In no order, here are some bike safety challenges I have encountered in a half century of riding.
Dogs and other four-legged hazards. One fall day riding in eastern Ohio, I encountered an intersection where three dogs gave chase. Short of carrying some spray to ward them off, be prepared to sprint for a hundred yards so the nipping at your heels does not turn into a bite.
Debris on roadside. Especially by a construction site or along a freeway, be alert to roadside hazards. You will encounter spent truck tires and curious metal objects designed to puncture your tires. Also, too great a change in elevation along a road shoulder, like dropping off a curb, could cause your bike tube to lose all its air. It’s not a good idea, and probably expressly prohibited, to ride on the shoulder of an interstate.
Whenever approaching an intersection, whether or not you have the right of way, watch for automobile traffic converging. Test your brakes. Try to establish eye contact with those drivers. Signal your intent and maybe wait for confirmation like a hand wave encouraging you to proceed. Assume you are not always visible. Don’t just ride right through a stop sign unless you have a clear view of an empty intersection. You don’t want to end up as a hood ornament or on the windshield or under the bumper of an approaching car!
Once, descending a Swiss mountain pass from Grindelwald, my brake caliper broke, a part ended up in my hand. I executed a perfect somersault dismount to the applause of a roadside café audience. Do not assume that you can manage such an acrobatic feat at 70 that I demonstrated at age 20. Even in your 50s it’s unlikely.
Plan your route ahead. Even though it might be the direct route, avoid interstates at all costs. It’s reasonable to assume that you cannot achieve the minimum 45 mph speed limit, unless, of course, you are Jeremy. Also, on lesser highways, you may encounter a truck driver, so annoyed by your presence, that she may try to run you off the road, as I did on Pennsylvania 322.
Gravel. Unless, you have an appropriate hybrid or mountain bike with corresponding tires, do not attempt. A gravel shortcut by the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota led to the expensive replacement of my bike chain.
Dress appropriately. That starts with a helmet. Padded gloves help cushion handlebar shock. There is a reason Showers Pass yellow is the most popular color amongst local riders: it rains often in sunny Oregon.
Tracks. Whether you are crossing railroad tracks or riding in a public transit lane shared with the Max or the streetcar, you don’t want to fall into the tracks. It’s a surefire way to be unceremoniously evicted from your saddle and probably forced to replace your bent wheels. Also, watch for slippery manhole covers.
Good maintenance practices. Keep your bike chain lubricated. Clean off your bike after every ride, especially after rain. Test your brakes. Check your saddle angle. Consider getting a bike fitting. Enjoy your ride. Does your helmet fit snugly? Got a rearview mirror?
I’m sure many of you experienced riders could share similarly engaging stories.
Stephen K. Bache, Member at Large