Whether you are looking to do a triathlon or just looking to cross-train, getting on your bike is much more fun after you learn a few safety tips!
Maintaining Your Bike
Be nice to your bike and your bike will be good to you. Some general maintenance will keep your bike in tip top shape. Clean your bike every so often (including your chain), dry it off after riding in wet weather to prevent it from rusting and lube your chain. It's not hard to do and a little TLC will keep you and your bike happy.
Checking Your Wheels and Tire Pressure
Your tires will lose a little air every day. Every time you ride, you should check your tire pressure (squeezing them with your fingers doesn't work). You can find the maximum recommended inflation on the tire sidewall (commonly between 90-120psi). Look for the number before the "psi." Riding with low tire pressure is like running in boots. You'll get a great workout but won't be riding your potential. You are also at risk of getting a pinch flat and keeping up with a group will be a lot harder. Invest in a good pump. General pumps used to inflate balls will not be good enough. Buy a bike specific pump with a pressure gauge. All bike pumps are not created equally. We've used some where the air shot out of the bottom of the pump instead of through the hose into your tire. Our tried and true pumps that have not failed us yet are Joe Blow pumps.
Before you ride, also check to make sure your wheel skewers are on tight. You don't want to hit a bump in the road and have your wheel come flying off! Your wheel skewer should be tight enough that it leaves an indent in the palm of your hand when you close it. It should not be so tight that you can't open it again. Be especially vigilant in checking this if you need to take any of the wheels off to get your bike in your car in case one day you put the wheels on loosely just to put the bike away when you get home.
Being Prepared for a Flat
There are a few things that we recommend that you take with you on your ride. We hope that it won't happen to you, but flats happen. As luck would have it, you will get a flat in an area with no cell phone coverage so don't rely on making a phone call to have someone come rescue you or it could be a long walk back. Be sure you know how to change a tire. Contact us if you would like us to schedule a tire changing clinic for your group! To change a flat, you will need:
- 2-3 tire levers (used to get the tire off the wheel)
- extra tube (be sure it is the right size and has the right valve stem size for your wheel. Bring your wheel into your local bike shop if you are unsure of what size you need).
- pump or CO2 cartridges and inflator adaptor. For newbies we prefer a small pump over the CO2's. You have 1 shot to get it right with the CO2 and if you mess it up, you are out of luck. A small pump will fit in the back of your jersey pocket or attach to your bike frame.
- small saddle bag to store all of your flat changing tools listed above. This will sit neatly below your seat.
Riding on the Road
One of the things that makes most new cyclist the most nervous is riding on the road with cars. While most places are starting to pass laws to try to protect cyclists (i.e. 3ft passing rule and not following too closely behind), there are things that you can do to avoid a run-in with a car.
1. Be visible. Wear brightly colored clothing. Florescent colors are great and they are back in style!
2. Always run blinky lights on the front and back of your bike. Use a bright white light for the front and red light for the back. The brighter the better!
3. Ride with a friend or a small group. You are more likely to be seen if you ride with a group. Note: riding with a very large group has it's challenges and has it's own dangers, but riding in small groups increases your chances of being seen.
4. It may look really geeky, but we LOVE our rear view mirror. The name of the game is staying alive! Mirrors are great especially for new riders who are just trying to stay upright. Turning to look behind can be very difficult for new riders. You'd be amazed at how difficult it is to hear a car coming from behind you. The wind in your face is one of the best feelings, but the wind in your ears makes it very difficult to hear cars approaching.
5. Obey the traffic laws. Don't blow through stop signs and red lights. A bike on the road is just like any other vehicle. If you want cars to respect your right to be on the road, make sure you respect the traffic laws. Road rage against cyclists is partly due to the few cyclists who do not make the best decisions on the road.
6. Always assume that a car will pull out in front of you. Be prepared to stop if you are approaching a car at a crossroad trying to turn in front of you. Often times, drivers misjudge how fast you are traveling and they will turn in front of you. Avoid being t-boned and be ready to break or stop. Be aware!
7. Maintain your position and be confident on the road. Do not try to ride as far to the right as you possibly can without going in the ditch. There is debris in the road, potholes, etc. Maintain your position on the right side of the road, but not too far right. Leave yourself some room should you need to ride around a hazard on the road. Riding too far to the right invites cars to try to squeeze by you at any point. Ride confidently in the lane and let the car pass you when it is safe to do so.
Images from www.bikexprt.com
When going as fast as the cars, you are much safer if you ride in the middle of the traffic lane where the driver behind you can see you.
The driver next to you has not seen you and could turn or merge right.
8. Do not ride too closely to parked cars! Do not ride in the door zone. A car door could swing open at any moment. Check out this video to see his is what it looks like to get doored. For this poor fellow, it looks like he also go hit by the cab. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v3Ne23CNLQ
9. Use signals to let the cars know which way you are going. Don't know the correct hand signals for left and right? Just point to the direction you are going.
Riding with Other Riders
Riding with friends or a group can be the best part of riding bikes. Here are a few tips for staying safe when riding in a group.
1. Don't overlap wheels. It's great to ride and chat, but be sure you are either riding next to each other (as long as you are not impeding traffic) or single file without overlapping wheels. If the you overlap wheels and the person in front moves suddenly to the side either to avoid something in the road, from reaching down to grab a water bottle or from turning around to talk to the person behind, the front rider's wheel will hit the back rider's front wheel and usually results in the back rider going down.
Don't do this! Or this could be you!
2. Use signals or yell commands to let the other riders know what is coming. Commands such as "slowing" or "stopping" will let the riders behind know to let off of the gas before they plow into the riders in front. Also use command such as "car up" meaning a car is coming towards you or "car back" meaning a car is approaching from the rear. This will allow riders to safely move to the side of the road and will allow riders to be more aware when the car passes. Be sure to pass the message down the line so that all riders in your group hear the message.
Another great item to have is a Road ID or equivalent (especially if riding alone). Even if you are riding with friends, they may not know who to call in the event of an emergency (or that person's phone number) and they may not know that you are allergic to penicillin. Be sure to carry some sort of ID and emergency contact information.
Riding bikes is probably one the most enjoyable things you can do. We encourage you to get out and hit the road and stay safe! Happy training!
If you are in the Richmond. VA area, join us for a beginner friendly ride every week at West Creek Parkway at 3pm.