Tips for keeping safe while cycling this summer

Summer is finally here and many of us take to the roads on our bicycles for fun and exercise, as an alternate means of transportation or perhaps some are even inspired by Lance Armstrong's quest for an unprecedented seventh consecutive win of the Tour de France.

Regardless of riding goals, cyclists face similar risks and challenges when exposed to motorists, pedestrians, and other cyclists. We offer the following suggestions to promote overall safety and well-being:

1) Bike maintenance: It's a good idea to get a bike tune-up before the start of the cycling season to make sure that the brakes and gear-shifting mechanism are sound and that the tires are in good condition and properly inflated.

2) Helmet: Don't leave home without it. A helmet should fit snugly and be worn forward to cover the forehead. Replace the helmet if it has been in an accident or has any cracks.

3) Other essentials: Always carry a form of ID and emergency contact with a phone number, plus some cash. Experienced cyclists also habitually take along a small bike pump, spare tube(s), and tire levers to fix flat tires.

4) Attire: Reflective, bright or light-colored clothing makes you more visible.

5) Lights: A high number of cycling accidents occur at dusk. If you can't avoid riding in the dark, consider using a headlight, reflectors, and a strobe light for maximum visibility.

6) Traffic signs: Unlike pedestrians, who are supposed to walk in the opposite direction of vehicle traffic, cyclists are expected to follow the same rules and traffic signs as motorists. This includes yielding or stopping at intersections as necessary. In high-traffic areas, it's a good idea to dismount and walk your bicycle across a busy road - after making sure that motorists have seen you and stopped to let you cross;

7) Turn signals: Let others around you know before turning or stopping. Cyclists generally use their left arm to signal: arm stretched out to the left to signal a left turn; arm bent at the elbow and palm facing forward to signal a right turn; and arm straight down with palm facing back to indicate stopping or slowing down.

8) Ride single file: Remember to share the road. When riding in a group, ride single file and stay as far right on the road as possible and avoid weaving in and out of traffic. When passing another cyclist, always do so on the left and announce your presence with a warning such as, "on your left." Be sure to do so only after checking that it's safe.

9) Avoid distractions: Don't use headphones or other devices that could impair your hearing while cycling.

10) Be alert: Ride defensively and be on the lookout for inattentive motorists. This includes motorists opening their doors onto your path while parked on the street.

11 ) Know your limits before setting out on a long ride. Even well-conditioned athletes able to pedal for hours on end could get sore if they haven't trained on a bike saddle for long periods of time. It's best to start out with modest goals in terms of distance and terrain and then gradually work up to longer and more challenging rides. Use common sense - cycling in the summer is usually more enjoyable in the morning hours before it gets too warm and windy.

12 ) Stay hydrated: Install a water-bottle holder (or two) on your bicycle or consider wearing a hydration pack. In addition to drinking water, try a sports drink to replace electrolytes. When exercising, it is advisable to drink before you're thirsty and to eat before you're hungry. Apply sunscreen about half an hour before heading out (use SPF 15 or higher) and reapply every couple of hours if exposed to the sun for longer periods between 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Happy and safe cycling, everyone.

n Arlene Richartz is a member of the media committee for the Carson Area Coalition on Obesity.


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