May is National Bike Month. With all the Hallmark holidays and such that cloud our calendars, you probably overlooked this. Fair enough, but this affords me an opportunity to delve from extolling the benefits of bicycling to a simple and overlooked issue — how to ride a bike.
I fondly remember my first "real" bike (I don't count my tricycle). It was a dirt bike aptly named the "Dirty Cat," and I rode that beast all over north Merrillville. Actually, considering our high-strung feelings about child safety, I'm amazed my parents lent me such latitude! Even so, off I went — and without a helmet or any clues on the correct manner to ride. One adventurous time I rode with a friend and raised my arms up and promptly wiped out, to which my buddy replied, "Look Ma, no brains."
Maybe you share an equally fond childhood with a bicycle (sans the wipeout, I hope). Even though many moons have passed since you have ridden a bike, chances are you'll figure it out right away. This prompts that age-old axiom "as easy as riding a bicycle." Problem is, that's only half the battle — knowing where to ride, including the correct gear, makes the difference.
Bicycle education is a serious matter because bad habits can linger into adulthood, and as adults we can open ourselves up to serious injuries. As a child, it's especially dangerous because their decision-making abilities have not fully developed. So in the spirit of Bike Month, here are some quick tips to keep you riding smart:
• Always wear a helmet. The vast majority of bike injuries (and deaths) are head-related. Use yours and protect it!
• As an adult, ride in the street. Do NOT ride on sidewalks, unless you are a child younger than 14 or riding with one. This rule can be relaxed if you are riding along a busy road where vehicle speeds exceed 45 mph.
• Obey all traffic laws. If you ride in the street, you are a legally allowed user of the road and must stop at stop signs and stoplights, and yield for pedestrians.
• Ride with traffic on the right. This rule is ignored by many, but when riding with motorized traffic, they have a better chance to see you, and that's what counts.
• Be prepared: Wear bright and reflective clothing when dark (lights and a horn/bell also are wise to attach), and carry water and tools if embarking on long rides.
• Oh yeah, drivers, don't forget to share the road!
These are a few but vital rules to keep in mind when riding a bike. Bicycle Indiana has more tips at www.bicycleindiana.org. Ride smart. And happy Bike Month!
Mitch Barloga is nonmotorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.