Having grown up riding a bike, commuting to school and jobs on 2-wheels and racing in bike road races and time trials, I have seen some of the very best (and worst) of cycling. While most riders observe safety and common sense precautions, other riders and members of the peloton seem to want to increase their chances for crashing, broken bones and brain injury. My “Top 10” list of things to do if you WANT to crash your bike and break some bones includes:
1. Talk on your cell phone, preferably with one or both hands off the handlebars. I rarely ride without my right hand firmly on the bar; I don’t know how to ride with “no hands.”
2. Eliminate your ability to hear people passing or shouting warnings by being completely “tuned out” via the headphones of your iPod, MP3, Walkman (I know, “old school”). You need ALL 5 senses to ride your bicycle safely on the street and on the trail. If you cannot hear, you will miss warnings, instructions and cues that help you anticipate danger.
3. Do not wear a helmet. Who’s afraid of a little traumatic brain injury ? A concussion, blunt head trauma or spine injury would just be a “Red Badge of Courage” to these folks who forsake their head protection. I hear the excuse “I’m not going that fast.” Well, my own wife shattered her elbow going no more than 5 mph near the Route 15/Luck Quarry intersection in Loudoun County, Virginia. Surgery by top area orthopedic specialist Tom Fleeter repaired her damaged right arm, but left her missing some bone fragments and with a a large scar. Bikers can sustain fractures and head injuries at even very low speeds.
4. Text message while pedaling or coasting. If you use both hands, you have no hands on the brakes and you will not be paying “full time and attention” to your bike riding. I have seen people actually doing this, and it amazes me that they can do so, as my fingers are too big and clumsy to text efficiently and the screens are very hard to see.
5. Ignore the traffic lights. After all, a bicycle is not a car. I have seen bikers “bust through” a light for the thrill of it, and thought it will just be a matter of time before someone bolts as the light changes to green and clips the bike, or worse. Many motorists are not looking for bicycles on the local streets, especially fast moving ones with riders in the tuck or “aero” position. And, if the peloton has just passed through safely, motorists may not think there are any more riders in a chase group or individually, and chances of an impact with a car are increased. I point out to people I ride with in the Herndon Reston area, that in a crash between a car, truck, motorcycle and a bicycle (and even a large peloton), the bicyclists will get the worst of it.
6. Ride your bike when it is broken, especially the brakes. I have been involved in my fair share of crashes. They are almost all my fault. Pieces of equipment falling into the fork in England; trying to modify my bike going into a hairpin turn in Italy; running into a slick spot in Greenwhich, CT all left me with painful reminders of the importance of checking your ride and the course before pedaling. Spend the extra minutes and do what the pilots do; a “Pre-Flight Check” may prevent permanent injuries, head trauma or worse.
7. Pretend you and your companions own the road. Forget the “Share the Road” bumper stickers. Ride your bicycle 4 or 5 abreast. You can do this with or against traffic and make your peloton very popular. Forcing cars and especially trucks onto the median can be fun if you do not mind the occasional getting run off the road and thrown into a ditch.
8. Do not give any audible or visual signals. Do not call out, as you are overtaking walkers, runners, baby strollers, skaters, “Passing on your left.” Instead zoom by them as close as you can so that if you do not clip them, knock them down or cause lacerations, you’ll at least give them a good fright ! Not signaling with your arms that you are turning or slowing down will up the odds of your becoming a crash victim and will also ensure that you will not win “Mr. Popularity” in the peloton. I am personally grateful to those bikers who call or point out potholes, gravel and other potentially dangerous conditions when I am riding with a group. I also appreciate those bicycles who use bells to signal their passing or turning.
9. Ride at night or in low light conditions, wearing dark clothing with no reflectors or lights. While I admire people who bicycle commute year round, those who do so without proper reflective gear and lights are taking a huge risk of injury and disability. Most criterium racing and triathlon bikes do not have reflectors, because of the weight. If you are using a “high end” bike and aero wheels before dawn or after dusk, consider adding reflectors for better side visibility, as well as helmet and bike lighting systems. Those who know me know that I try to wear bright colored clothing so that I am visible to motorists, truckers and other cyclists. It amazes me when I see someone riding with little light outside in an all black kit.
10. Ignore the signs. Stop signs apply to all vehicles traveling on the road. “Slow,” Yield,” “Merge,” and “Road Closed” signs apply to bicycles if they are being ridden on the travel surface of the road. And, if the signs say, “No Bikes,” “Pedestrians Only” or “Walk your Bike” then that is what you ought to do if you want to avoid a terrible bicycle crash, permanent scars, brain or spinal cord injury.
If you do all of the above bone-headed things, then you should seriously think about becoming an organ donor… Doug Landau, the TriathlonTrialLawyer