I’ve had my share of falls on a bike. When I was little I skidded out on a gravel road and skinned my knee. In high school, my brakes failed, I couldn’t make the turn on a steep descent, nearly hit a KU basketball player, and rear-ended his parked car. A few years ago, my shoelace got caught in my chainring. I slowed but couldn’t free myself in time and fell. I fell on a patch of gravel I’d safely traversed twice daily for years. When I first got toe cages I forgot to take my foot out at a stop sign and fell over (this is really common by the way).
I’m not alone in these silly mistakes. My mom rode into a rosebush. My dad slipped on the slick mud hidden by a puddle. My cousin hit a patch of ice and fractured her elbow. My professor zoned out and went straight where the road curved.
“Control Your Bike” is the first layer of crash prevention because 83% of bike wrecks don’t involve a car. Most bicyclists believe the biggest threat is cars and trucks, but potholes, railroad tracks, and dogs are bigger problems.
Astute readers at this point may say, “Wrecks that don’t involve a car might be more common, but those involving a car are more deadly. I’ll take my chances with the potholes, thanks.” The statistics rely on reported wrecks, medical or police reports, which are typically quite serious. So the car-free bike crashes contributing to these statistics are just as serious as the car-bike collisions. Most of the wrecks I described were not reported since they did not require police or medical attention.
You can improve your control of your bike with these simple steps.
-Ride at least an arm’s length from the edge of the road. Potholes and debris accumulate at the far edge of the road. Riding about 18” from the edge of the road lets you avoid most of that without even trying. When there is an obstacle in your path, scan behind you for traffic, and when it is clear, maneuver around the obstacle.
-Don’t ride on sidewalks. In addition to putting you at increased risk of collisions at driveways and intersections, sidewalks have more obstacles.
-Know what to watch out for. Experience will teach you these lessons thoroughly, but it is possible to learn from someone else’s experience. Here are some common causes:Gravel Potholes Railroad tracks, other longitudinal cracks can grab your wheel. Avoid these or cross perpendicular to the track. A car door opening. Give parked cars extra space. Respect the “door zone”! Dogs, children, squirrels, other cyclists. These can take you by surprise if you hug the edge, while giving yourself extra space gives you a better vantage and more time to react. In wet weather, ride slowly. Wet brakes take longer to brake, wet corners require wider turns, and puddles hide potholes.
-Keep your bike in good repair with the ABC Quick Check. Before you ride, check the AIR in your tires, test your BRAKES, examine your CRANKS and CHAINS, make sure your QUICK release levers are tight, and CHECK over your entire bike. It takes less than 30 seconds. The hard part for me was ingraining the habit, but now that I have the habit I do it daily without thinking about it.
-Practice. The more you ride, the better your bike handling skills are. Every mile you bike decreases your risk of a crash.
Controlling your bike will not only reduce your risk of serious wrecks, but also your risk of minor or no injury wrecks (the kind that don’t get reported). Without that kind of wreck, you’ll feel safer and be happier on your bike, and less likely to quit biking!
The Five Layers of Crash Prevention developed by the League of American Bicyclists for their Smart Cycling program are:Control your bike. 83% of bike wrecks don’t involve a motor vehicle. Learn the common pitfalls and how to avoid them. Obey the law. In half of car-bike collisions, the cyclist was not obeying a traffic law. Discourage drivers’ mistakes. Just like defensive driving, you can discourage drivers from making common mistakes by choosing where and how to ride. A key concept is learning how to control the lane. Avoid drivers’ mistakes. For those mistakes they make anyway, there are a couple maneuvers you can learn—and practice!—to avoid a collision. Wear a helmet. Practicing the four principles above prevents over 90% of bike wrecks. The helmet can save your life for the few you can’t avoid.