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Mastery of the modern ten-speed bicycle or the complex traffic mix of the seventies is difficult for the beginning bicyclist. It is essential to master the handling of a lightweight and rather sophisticated bicycle--the ten-speed--which allows a rider to reach speeds of 16-20 mph with relative ease. If only the bicycle had to be mastered, the task would be much simpler. The compounding factors are making use of roadways not designed for pedestrians or other self-propelled travelers and sharing these facilities with drivers of high-speed, heavy-mass vehicles who are not accustomed to the low profile of a bicyclist.
To minimize conflict, the bicyclist and motorist must learn to recognize danger and be able to react. In the sections below are outlined some of the basic principles the bicyclist must master in order to feel at ease and ride safely on the modern highway. As in other sections of this report, emphasis is given to Class III riding conditions, although application may be appropriate to most riding situations.
The ten-speed bicycle is more delicate than the older, more traditional three-speed or middleweight bicycle. It cannot be ridden through potholes, and is more prone to skidding on loose gravel or other roadway debris. Fortunately, its lightness and design permit much greater balance and control, allowing the rider some advantage toward facing these hazards. Due to the lightness and greater efficiency of the ten-speed, higher speeds are usually maintained. The skilled bicyclist can thus ride with greater advantage and safety in low-speed urban traffic.
Here are some additional special conditions affecting the well-being of the bicyclist.
Motorists. Motorists have a mindset to expect large objects to be entering or sharing their roadway. At intersections or in congested areas they often will not see a bike rider. If they recognize the rider, they may fail to react properly, misjudging the speed of the bicyclist or not understanding his needs.
Roadways. Roadways selected by the bicyclist often have a low-priority maintenance schedule and may be deeply rutted or heavily strewn with gravel and other debris. A number of bicyclists do not have sufficient skill to avoid these hazards. Some roadway features are designed for the motor vehicle and not the bicyclist and pose serious additional hazard to the rider. Included in these are railroad tracks, bridges, sewer grates, tunnels, and traffic control devices.
Very few of today's adult riders are skilled at riding. Many poor habits are carried over from childhood. Most bicycle safety classes are designed to point out the obvious hazards of hitching a ride on the back of a truck or riding double, and the necessity of obeying traffic laws. Some states and organizations are now helping sponsor more detailed courses. Emphasis is given to using sight and hearing to greater advantage, recognizing common hazards, and perfecting skills. Among the information presented to Bikecentennial riders last year was the following:
Bike Size a-d Adjustment. Cycling comfort, ease, and safety require a bike that fits the rider-properly. Frame size is the first consideration. The frame height is measured from the top of the seat tube to the center of the crank: With a diamond-shape or men's frame--which is the strongest and best for touring for either men or women--a good test for determining the right height is to stand straddling the top tube with both feet flat on the ground. If one can lift the bike more than an inch, the frame is too small. For a ladies' or mixte frame, this test can be made by having a friend hold a broom handle or pole where the top tube on the diamond-shape frame would be.
The distance from the front of the saddle to the center of the handlebars should be the same as the distance from one's elbow to the middle finger of the outstretched hand.
The saddle should be level--not slanted--and adjusted to a height where one can extend a leg fully with the heel resting on the pedal at its lowest point. After the saddle is adjusted, the seatpost should extend at least three inches into the frame to avoid hazardous breakage. The top of the handlebars should be set about the same height as the saddle.
Once properly fitted to a bicycle, one can begin to concentrate on the essentials of balance and straight, efficient, smooth riding. Both cadence and ankling must be mastered in order to ride safely.
Cadence. The rate at which one pedals is of primary importance. Pedaling too fast (in too low a gear for the speed the bike is traveling) can be very tiring and tends to fatigue one's knees. A slow, laborious, grinding cadence (riding in too high a gear for bike speed, load or terrain) results in instability, causing your body and bike to wobble and sway. Proficient cycling requires a brisk, steady cadence of 65-80 pedal revolutions per minute. Pedaling speed usually will increase as one gets used to riding long distances and becomes more skilled at working the gears.
Ankling. Ankling allows distribution of effort evenly over the whole pedal revolution and further increases riding efficiency and smoothness. Ankling is executed by placing the ball of the foot on the pedal (toe clips help greatly to keep feet in place) and concentrating on pointing the toe down at the-bottom of the revolution, then lifting the pedal up. When first practicing this technique one must make a conscious effort to put pressure on the toe clips, as though determining where one's toes are when trying on new shoes.
Riding with body weight poised evenly over the bike and using the technique of ankling, one can use many more muscle groups for propulsion than are available when seated upright on a standard bike. The result is more control and less fatigue.
Drafting. "Taking a wheel" or "pacing" is a nice way, particularly when riding into a headwind, for a small group of experienced riders to reduce wind resistance. When drafting, each rider stays 6-18 inches back of the one ahead, and 6-8 inches off to the side. The lead rider shouts "rock" when one presents a danger, and then steers around it. The last. rider shouts "car!" when one starts to pass. All riders relay all messages in both directions. When passing another cyclist, always give the warning, "on your left," and pass on the left. Drafting should never be attempted on busy highways or by beginners.
Steering. Steering is accomplished not only by turning the handlebars, but by leaning-in the direction one wants to turn (this is especially important on mountain descents). Steering should be practiced in an empty paved lot, with the bike loaded as if on a trip.
Emergency Braking. Emergency braking should be mastered by everyone riding a bike. This technique entails three phases which must be practiced until one can perform them as a continuous motion: while shifting body weight rapidly but smoothly rearward. on the saddle, one must move the hands down into braking position, and apply firm, equal pressure to both brakes. With normal riding position, more than half of the braking.force is in front, so the rear wheel has a tendency to skid or even leave the ground, which can cause a spill. Shifting body weight back counteracts this tendency, enabling a smooth, fast stop. One must slide back on the saddle and bend forward in any tight riding situation. Check the condition and adjustment of your brakes frequently.
Mountain Descents. Mountain descents and other long or steep downhills must be approached cautiously, particularly with the added weight of touring gear. Before starting down one must be sure that brakes, cables, and wheels are in good shape and the load is secure. Special note of the condition of the tires must be taken--a blowout while descending a mountain can be fatal. If it's chilly, the wind and reduced exertion may call for an extra layer of clothing. Even if one coasts all the way down one must keep moving the legs from time to time so they're not stiff when power pedaling is resumed.
On long grades it's deceptively easy to reach speeds of 40, 50, or even 60 mph without realizing it. One must keep speed low enough-to maintain complete control. If this requires much braking, the brakes should be pumped alternately rather than applying both continually, to avoid overheating the tire rims and risking a blowout. On a bike with drop handlebars (definitely recommended), one should ride with hands on the drops for proper body position and quick braking ability. Weight should be kept low and back on the bike. The road should be scanned well ahead for rocks, chuckholes, wet or icy spots, and other hazards. Glass and loose gravel are especially treacherous. One should always slow down before entering a curve, remembering to lean as one turns. To stop to enjoy the scenery or let the rims cool, one should leave the road after checking for gravel and other roadside hazards.
Uphill Stretches. When encountered in roller-coaster series, uphill stretches can often be conquered by maintaining speed through the low dips between them. One must maintain brisk cadence and accentuate ankling but not try to grind one's way to the top. Long climbs, especially, take time and patience. Experience and practice will enable the anticipation of stress and the need to shift to a lower gear before losing the cadence and hence stability. One should not stop at the top of a hill unless intending to get off and walk around a bit to relax leg muscles lest they stiffen up. If one must stop midway up, the road must be abandoned first. One should always be ready to leave the road if traffic backs up. Some hills require walking.
Gravel Roads. These areas require slow, steady, relaxed riding. On thick patches, slightly increased cadence (in a lower gear) is a good idea. When riding on gravel, one should keep hands well apart on the handlebars and eyes trained on the road surface ahead. Hills with loose gravel should be carefully tested and walked over if necessary.
High Winds. High winds tax one physically and limit hearing. Ride with extra caution on windy days. Side winds cause one to lean such that if a truck passes or one passes a structure, the sudden blockage of wind can throw one off balance, causing the bike to swerve.
