Picking Up Bicycling? Here’s What To Consider

by Susan Evans

Selecting the Right Bike

Selecting the right bicycle is the first step to having fun and preventing accidents.

  1. A bike that is the right size for you should have about 3 cm (1.2 inches) space between the crossbar of the frame and yourself, when you are standing with both feet on the ground – a bit more for BMX (off road) or mountain bikes.
    • Ask the salespeople in the store to help you select the right size and style of bike.
  2. Handlebars should not be loose and they should have grips that cover the ends properly.
  3. You should be able to sit on the seat and reach the ground with your feet without leaning the bike over.
    • The seat should be flat, not move about and shouldn’t have any broken springs or tears in the material – that can really hurt!
  4. Wheels should have all their spokes, spin easily, and tires that are pumped up enough so that they feel hard.
  5. Every bike should have a bell or a horn to warn others that you are coming.
  6. If you are going to ride at night there should be lights on the front and back, and reflectors on the front and backs of the pedals and wheels.
  7. The bike chain and gears should be clean, oiled and move easily.
  8. Brakes must work properly so that when they are on, the wheels won’t turn.

Accessorizing for Safety

  1. Equip your bicycle with lights and reflectors.
    • Every bike should have, at a minimum, a white front reflector, a red rear reflector, two side-wheel reflectors and a headlight. Consider adding a rearview mirror to see what’s behind you, too.
    • Keep reflectors clean and replace any that are broken.
  2. Add a bright, fluorescent flag (as tall as possible) to the back of a child’s bike.
    • This allows the child to be seen easily by other drivers.
  3. Have a horn or a bell on your bike.
    • You can use it to alert pedestrians and other riders of your approach.

Choosing a Helmet

WHN TIP – Buy Right: Visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute for helpful tips on buying helmets.

Here are some basics tips:

  1. Helmet Laws
    • Some local and state laws may require you to wear a helmet while cycling.
    • To find out the laws in your state, visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute’s State Helmet Laws page.
  2. Fit
    • A good fit means level on your head, touching all around, comfortably snug but not tight. The helmet should not move more than about an inch in any direction, and must not pull off no matter how hard you try. The chinstrap should be securely fastened.
    • Helmet sizing pads (foam pads) can help improve the fit. If you still have trouble, ask a knowledgeable salesperson to help you.
    • If your helmet does not fit properly, it will not protect your head if you have a fall or collision.
  3. Comfort
    • Look for good ventilation, fit and comfort when choosing a helmet.
    • You can always wear a brow pad or sweatband to help control sweat.
    • Don’t leave your helmet in a warm place like a hot garage or car trunk. The heat can warp the plastic.
  4. Color
    • Choose white or a bright color for visibility to be sure that motorists and other cyclists can see you.
    • You can also add reflective tape to the front, back and sides of the helmet.
  5. Cost
    • The typical discount store price is about $15, but there are still models available for under $10 at major retailers.
  6. When To Replace Your Helmet
    • You’ll need to replace your helmet after a crash – the foam layer will have lost most of its original shape and form.
    • If there is any damage to the buckle, strap or foam, consider replacing your helmet.
    • Kids might grow out of their helmets. Be sure to check the fit before the start of each year’s bike season.
    • If it’s been several years since you bought a new helmet, you may want to replace your helmet to keep up with current safety regulations.

In Case of Emergency (ICE)

  • In the event of an emergency or after an accident, emergency personnel will use your cell phone to look for ‘ICE’: who to contact In Case of an Emergency. This can save a lot of time in the attempt to retrieve lifesaving information (allergies, medication info, condition information, etc).
  • In your cell phone contact list, simply type the word ‘ICE’ followed by the name (ICE – Jerry) and phone number of the person to call in case of an emergency. You can enter multiple entries if you want, (ICE 1, 2, 3). Do this for all members of your family and tell your friends about the importance of ICE.

Practice Good Bike Maintenance

WHN TIP – Keeping Track: Start tracking your mileage in a notebook – write down the date and number of miles you bike each day.

