Everything You Ever Needed to Know About: Bike Safety Gear
You may have your bike helmet strapped on, but that’s not enough to have a safe ride. Depending on where you’re going and the time of day, you may need lights, reflectors, mirrors, or other items to really have the safest ride possible, and to avoid or minimize any injuries in the event that your ride does end poorly.
I cannot stress the importance of lights enough. When it’s dusk or dark out, cars won’t see a cyclist. They won’t be expecting cyclists, and if you’re far enough to the right, the cars headlights might not illuminate you. The solution is to get a set of bike lights. There’s a light for every price range, so there’s really no excuse to not have one. You should have a white light for the front of your bike and a red, blinking light for the rear of your bike. Some cyclists choose to position the lights on themselves (such as their helmet or backpack) rather than on their bike, but either way, they’re a necessity after dark. Knog’s Frogs are available in white or red lights, cost only $12, and come in lots of body colors, so there’s sure to be a style for everyone.
Reflectors and Reflective Clothing
Reflectors serve the same purpose as lights, but aren’t quite as effective at it. For a reflector to work, a car’s headlight or a street light must bounce of the item. You can’t guarantee that a car’s headlights will hit you before the car starts making sideways lane change into your path. Reflectors are great in addition to lights, but are no substitute for them.
Gloves are wonderful safety accessories. They increase the comfort of your ride because the padding comes between your hands and the handlebar and absorbs some of the shock of bumpy pavement. This gives you the ability to better handle your bike on rough terrain. They also prevent nasty scrapes in the event of a fall, because it’s human instinct to stick your hands out as you fall, and inevitably the pavement will leave you with scraped and bleeding palms. One other note about this: try not to stick your hands out. It could result in more broken bones because your arm and wrist bones won’t take the force of your body coming down on them very well. Try to hug yourself if you do fall—kind of a “tuck and roll” deal. This will also prevent shoulder dislocations!
Some cyclists see mirrors as dorky or geeky or lame—but that doesn’t mean they’re not a good safety item. Mirrors aren’t always necessary if you have the confidence as a rider to be able to look over your shoulder frequently while still riding in a straight line. Many riders aren’t very good at that, and for them, it’s wise to have a mirror, rather than possibly be in a situation where looking over a shoulder causes the bike to veer into traffic. There are a couple varieties of mirrors, some that attach to your helmet; others attach to the handle bar. They’re inexpensive, so if you doubt your ability to be aware of traffic behind you without one, then I suggest making the purchase.
Flags are really just important for low riders, like kids and recumbent cyclists. Because these bikes are so low to the ground, cars that are immediately next to you might not see you, and cars that are a few cars back in traffic will have their view of you blocked as well. Stick a flag on the back of your bike, and everyone will know you’re there.
The Right Tires
Depending on the weather and riding conditions, you might need to switch out your tires. If you’re riding slick road tires on pavement, you need to be aware that when it rains, it will be slippery—especially the painted markings on the road (and bike lanes are full of those!). You can switch out these tires for some with a few nubs on them, and you should be in a better position to grip the pavement when it’s slick. If you’re planning to ride a dirt or rocky trail, you should most definitely be sure you’ve got some wider tires with some texture to them. You don’t want to be falling down in the rocks and dirt! If you’re a brave soul who commutes in snow and ice, you should know that they make tires that have not only nubs, but also have little metal studs to really grip the ice. They’re amazing.
Clipless Pedals and Shoes
If you’ve ever had your foot slip off a pedal and cause you to fall or catch yourself on your frame, you know how frustrating it can be! It’s a common problem, but it can be remedied. This can be a more expensive purchase, and plenty of people ride flat pedals in normal shoes every day, but if you can spring for these, it’s worth it. They’re called clipless pedals because they don’t have “toe clips,” which are those cages you see on some people’s pedals. They serve the same purpose as toe clips, but are actually much, much better. They allow you to attach your feet to your pedal, preventing your foot from slipping off. They also increase the efficiency of your pedal stroke because you can not only push the pedal down, but also pull up with the opposite foot at the same time! Toe clips themselves are actually very dangerous because it’s often very hard to get your foot out of the cage and on the ground in an emergency stopping situation. Clipless pedals are much easier to get out of, and if you practice a couple times, it will become second nature to you.
Not many cyclists where shin guards or wrist guards, but they are out there for purchase, and depending on the type of riding you plan to do, the could be important or dangerous. I always advise against wrist guards because if you do take a fall on your hand, your wrist will be protected, but (I’ve seen this happen a couple of times), you’re much more likely to break your arm right above the wrist guard. It can result in compound fractures (where the bone actually breaks out of the skin) which are often much worse than a small wrist fracture. And, as I mentioned in the glove section, always try to not fall on your hands!
I do, however, recommend shin guards for the mountain bikers out there. Tree branches and rocks often end up smacking you in the shin, and because of the way mountain bikers fall much of the time, they often also end up landing on their shins and knees. Another gruesome fact is that in a mountain bike fall, the handlebar will sometimes come around and hit you in the shin. I’ve seen someone’s shifter get jammed in his leg, and a basic shin guard would have prevented it.