Hazards. Bicycle touring is as safe as cyclists make it. All roads, even the most carefully thought-out bike routes, have traffic and other hazards. One must always ride with caution.
Motor Vehicle Traffic. Motor vehicle traffic presents the greatest danger to life and limb. One should remember that cars, trucks, and motorcycles are heavier and usually faster than bicycles and anticipate that the next driver met may be about to do something bizarre. When a car or truck overtakes a rider he should always assume that there is a line of traffic following it, and that the second driver back has not seen the~rider.
One must interpret the sound of vehicles approaching from the rear, listening especially for signs of motorists taking or failing to take precautions. An experienced bicyclist can detect whether a driver has stopped accelerating or is maintaining speed. A laboring engine may warn of a swerving trailer or other heavy load. Towing units often are equipped with mirrors which protrude far to the side and can clip an unsuspecting cyclist. Small mirrors are made for mounting on a rider's helmet or glasses and are a good idea.
Lumber, coal and other large trucks need extra space, and a rider must be ready to leave the roadway if necessary. These professional drivers are earning their living on the road, while cyclists are using it for recreation. A friendly wave will usually be returned.
Time of Day. Time of day is often an important safety consideration. Temperatures are usually best, and traffic lightest, in the early morning. Leaving or approaching major population centers during rush hours or the noon hour should be avoided. One should be off the road before 5 PM--poor light, fatigue, and the drinking driver make this the most dangerous time of day.
Night Riding. This is not recommended. Riding at night requires wearing bright, reflective clothing, using lights and reflectors front and rear, and listening for traffic. One must leave the roadway when a car is heard or seen approaching.
Fog. Fog is another form of bad news for cyclists. Riding in heavy fog requires treating it like nighttime.- Under conditions like these, helmets, safety flags, safety triangles, and rear-view mirrors make even more sense.
Tunnels. Tunnels are almost never designed for the car-bicycle traffic mix. One must use lights. Stand at a safe point just inside to allow the eyes to adjust to the poor light. One should ride with great care, as far to the right as possible. For long tunnels, a group may want to appoint one person to carry a flag to warn motorists there are other cyclists ahead, but this person will still have to get through. A better idea, when possible, is to flag down a sympathetic motorist who'll follow your group through with flashers going.
Stationary Hazards. The majority of cycling mishaps are accounted for by stationary hazards. One should watch out for oil, wet leaves, hot tar, parked cars, bicyclists so foolish as to stop in the roadway, ice, rocks, broken pavement, loose gravel (especially at intersections and where side roads or driveways enter), and railroad crossings. In the west, one encounters an invention that makes an urban storm-sewer grating ride like a breadboard by comparison--the cattle guard, a series of 5-8 rails perpendicular to the line of travel, spaced 3-6 inches apart so that cattle will not try to cross. It is possible to ride across some of these, but others will require walking. This can be tricky--the bike will help maintain balance.
Moving Hazards. Moving hazards are particularly risky at intersections. Because of the large size of recreational vehicles, drivers who are unaccustomed to them may be the greatest motorized threat, along with the hotrod crowd. One should give both a wide berth. Other things that move and are dangerous include bicyclists, small children (on and off bicycles), dogs, and other animals. Friendly dogs that upset bikes in their enthusiasm may present as serious a problem as those that rush out threateningly.
Adherence to all traffic laws, as well as to those rules of the road dictated by common courtesy, is a requisite of safe and pleasant bicycle touring. One must note carefully all signs, signals, and one-way streets. Courtesy must be shown to motorists and pedestrians as well as fellow cyclists. Any wrong or discourteous actions of fellow bicyclists should be corrected with a friendly reminder. One should record the license number of any motorist showing extreme discourtesy or violation of traffic laws and report it to authorities if necessary. The same holds true for vicious dogs, serious road hazards, etc.
Cycling proficiency, safety consciousness, and visibility are the keys to safe touring. Most bicycle deaths and serious injuries either result from a bicyclist's error or could at least have been avoided by skillful and attentive riding.
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