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Features & Articles : Getting Back on Your Bicycle

By Andy Clarke

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If it's been too long since you've ridden your bicycle last, now's the time to dust off your bicycle and join the more than 60 million Americans who'll get out and ride during this year's National Bike Month. Here's a few tips to save some embarassment and to keep you safe!

1. Get Your Bicycle Checked Out!
Take your bicycle to your local bicycle shop and get a tune-up. Your bike is a wonderfully simple and efficient machine, but needs some TLC - and you don't want to break down your first time out. Most bike dealers have spring specials to check the essentials; brakes, gears, tires, etc. and squirt oil in all the right places.

2. Get Yourself Checked Out!
If you really haven't ridden in a long time, it might be wise to check in with your doctor and see if there's any reason you shouldn't be saddling up and going for a spin. Bicycling is such a great way to get the recommended daily dose of exercise that chances are your doctor will encourage you to go for it. Don't try and ride 50 miles straight away; take it slowly and you'll enjoy the ride and still be able to walk again the next day.

3. Deck Yourself Out with the Latest Gear
Simplicity is certainly one of the attractions of bicycling - you can just hop on your bike and start riding. But, there's also a lot of equipment available to make your ride safer and more comfortable. Things have come a long way since the days of the wool cycling shorts...for example:

A wide variety of helmets are available in different styles and price ranges. Your local bike dealer will help you get the right size and fit.

A sturdy lock is essential if you're planning on riding your bike and leaving it somewhere for awhile.

Front and rear lights and reflectors are required, and make good sense, if you're going to be riding at night or dusk

Padded shorts, gloves and other special clothing will make longer rides more comfortable, but probably aren't necessary for riding to the video store and back.

4. Find a Safe Place to Practice
Again, if you really haven't ridden in a long time, it makes sense to regain your confidence on the bike and practice somewhere safe as opposed to on the main road to work. Find a quiet street, trail, playground or empty parking lot and get back in touch with your bike handling skills. Practice looking behind you, making turns, stopping suddenly, dodging rocks or potholes, changing gears, and even getting on and off. If you are using toe clips or clipless pedals, take a few extra minutes to remind yourself how to get your feet out in a hurry!

5. Follow the Rules of the Road
When you're ready to hit the road or trail, remembering a few basic safety rules will help you avoid the most common mistakes that cause crashes. Though not a frequent occurrence, you can find out more about what causes bike crashes by going to the Bike Matrix.

Always ride with traffic. Forget what you heard in the past, you are better off riding with the flow of traffic, not against it. You are much more predictable and visible to motorists, especially at intersections and driveways.

Don't ride on the sidewalk. Although you might think it's a safer option, motorists are simply not looking for bicyclists on the sidewalk, especially those riding against traffic. So at every driveway and intersection, you are at much greater risk of being hit by a motorist than if you were riding on the road with traffic. Pedestrians will thank you for riding on the road as well.

Ride on the trail, paved shoulder, bike lane, or bike route. But, you still need to follow the rules of the road and watch out for your fellow travelers. Ride to the right, signal your turns, obey traffic signs and signals.

Be predictable and visible. Try not to be hesitant or do things that motorists and other travelers may not be expecting. Make sure everyone can see you and knows where you are and where you are going.

Watch for turning traffic. Perhaps rather surprisngly, the crash data tells us that getting hit from behind is extremely unlikely. Most car/bike collisions happen at intersections and
driveways when motorists or bicyclists are turning. So, at every intersection and driveway, keep a careful eye out for:

    • Motorists turning right in front of you - you may be going faster than they think;

    • Motorists turning left across your path - drivers are looking for gaps in traffic and may not be paying attention to anything other than other motor vehicles;
Watch for stuff on the road or trail that might make you fall or swerve - rocks, trash, wet leaves, potholes, gravel, railroad tracks and even wet pavement markings can all send you flying.

6. Have Fun
Bicycling is fun, healthy, safe, convenient, and by riding you are setting a great example to others. So above all have a great time riding. Communities across the United States celebrate National Bike Month with all kinds of events and activities, so find out what's going on in your community, follow these simple tips, and have a great ride.