Balance has never been my strong suit, so learning to ride a bike as a kid wasn’t easy. And, although I eventually learned, it was never something I really enjoyed. Fast forward to adulthood, and I find myself visiting the Netherlands where bikes are like cars. Well you know, “When in Rome.” I ended up riding a bike for the first time in 15 years and had a blast. I got home and bought myself a bike.
If you’re like me and getting reacquainted with biking or are teaching your kids how to ride, there are some basics that can help keep you and your family safe.
Wear a Helmet
It seems simple, yet many people aren’t wearing helmets when biking.
“Helmets immensely reduce the risk of severe brain injuries,” shared neurologist Alex Hishaw, MD, with Banner – University Medical Center in Tucson. Dr. Hishaw added it’s important to not only wear a helmet, but to wear a properly fitted one.
Here are some things to look for according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- The helmet should fit snuggly, but not tightly, with no spaces between the foam inside the helmet and the head
- Make sure it doesn’t sit too high in the front or too low in the back
- One or two fingers should be able to fit between the chin and the chin strap when fastened
A good rule of thumb is to get a new helmet every 3 to 5 years. But if a helmet has been damaged or involved in an accident, it’s time to replace.
Build a Flexible Medical Kit
One thing that everyone should have with them when riding is a medical kit. It doesn’t need to be big and bulky, but there are some items you should always have on hand in case of an emergency.
Emergency medicine specialist and wilderness medicine expert, Christopher Williams, MD, also with the medical center, gave me some tips on building a flexible kit that can be modified for any ride.
“Rather than buying a one-size-fits-all medical kit that’s heavy, bulky and filled with items you won’t use, create your own using many items you may already have on hand,” Dr. Williams said.
- Bare-bones kit: cell phone, Band-Aids, safety pins and Duct tape (create your own smaller roll from the larger one).
- Downhill or short trail ride: bare-bones kit, plus gauze or Israeli bandage, combat gauze, Ace wrap or self-adherent wrap, a triangular bandage, comb or hair pick for cholla cactus removal (if in the desert) and a multi-tool.
- Multi-day or long trail ride: all of the above, plus Steri-Strips, tissue glue or superglue, water purifier, epinephrine pen, over-the-counter pain medication, antibiotic ointment, map and compass (plus or minus GPS), bivouac sack (small, lightweight waterproof shelter), whistle, headlight, matches or lighter and a splint.
Learn the Rules of the Road
If you’re riding on the road, it’s important to understand local and state laws to keep you and those around you safe. Wear bright clothing, make sure your bike has proper lighting and/or reflectors, ride with the flow of traffic and know the common signals for turning, stopping, etc.
While I don’t have any plans to ride the Tour de France, the more I know about staying safe when riding the more likely I am to ride and enjoy it. I’m also super lucky to live in a bike-friendly community – see how your state ranks in bike friendliness. And for more on biking safety, visit our Health Library.