But wait – before you get back in the saddle, take some time for a tune-up and brush up on your rules of the (two-wheeled) road.
First, let’s make sure your bike is ready for a safe spring ride.
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) recommends the following safety checks:
A is for Air: Check your tires and make sure they’re properly inflated. When you press your thumb on each tire you shouldn’t be able to dent it. They should feel good and solid. Riding on under-inflated or “soft” tires can lead to flats or even ruin your bike’s rims.
B is for Brakes: Squeeze your brake levers (or pedal backwards on some bikes) to make sure they’re working and you’ll be able to stop safely. Take a look at the brake pads, too. They need to be replaced when there’s about a dime’s width left. If your brakes are squealing they might need adjusted – it’s a good idea to let the experts handle that at your local bike shop.
C is for Chain: You want your bike chain to be slightly oily (definitely not rusty) and it should make a straight line across the bottom of the loop.
Before you head out for a ride around town, take a short ride and test out your brakes, gears and see how the ride feels. Make sure when the pedal is all the way down your leg is almost (but not entirely) straight. Proper leg extension will help prevent muscle injuries.
If your leg isn’t nearly straight when the pedal is at the bottom of its rotation, raise your seat until it is. It might feel too high, you might have to balance on your tip-toes when you’re stopped, but it’s better to hop off the seat when you stop than to injure your leg muscles.
The League of American Bicyclists lists five steps to riding better:
1. Follow the Rules of the Road
- Ride with traffic and obey all traffic laws.
- Use the lane furthest to the right.
- Always look back and use hand and arm signals to communicate with drivers and/or riders around you.
2. Be Visible
- Ride where drivers can see you.
- Wear brightly colored clothing.
- At night, wear reflective clothing and use a white light on the front of your bike and a red rear light or reflector.
3. Be Predictable
- Ride in a straight line.
- Make eye contact with drivers around you.
- Stay off the sidewalk.
4. Anticipate Conflicts
- Be aware of what’s going on around you and be ready to react.
- Review your braking and turning techniques.
- Be extra alert at intersections.
5. Wear a Helmet
- Make sure your helmet fits properly.
- If you’ve been in a crash with your helmet, replace it immediately.
Want more safety tips and instructions for preparing for your first ride of the season? The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) put together a highly-detailed comic book called “Sprocket Man” (PDF) that goes through everything from getting ready to ride to safely negotiating a busy intersection.
Whether you’re an experienced cyclist or new to the activity, consider participating in Bike to Work Day May 18, 2012! Stop by the Frederick MARC Station (on South East Street downtown) between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. for raffle prizes, food, drink and more. Registered participants get a free t-shirt.