lanes, or going straight. Let the driver on your left, who is no doubt watching you for a signal, know what you plan to do. It’s not wise to keep the drivers in the dark. They would like to know when they can pass. Sometimes on a two-lane road, a biker may use the entire lane instead of staying close to the white line so that drivers may pass. A bicyclist can see around the curve on the left. If the opposite lane is clear, why not move closer to the right and let the driver know he can pass? Also, if you are as close to the white line as comfortable for you, cars are not behind you. They are afraid to pass you and being careful. For safety reasons, always keep the cars on your left, whether you are going or coming. Never drive in front or behind cars. You want the drivers to see you, as well as you want to see the drivers.
One of the major things I learned from classes and other biking groups when I have ridden with them was to keep out of a trucker’s or car’s blind spot. The name “blind spot,” says it all. The driver cannot see you if you are in his blind spot. Think about when you want to pull into the lane next to you and a driver blows the horn. You didn’t see the car because the car was in your blind spot. The thing to do when biking is to get out of the blind spot. Be certain that you see yourself in that trucker’s side-view mirror. If you can’t see yourself, then move away from the truck or get off the street. A biker must protect him/herself. The trucker will not do that. I’ve had to do this several times.
Not only are cars, buses, and trucks a problem, but people are, too. People, grown adults, step out in front of bicyclists and cause “almost accidents” as well as “full accidents.” People think bikers are to give pedestrians the right of way and bikers should follow the rules of the road since they are riding on the road/street. Can bikers believe they have the right of way?
I’ve seen riders just ride through an intersection as if cars are not there. In one of my classes or articles I read, I found that whether a biker has the right of way, pause at the intersection when cars are there or approaching the intersection. Look at the driver across from you, on your left, and in the lane next to you, and then begin your ride. Don’t assume that the driver will give you the right of way. Let them know. This courtesy is important. Whenever I’ve stopped to give a driver the right of way (which was often), I got a wave from the driver to go on. People just want to be respected. When I figured that out, I always smiled and thanked them for letting me go first.
Riding a bike on the street is dangerous. A person can make the situation worse if they don’t know the hand signals or just decide not to use the hand signals. If a person chooses to ride a bicycle in the street, then it is encumbered upon that person to keep him or herself safe. It is a mistake to leave your life in the hands of others. Learn what to do before you take your first ride. Attend the sessions that bike shops offer or find something on the internet. The recreation department may give classes on bike maintenance and repair, and safety. Attend these classes. You will, without a doubt, need the session on bike repair, particularly the ones on flat tires. Attend the sessions so you will know what to do when you find yourself in trouble. And as you enjoy your ride on a trail or street, when you see someone in trouble, please stop to help that person. Bikers do that.
I have seen information and even read articles on ways to listen to the radio or whatever while riding a bike. There is no question that this is an advertisement from places that want to sell you their “listening gadget.” Under no circumstances should a biker ever use earphones while biking, either on the street or on a trail. I have seen this too many times. A biker needs to attend to what’s happening in front, and on the left and right sides. People blow horns, needing a biker to move out of the way, see the driver, know a car is behind or in front of them. If a biker is busy listening to the radio, the biker is not paying attention to the environment. If you are riding in D.C., you need your attention on the road and on your safety. You will need to do the same on trails where people and children are walking and running, as well as in rural areas. On a street or trail, a rider cannot go into “his world” while riding. In rural areas, a rider has to look out for dogs, deer, and other animals. And how can you use earphones with the helmet on? Learn to keep yourself safe.
Again, before you purchase a bicycle, have it sized for you, take a class on bike repair, signaling, safety, how to ride up hills, when and how to change gears, how to ride in rough terrain, standing while peddling, health issues that may arise, and anything else being offered.
Thank you for reading this. I just wanted to share with you the things I learned while biking in urban and rural areas. Having said all the above, I know I was blessed. I always had the kindest, most thoughtful drivers who offered me the right of way and waited for me to turn or whatever. I cherish those memories of these people with loving hearts.
In The Attractiveness of Wisdom, Hamilton taught his three children to ride a bike. The kids were always equipped with the proper gear as well. In the novel, Hamilton took his kids on a ride in Pennsylvania where they raced against an Amish man and boy in a one-horse carriage. I wonder who won. Later Hamilton took his youngest son, Jeremy, on the bike path around the lake that he inspired his university to create. I encourage you to read the story. Below is the link for the Kindle version, but you can also get the paperback. Don’t forget to email me afterward.