Bicycling Brings Back Memories and Commitment to Safety

Summer is in full swing!  If you are anything like my family and me, bicycling may be a common activity.  I have a long history with cycling — including some of the greatest and worst moments of my life.ThinkstockPhotos-180234351 (1)

My family will cross a milestone this July, which will mark the 10-year anniversary of my mom’s death in a bicycling accident.  She was on a cross-country tour and didn’t make it home.  For a large amount of that 10-year time span, I didn’t ride my bike.  It stayed suspended from the ceiling in the garage.  A couple of times, we got it down, brushed off the dust and cobwebs, and headed out. I rode, but with fear in my heart and tears on my face.  I won’t lie.  It was rough.

Teaching my oldest to ride her bike was especially fearful.  Her father really had to take over that job. I didn’t even watch. This spring, I changed gears. I bought a new bike. It’s not as flashy as my old mountain bike. But it’s more suited to me at 40-something than the old bike I rode at 20-something because it sits more upright with larger tires for better stability.

Getting Back on the Bike

This past spring, I got on my bike and rode it.  And more importantly, enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the breeze in my face, the burn in my legs and the freedom that only a bicycle can provide.  It was wonderful.

My second child was ready to get his training wheels off this summer, too.  This time – his mom taught him.  I ran beside the back of his bicycle and let go when he wasn’t looking.  I shouted words of encouragement and gave the hugs when the inevitable tip over happened.  And you know what?  He got those training wheels off in one afternoon.  It brought me back to my flowered Huffy with its banana seat and streamers coming out of the grips.  I still remember my mom teaching me to ride — running behind me and letting go when I wasn’t looking.  I remember the hugs that came after the wipeouts.  And now, I will always remember teaching my son.

Bicycling actually fits well with occupational therapy.  According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, occupations are “activities of everyday life, named, organized and given value and meaning by individuals and a culture.  Occupation is everything that people do to occupy themselves, including looking after themselves … enjoying life, and contributing to the social and economic fabric of their communities…” Bicycling is one of my occupations.

Bicycles and Motor Vehicles

Whether you are a bicyclist, motorist or both, there are lots of ways we can work together to stay safe on the road. Let’s start with the cyclists:

  1. Obey the law – Predictable cyclists are safer cyclists.  Obeying traffic laws is the easiest way to be more predictable.  When drivers know what to expect, they can more safely share the road with you.
  2. Ride single file and to the right, or “Take the Lane” – Be aware of who is on the roadway with you.  When the road is wide enough, ride single file and to the right.  When the road is too narrow for a car to pass safely in your lane, “Take the Lane” to avoid being clipped by a motorist.  South Dakota law allows you to “Take the Lane” when the lane you are in is “too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within a lane.”  (32-20B-5)
  3. Use hand signals –Signaling draws the driver’s attention to you. Since it can be dangerous going downhill, slow down in advance of intersections and turns to alert motorists  of a direction change.
  4. Be visible – Wear brightly colored clothing that provides contrast.  South Dakota laws require the use of white front and red rear lights especially at night and within a ½ hour of sunrise or sunset.  It is a good idea to use reflectors or reflective tape or clothing any time you are riding.  Making eye contact with the motorist also helps make you more visible.

Here are some simple things that motorists can do to help ensure the safety of the cyclist.

  1. Allow at least 3 feet when passing – South Dakota law now requires that you provide at least 3 feet when passing a cyclist. Slow down and wait for a safe place to pass when driving behind a cyclist on a narrow roadway.  A car passing too closely can injure or kill a cyclist.  Also, check over your shoulder before moving back into your lane.
  2. Yield to cyclists – Bicycles are considered vehicles and should be given the appropriate right of way.  Allow extra time for cyclists to traverse intersections.
  3. Be alert and look for cyclists:  Look for bicycles when driving and parking.  Always check for bicycles before changing lanes or opening a car door.
  4. Pay special attention around children and schools – Drivers need to exercise additional caution when driving near a school or other areas where children are present.  Slow down and be on the lookout for children.
  5. Only honk in emergencies – Sounding your horn near a cyclist can startle him/her, causing him/her to weave into traffic or even fall from the bicycle.  Cyclists often cannot hear vehicles behind them when riding downhill due to the wind in their ears.  Pass them with at least 3 feet of clearance when the road ahead is clear.

One of the most important things to remember is that the cyclist you see on the road is somebody’s mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother or grandfather. By slowing down and providing the three feet required by South Dakota law, you can help to send that cyclist home safely.  As a family member/friend of those cyclists – Thank you.

Beryl Olson

By Beryl Olson

Supervisor at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital