The road on the corner of 13th Ave. and fourth street now has an extra skin-width layer after avid bikers Rosy Bray and yours truly collided on our bikes and deposited a skin graft on Oct. 11. The incident happened as a result of a backward-head-swivel-to-see-if-a-car-was-coming, plus a newly oiled bike chain that no longer announces the location of the bike through audio cues.
"I just thought she was farther ahead of me, turned around to see if a car was coming, and bam. We were on the ground," said Bray.
The crash resulted in minor injuries including a few scrapes and bruises on our limbs and pride. We gathered our scattered water bottles and glasses, readjusted our bike chains, and rode on, a little shaken but relatively unharmed.
We were lucky, though. Neither of us wore helmets that day and we had been biking down the middle of our road lane, confident in our ability to stay upright on our bikes. However, uprightness on a bike is not a thing to be taken for granted.
While biking, you are balancing your own belly weight and bike weight on two tiny contact points of rubber, navigating an inconstant terrain accompanied by two-ton vehicular blocks of steel operated by drivers with varying levels of awareness.
The picture below shows the amount of contact made between road and tire.
In the event of a miscalculation of any of the afore-mentioned factors, the consequences could be uncomfortable, life-changing, or even fatal. Last spring, Koantonio Dean Farley experienced the most extreme consequence of a bike miscalculation after he collided with a pole in downtown Duluth and died.
In other words, the consequences of unsafe biking can be very serious.
While every eventuality cannot be anticipated, some can be avoided by following some safety tips and tricks.
Furthermore, we're entering into our winter season, but that doesn't mean the biking has to stop. All it requires now is a little extra maintenance and some mittens.
Here are a few bike safety tips and tricks, as well as information on preparation for winter biking:
• Bikes at night are difficult to see: Use a front and back light.
Not only will front and backlights prevent penal consequences, it can also alert cars of your presence and prevent collisions. Cars will avoid you if they can see you.
- Falling happens unexpectedly: Wear a helmet.
Prepare for winter by outfitting yourself with an ear-warming apparatus that can fit under a helmet. It doesn't have to come down to a decision between having ears or an intact skull after your bike ride.
• Cars can easily squish a biker: Be aware of your surroundings. The average car weighs between one and two tons. The average biker, on the other hand, weighs 185 pounds. While that seems like a hefty number, remember that it is 0.06 of the weight of a car. It's not a contest, but the car would win.
As winter creeps in, the roads will become progressively more slippery. Make note of this as you're biking along. Be wary of black ice, snowdrifts that may snag the bike tire, and wafting flakes that can cause limited visibility.
• Drivers can be zoning out and not see bikers: Wave your hands (it's better to be embarrassed than hit). Often, drivers concentrating on the road are looking for other cars, not cyclists.
"It's easy to miss something you're not looking for." Take this awareness test to test your skill.
• Accidents occur in unfamiliar surroundings: Know where you're going.
Google Maps has recently updated their "directions" feature to include bike routes. Other online direction programs sometimes direct bikers onto highways or into pedestrian-only areas. Be sure to double-check your route before you depart.
Map my Ride is a multi-feature Minneapolis biking map that includes routes as well as calorie counters and other types of exercise tools.
Winter will also affect the rate of biking. Slow down and give yourself extra time.
• Biking happens in a fast-paced, dangerous environment: Don't drink and bike. A study done by the Traffic Injury Prevention Journal links alcohol use and death in bicycle crashes. Also, Driving Under the Influence includes Driving a bike Under the Influence. In other words, you can acquire a $500+ fine for biking after a beer or two.
All in all, the fun and health of biking can be exponentially and instantaneously reduced with an accident. Avoid that. With awareness and caution, biking is a fun healthy activity.