Raabe reminds cyclists, helmets are for safe cycling

  • Published
  • By Jim Raabe, AEDC Contributing Writer
Allow me to set the stage for this successful safety story.

Two couples set out for a leisurely and social bicycle ride down a local country road. One couple was experienced with bicycling and the other couple was considered novice. The experienced couple wore helmets, gloves, riding glasses, bright colored riding apparel and cycling shoes. The other couple did not wear helmets.
They were all riding their own bicycles. The husband of the experienced couple had begun cycling at an early age and had more than four years of recent experience as a serious cyclist, so he was designated the lead.

While piloting the group on a beautiful, sunny Tennessee afternoon, the lead cyclist encountered a pack of dogs running alongside and barking at him. He slowed down to about 15 mph but before he could react any further one large dog cut across his path and the bike struck the dog in the chest area. While the lead has a different recollection of what happened after that, the witness stated his front wheel was forced to turn 90 degrees right and the lead was thrown to the ground. The lead struck the back of his head on the concrete road cracking his helmet in several places. The helmet did what it was designed to achieve and that was saving the lead cyclist's cranium.

When interviewing the lead cyclist I asked, "Did you notice any initial head pain or experience a headache afterwards?" He responded, "No, not at all." He didn't even know the helmet received irreparable damage until the cyclist behind him informed him of the damage.

He knew then the helmet prevented a serious injury or maybe even saved his life. As a result of this event, the inexperienced couple professed to using helmets whenever cycling and the die-hard experienced lead cyclist lived to ride another day.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC) an estimated 73 to 85 million Americans ride bikes ranging from high performance, 18-speed, touring models to dirt-bikes equipped with balloon tires, and dozens of variations in between.

With millions of cyclists on the roads - the same roads occupied by millions of motor vehicles that are larger, heavier and faster than bikes - the NSC believes that defensive driving applies to people who pedal with their feet to travel, as well as those who push on the gas pedal.

Approximately 800 bicyclists were killed and more than 540,000 visited the emergency room with injuries in 2010. More bicyclists are on the roads today, increasing the chances of injury. Taking precautions in traffic and wearing protective equipment is a cyclist's best shield against unintentional injuries.

The NSC offers the following tips for safe and enjoyable bicycling:
  • Obey traffic rules. Get acquainted with local ordinances. Cyclists must follow the same rules as motorists.
  • Know your bike's capabilities. Remember that bicycles differ from motor vehicles; they're smaller and can't move as fast. However, they can change direction more easily, stop faster and move through smaller spaces.
  • Ride in single file with traffic, not against it. Bicycling two abreast can be dangerous. Bicyclists should stay as far right on the pavement as possible, watching for opening car doors, sewer gratings, soft shoulders, broken glass and other debris. Remember to keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead.
  • Make safe turns and cross intersections with care. Signal turns half a block before the intersection, using the correct hand signals (left arm straight out for left turn; forearm up for right turn).
  • Never hitch on cars. A sudden stop or turn could send the cyclist flying into the path of another vehicle.
  • Before riding into traffic: stop, look left, right, left again, and over your shoulder.
  • Be seen! During the day, cyclists should wear bright clothing and. retro reflective clothing at night.
  • Make sure the bicycle has the right safety equipment: a red rear reflector; a white front reflector; a red or colorless spoke reflector on the rear wheel; an amber or colorless reflector on the front wheel; pedal reflectors; a horn or bell; headlight and a rear view mirror. 
  • Wear a helmet! Head injuries cause about two-thirds of all bicycling fatalities. The Council strongly urges all cyclists to wear helmets. The first body part to fly forward in a collision is usually the head, and with nothing but skin and bone to protect the brain from injury, the results can be disastrous.

It's also important to know and understand rules of the road for cyclists who ride on Air Force installations. Air Force Instruction (AFI) 91-207, The U.S. Air Force Traffic Safety Program, Air Force Materiel Command Supplement dated Feb. 11, 2014 applies to all persons (with some Security Forces exceptions) who ride a bicycle, tricycle, or other human powered vehicle, including motorized bicycles, on an Air Force installation roadway, to include flight lines.

They will:
  • Wear a highly visible outer garment during the day and outer garment containing retro-reflective material at night.
  • Bicyclists must wear retro-reflective high visibility outer garments when riding during periods of inclement weather.
  • Bicycle riders will ride single file on installation roadways.
  • Wear a properly fastened, approved (e.g., Consumer Product Safety Commission, American National Standards Institute, Snell Memorial Foundation or host nation equivalent) bicycle helmet.
  • Ensure bicycles are equipped with a white front light visible for 500 feet and red reflector or light clearly visible from the rear for 300 feet. (Also required by the Tennessee Department of Transportation)
Furthermore, the use of any listening and entertainment devices (other than hearing aids) while bicycling, walking, jogging or skating on Air Force roadways is prohibited. Use of listening devices impairs recognition of emergency signals, alarms, announcements, approaching vehicles, human speech and outside noise.

There is no limit to the fun and exercise gained from bicycling. Applying these tips and requirements will give riders safer trips and a greater peace of mind.