Biking Safety

Like the Boy Scout motto says, you must be prepared. It's easy to set off on a bike ride, especially near your home, carrying nothing except your wallet and keys. We've all done it from time to time. But even on the shortest spin through the neighborhood or local park it's wise to have a few items with you. Some riders carry all of the following items on every ride, some carry only some of the items some of the time. But each of these could prove to be a real lifesaver:

1) A helmet for your head. They don't call them "brain buckets" for nothing. Don't get on your bike without one. Many parks require helmets and the ones that don't, should. Just as you wear your seat belt when you drive, wear your helmet when you ride. Make sure yours fits properly and strap it on securely.

2) Food and water. Being hungry or thirsty spoils a good time, and it can also turn into a potentially dangerous situation. Even if you aren't the least bit hungry or thirsty when you start, you will feel completely different after 30-60 minutes of riding. Always carry at least two water bottles on your bike, and make sure they are full of fresh, clean water when you head out. Add ice on hot days, if you wish. For a two- to three-hour ride, 100 ounces of water is not overkill, especially in summer. Many riders prefer to wear a bladder-style backpack hydration system, which usually has extra room to carry a few snacks or car keys. Always bring some form of calories with you, even if it's just a couple of energy bars. If you carry extras, you'll be the hero or heroine who gives them to a rider in need.

3) Cycling gloves and cycling shorts. These make your trip a lot more comfortable. Cycling gloves have padded palms so the nerves in your hands are protected from extensive pressure when you lean your upper body weight on the handlebars. Cycling shorts have chamois or other padding in the saddle area, and it's obvious what that does.

4) A map of the park or roads you are riding. Sometimes trails and roads are signed, sometimes they're not. Signs get knocked down or disappear with alarming frequency, due to rain, wind, or souvenir hunters. Get a map from the managing agency of the park you're visiting; all their names and phone numbers are in this book. For road rides, take along a detailed AAA or other map for the region.

5) A bike repair kit. How much and which tools to carry is a great subject of debate. If you're going to be farther than easy walking distance from your car, at the very least carry what you need to fix a flat tire. Great distances are covered quickly on a bike. This is never more apparent than when a tire goes flat 30 minutes into a ride and it takes two hours to walk back. So why walk? Carry a spare tube, a patch kit, tire levers, and a bike pump attached to your bike frame. Make sure you know how to use them.

6) Extra tools. Many riders also carry a small set of metric wrenches, allen wrenches, and a couple screwdrivers, or some type of all-in-one bike tool. These are good for adjusting derailleurs and the angle on your bike seat, making minor repairs, and fidgeting with brake and gear cables. If you're riding on dirt trails, carry extra chain lubricant with you, or at least keep some in your car. Some riders carry a few additional tools, such as a spoke wrench for tightening loose spokes, or a chain tool to fix a broken chain.

7) Extra clothing. On the trail, weather and temperature conditions can change at any time. It may get windy or start to rain, or you can get too warm as you ride uphill in the sun and then too cold as you ride downhill in the shade. Wear layers. Bring a lightweight jacket and a rain poncho with you. Tie your extra clothes around your waist or put them in a small daypack.

8) Sunglasses and sunscreen. Wear them both. Put on your sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outdoors so it has time to take effect.

9) A bike lock. If you are planning to stop anywhere, even to use a restroom, a bike lock is valuable. Never leave your bike unlocked and unattended.

10) First aid kit and emergency money. Like most of life, bicycling is a generally safe activity which in the mere bat of an eye can suddenly become unsafe. The unexpected occurs--a rock in the trail, a sudden change in road surface, a misjudgment or momentary lack of attention--and suddenly, you and your bike are sprawled on the ground. Sooner or later it happens to everyone who rides. Usually, you look around nervously to see if anybody saw you, dust yourself off, and get back on your bike.

But it's wise to carry a few emergency items just in case your accident is more serious: A few large and small band-aids, antibiotic cream, and an ace bandage can be valuable tools. I also carry a Swiss army knife, one with several blades, a can opener, and a scissors. If I don't need it for first aid, I'll use it for bike repair or picnics. Finally, carry matches in a waterproof container and a candle, just in case you ever need to build a fire in a serious emergency.

Some riders carry a cell phone everywhere they go, but be forewarned that this is not a fool-proof emergency device. You won't get cell reception in many areas, particularly in non-urban places. Carry a cell phone if it makes you feel better, but don't expect to rely on it. Always bring along a few bucks so you can make a phone call from a pay phone, or buy food or drinks for yourself or someone who needs them.

BIKE MAINTENANCE

Most bike-related problems won't occur if you do a little upkeep on your machine. Remember to check your tire pressure, seat height, brakes, and shifters before you begin each ride. Lubricate your chain and wipe off the excess lubricant. Make sure all is well before you set out on the road or trail.

If you are riding often, you should also clean your bike and chain frequently, lubricate cables and derailleurs, tighten bolts, and check your wheels for alignment. Don't wait to have your bike worked on when you bring it into the shop; learn to perform your own regular maintenance and do it frequently.