By Martin Jansen, Owner of Jansen-PCINFO
I diverge from my usual technical articles to write about cycling safety. I have been riding all kinds of two wheel and three wheel bikes since I was a kid. To me, cycling has always meant freedom and the ability to get around town quickly. My first bicycle was a very used Roadmaster with an unfortunate seat post problem.
The seat would not stay on, but I rode the bike anyway. Great for the leg muscles.
In junior high school, I saved money doing paper routes and mowing lawns to purchase a brand new John Deere bicycle.
Yes, John Deere made bicycles in the early 1970s. Mine was a black beauty 10 speed. I took this bike on a tour of Wisconsin Dells, but couldn’t afford panniers. I used two backpacks reinforced with cardboard to keep the packs out of the spokes..
After high school in 1974, I went into service in the US Army. Basic training in South Carolina and Advanced Individual Training in Georgia then off to Germany. At the post exchange in Frankfurt, I bought a Peugeot bicycle.
These featured Simplex derailleurs. The Peugeot was my means of transportation between McNair Kaserne and Frankfurt, about 12 kilometers or 30 minutes away.
When I transitioned out of the service in 1977, I ordered an original Trek frame and built my new bike from the frame up, selecting and assembling my components.
I sold my Trek to a collector about a year ago.
I have owned and maintained lots of bikes including Giants, Diamondbacks and, most recently TerraTrike Travelers. These are three wheeled trikes.
I even own a fat tire folding electric bike from Ecotric.
I ride bikes all over Appleton and the surrounding communities.
The point of this long history of bike ownership is that I feel qualified to comment on bike safety.
But first a word about physics: The average SUV (the most popular vehicle in NE Wisconsin) weighs about 2,000 pounds or more. The average bicycle weighs about 50 pounds or less. Add the weight of the rider and you have less than 250 pounds. The average SUV driver exceeds the speed limit by 5 miles an hour or more. The average cyclist does about 15 to 20 miles an hour. Should the SUV hit the bike and rider, the rider will always lose. Badly.
Cycling safety is not only advised, it could save a life.
Wear a Helmet
Even in Germany I wore a Bell bucket helmet, way before it was a thing to do.
Falling off a bike, even at low speed, can cause head injury. Parents should insist that their children wear helmets, even at the risk of looking ‘uncool’ to their friends.
Wisconsin law says that bicycles are vehicles and should travel the same direction as cars. Appleton has made great progress at being bike friendly, but still has a way to go. There’s nothing more discouraging than to see the dreaded Bike Lane Ends sign.
Cyclists can protect themselves by taking alternate routes away from main car traffic. I often look at Google Maps to find the least problematic way to reach my destination. Google offers a bicycle route feature which is often different from SUVs and routes can be changed by dragging to alternate streets.
For parents, teach your older children to use the streets, not the sidewalks. While pedestrians walk against traffic, they should be given a wide berth by cyclists. Announce your presence to walkers on trails well before reaching them by bell or voice. Yell “Coming Up on your Left.” or similar phrasing to alert pedestrians. Of course, some pedestrians wear ear buds blasting music, proceed with caution around them.
Use Hand Signals
Don’t let automobile drivers guess as to your next move. Use hand signals to indicate that you are going to turn left or right.
Don’t blow through stop lights and stop signs. Obey the rules of the road, just as automobiles do. I use curbs when stopping so I don’t need to dismount from my electric bike. The TerraTrikes make it easy to stop and not ever worry about falling.
Maintain Your Bike
It’s important to keep bikes in top working condition. Low tire pressure increases rolling resistance. Worn brakes increase stopping distances. Chains need lubrication along with derailleurs and other moving parts. A great working bike can help riders avoid injury.
Cyclists should give parked cars at least a 3 ft berth to avoid getting “doored.” It is hard to tell if someone is getting out of a car from a distance. Of course, drivers should give bicyclists an even wider berth to account for the distance.
Light the Bike
While most bikes come with reflectors, it’s a good idea to have lights on your ride for automobiles to see you better. Dusk is the most dangerous time for visibility especially in summer. Flashing lights help drivers be aware of cyclists on the road.
Drivers can help cyclist by giving them at least three feet of clearance, it is a Wisconsin Statute:
346.075 Overtaking certain vehicles and devices.
(1) The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle, electric scooter, or electric personal assistive mobility device proceeding in the same direction shall exercise due care, leaving a safe distance, but in no case less than 3 feet clearance when passing the bicycle, electric scooter, or electric personal assistive mobility device, and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle, electric scooter, or electric personal assistive mobility device.
Slow down when encountering cyclists and be ready to stop if necessary.
I’ve attached a one page flier from the Zero in Wisconsin website.
Except for the first rule, which plainly is repeated for COVID-19 purposes, the statements verify what I have written.
Hopefully this article will make a difference and possibly save lives.