  1. Have your bike checked out regularly. Tune-ups should be every six months or so, depending on how often you ride.
  2. Follow a regular maintenance schedule. (Read 7 Fast Bicycle Maintenance Tips for tips.)

WHN TIP – Why Get a Bike Tune-up? After many rides, the bike’s cables and chains tend to stretch out, lose their effectiveness, and cause shifting problems. You should have your chain replaced every 1,000-1,500 miles.

Before Each Ride

  1. Grab an extra, empty water bottle and a self-sealing plastic bag to hold the following:
  2. Seal the bag, place it inside your bike bag or the empty water bottle and bring it with you on your ride. (Install an extra water bottle holder for this or attach it to your bike with a bungee cord.)
  3. Inspect tires for correct pressure, cuts, and wear
    • Use a pressure gauge to ensure proper pressure, inflating to the rate pressure as listed on the sidewall of the tire. If the pressure is too low, the tire could cause a flat; if the pressure is too high, it could blow the tire rim.
    • Replace the tire if it is damaged.
    • Carry extra tire sealant or buy tires that have sealant in them – if the tire is punctured the sealant will fill and close the hole.
  4. Check your brake pads for wear and make sure they are working properly.
    • Most new bikes have ridged brake pads; replace the pads if the ridges are entirely worn down.
    • Check your brake pad adjustments. They should hit the rim, not rub against the tire or dive into the spokes.
    • Check your hand brakes. They should travel at least 1” between the bar and lever when applied.
  5. Check your cranks and chain.
    • Your crank bolts should be tight.
    • Check your chain for signs of wear.
    • Grease your chain–first with your bike upside down, take hold of your chain with a cloth. Pedal and run the cloth lightly over the chain to remove dirt. Then keep pedaling and apply a thin layer of chain grease. Excess grease will attract more dirt. If your chain skips, you might need an adjustment.
  6. Check your quick releases.
    • Your hubs should be tight in the frame and the quick release should engage at 90 degrees. Your hub quick release should point back to ensure that nothing catches on it.
    • Inspect your brake quick releases to ensure that they have been re-engaged if you have removed your wheel.
  7. Inspect handlebar for looseness or damage.
  8. Make sure headlights and bells work.
  9. Take it out for a ride:
    • Check to make sure the brakes and gears are working properly. If your bike won’t stay in gear or can’t shift, get it checked out.
    • Inspect your bike for any loose or broken parts, replace or fix them. You might even try picking your bike up and shaking it to see if anything sounds loose.

Biking: On The Road

WHN TIP – Keep Your Ears Open: If you listen to music while biking, be sure to have at least one ear free to listen to the sounds of the road. Use an earpiece for your cell phone.

  1. Ride with someone else, if you can.
  2. Wear bright or fluorescent clothing during the day and reflective clothing at night. Make it easy for drivers to see you.
    • Avoid long skirts and flare pants. Clasp pants to leg with safety clips or leg bands so they don’t get caught on chains or spokes.
  3. Wear a bike helmet at all times when bicycling.
  4. Ride on the right side of the road with traffic, not against traffic.
  5. Use appropriate hand signals. These are signaled with your left arm:
    • Right Turn – Upper arm straight out parallel to the road, forearm and hand straight up and perpendicular to the road.
    • Left Turn – Arm straight out and parallel to the road.
    • Braking – Upper arm straight out parallel to the road, forearm and hand straight down and perpendicular to the road
    • Some states allow a right turn with your right arm straight out and parallel to the road
  6. Follow traffic signals
  7. Stop at all intersections, marked and unmarked.
  8. Stop and look left, right and left again before entering or crossing the street.
  9. Children who ride bikes to school should be taught to follow the rules of the road that apply to all vehicles.

WHN TIP – Eyes Wide Open: Be careful when making turns. Don’t ever assume that people can see you. Practice making eye contact with drivers.


Photo credit: Upsplash

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