It’s time to pull your bike out of storage

Whether you’re behind the wheel of a motor vehicle or gripping the handlebars of a bike, this can be a bit of a challenging time of year on the streets of cities and towns.

Cycling is a cost-effective

Cycling is a cost-effective

Whether you’re behind the wheel of a motor vehicle or gripping the handlebars of a bike, this can be a bit of a challenging time of year on the streets of cities and towns.

The snow and the slush are gone, that’s true, and roads are for the most part dry. But the arrival of those bike-friendly conditions means drivers and cyclists need to relearn how to peaceably coexist. Seasonal cyclists and the four-season warriors will have to get used to each other again too.

The early part of the cycling season can see everyone a bit rusty on the ground rules for safe cycling and for sharing the road.

“I think what we consistently find is that when there are more cyclists on the road, it’s much safer for all cyclists,” says Zlatko Krstulich, president of the Ottawa-based advocacy group Citizens for Safe Biking. “The big reason is that drivers see one or two and they start to get in their minds ‘Hey, look out for cyclists.”’

Nancy Kendrew, a co-owner of Toronto’s Urbane Cyclist, says the onus to be mindful of cyclists doesn’t just rest with drivers.

Kendrew is a dedicated four-season cyclist, as are others who work for her store, a worker-owned cycle shop. She and her colleagues notice that at this time of year, the seasonal or recreational cyclists can be as much of a threat to their fellow cyclists as the cars.

“There’s a two-edged thing. We think the Number One danger is from motorists — I mean, it’s true if you get hit by a car it’s much bigger. But if you do something (and) you’re clipped by a fast-moving cyclist, it can lead to a serious injury as well,” she says.

Yes, whatever your overall speed, it hurts to hit the pavement.

“There are cyclists who go all season long. And they’re very wary and they’re very safety oriented because they’ve gone through icy conditions and whatnot.”

“And it’s sort of like the newbies that come along in the springtime and they’re not predictable, they don’t stop at lights, they’re not obeying the rules, some of them.”

Predictable. That word comes up a lot when you’re talking to people knowledgeable about cycling safety. That’s because being predictable is the key weapon cyclists have to protect themselves and others, Kendrew and Krstulich suggest.

• That means biking where you are supposed to bike. Don’t weave in and out of traffic.

• Signal your turns. Signalling allows drivers and other cyclists to anticipate the directional changes you are about to make.

• Obey the rules of the road.

Those include treating other cyclists with the respect you would a car. Kendrew says one of her colleagues recently almost got hit by a cyclist trying to pass on the right — a basic no-no.

“Space is really important. You have to have a sense of where you are on the road and what’s around you. And other cyclists count,” she says.

Cycling experts have some other safety tips for seasonal cycling commuters and recreational cyclists, both those who are resuming the activity and those just starting this year.

• Be visible. That means using lights for cycling at times when it’s dark, or even when it’s dim. Clothing with reflective strips — or at least light-coloured clothing — adds to the safety quotient.

“Make sure you have your proper lights with you because you may get caught out coming home. And if you’re just a regular cyclist and you don’t do all the gear, you won’t have all that reflective tape normally on your jacket,” Kendrew says.

• Be protected. Wear a helmet.

“The simplest and greatest tip that needs to be given and needs to be reinforced on a yearly basis — especially with adult cyclists because they don’t have to — is the necessity of wearing a helmet,” says Rob Werstine, a sports physiotherapist at the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic at Fanshawe College in London, Ont.

• Be prudent and watchful. That means giving a wide berth to car doors to avoid what Kendrew calls “the door thing” and others ruefully call “the door prize.”

“Be very, very careful around parked cars, because that’s one of the more hazardous scenarios,” Krstulich says.

A driver or passenger who opens a door without realizing a cyclist is right there can send a cyclist flying through the air, sometimes into the path of a moving vehicle.

These kinds of accidents kill — in fact, a cyclist in Toronto died after being “doored” in the summer of 2008.

That’s why cyclists don’t ride as close to a row of parked cars as drivers coming up alongside them might wish they would. But the threat doesn’t just come from parked cars, Kendrew says.

“The worst dooring I’ve ever had has been on the inside, of someone jumping out, grabbing a newspaper, jumping back into the car. And they drilled me right across the sidewalk.”

Kendrew says a cycling safety course can teach cyclists to read the body language of car passengers and drivers so they can anticipate better when a door is about to fly open.

She suggests the courses offered by Can-Bike (http://www.canbike.net/cca—pages/index.htm), a program developed and run in several parts of the country by the Canadian Cycling Association.

Spring is here and so is cycling season. Here are some tips about how to do it safely and comfortably.

Layer up — While it’s still cool, wear layers of clothing, with clothing close to the body that breathes and outer layers that repel water. Go for bright colours that increase your visibility. Clothing worn at night should enhance your visibility, for instance with reflective tape in the design.

Fix the fit — If you develop lower back pain or numbness in your hands and fingers from cycling, it could be your bike isn’t adjusted properly for your height. A cycle shop can help you find the right height for the seat and handlebars, but if you have continuing problems, consider a proper fitting — with a new bike.

Be mindful — You have to pay attention on the road to vehicles, other cyclists and pedestrians. Consider taking a cycling safety course to hone your skills. Or do some reading about how to avoid dangerous cycling scenarios. Bicyclesafe.com, for instance, lists 10 types of car-bike collisions and how to avoid them.

Give it a little love — Riding a bike for your workday commute from spring through fall can save you over a thousand dollars in fuel, parking fees and wear and tear on your vehicle. It’s worth spending the $100-plus for a full annual tune-up, to get your wheels trued, your drive train cleaned, your bearings re-packed, your brakes set nice and tight and your tires at the right pressure. The ride will be much more pleasant, your bike will last years longer — and it won’t be as likely to leave you stranded en route.

Accessories are important — Some things a commuter might want to have: bike lights for front and back, fenders to keep you clean, a good bike lock, and a rearview mirror.

Make yourself a promise — It takes a while for a change in habits to become ingrained. If you decide you will commute by bike to work every day for a month, that month’s riding may seem like a hardship at times. But your fitness will increase over that period of time and the daily ride will get easier, even routine. Human nature being what it is, if you stick to your decision for an entire month, you may find yourself missing the ride on the days you take the car thereafter.