Cycling safety tips

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By CHRISTINA CLARK
Staff Writer

The weather is getting warmer (well, let’s hope anyway) and with that comes the drive to get outside a little more. To stretch one’s legs a bit. Some choose to take the tops off of their Jeeps, and some put thetops of their convertibles down. Others will hop on bicycles to get where they’re going.

A few brave students have already started riding to class (with some dedicated ones cycling throughout the winter). With events like “Bike The Bend” and “Bike to Work Week,” South Bend has been raising more awareness for bicyclists on the road. Continuing the trend of awareness, the South Bend Common Council’s recently passed an ordinance requiring three feet of room between a bicyclist and a passing motor vehicle. Violation of the new law carries a small fine of $15.

South Bend is a Bronze Level “Bicycle Friendly Community” with the League of American Bicyclists. The city has created many bike paths, designated roads to be shared and installed bike lanes on busy routes. But even with all these programs and projects, there are still lots of things cyclists and motorists can do to watch out for each other, making commutes and leisure rides safer for everyone.

Preface Photo /CHRISTINA CLARK
Preface Photo /CHRISTINA CLARK

According to Indiana bicycle law’s found on www.bicycleindiana.org, bicyclists riding on a roadway have “all the rights and duties under this article that are applicable to a person who drives a vehicle.”

This means that a bicyclist should ride with the flow of traffic on the side of the road. Riding against the flow gives motorists and cyclists little time to react to each other. A cyclist should behave with caution like any other vehicle on the road.

Riding two abreast is also addressed, as it is illegal to do on a roadway but allowable on designated bike paths away from roads. Riding two across to talk to a friend at a leisurely pace is somewhat acceptable in residential areas (with caution) and on wide bicycle paths though.

Another law is that a bicycle on a highway needs to have a white lamp on the front and a red lamp on the back, visible 500 feet in both directions. This is also advisable on a normal road.  Making the bike more visible from behind prevents cars from coming up too closely, and the front lamp doubles as a headlight and visibility marker.

Local Granger bicycle shop, Spin Zone Cycling, has “Traffic Basics” interpretations of Indiana bicycle laws on their website.Hand signals (that many have forgotten after driver’s ed ended) are how bicyclists must let motorists alert surrounding traffic to what they’re doing.

Signaling only with your left arm, rising your hand up from the elbow to signal a right hand turn, sticking your hand straight out from your shoulder to signal a left hand turn, and bending your elbow so that your hand is down by your side to signal a slowing or stop, are all outlined and highly suggested.

“It is safer to ride in the middle of the lane when you’re moving the same speed as traffic, when the lane is too small to pass safely, or when you’re avoiding potholes and parked cars,” the site states.

Another judgment that many cyclists have a hard time making is the ominous left hand turn when a lane change is. The site dictates “when turning left, occupy the left side of the lane, signal, and turn like you would if you were in a motor vehicle. This way, a left-turning car behind you could not pass you until you have completed your turn.” Riding predictably is a major point that is stressed throughout the section. When a motorist knows and can anticipate what a cyclist is doing, it is a safer situation for both involved.

Helmets are also an integral part of riding a bicycle. While there are some exciting new developments on this front (see www.hovding.com for essentially a discreet airbag for your head that comes in many fashionable designs), the good old standby bicycle helmet is still best. Fashionable hair is less important than an intact skull.

According to www.helmets.org, seventy percent of cyclists killed in accidents 2010 were not wearing helmets.

Motorists should be aware that cyclists are on the roads, and that the city has taken steps to encourage this. There are more bike racks are available in downtown South Bend, an increase in bike lanes and “Share the Road” signs, and more people are participating in bicycle events.

Being alert, focused, and courteous will help motorists and cyclists coexist peacefully. Learning the laws and practices of the road is important for both parties to create a safer environment for everyone.

Happy spring and safe cycling!

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