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September 26th, 2017

Bike Safety for New Yorkers

By Sarah Guenther

If someone had asked me what I’d be doing at the end of this summer, I would’ve said, “Racing my third triathlon of the summer, duh! WOOHOO!” Instead, I spent the months of August and September in a neck brace, lucky to have my life.

On August 5, I was involved in a serious bicycle crash. While doing some fast intervals in Central Park during a Saturday brick (a workout involving cycling, then running immediately after), I was cut off by a tourist riding a bike and not paying attention. Instead of crashing into him, I braked as hard as I could and went flying over my handlebars. I landed face first, sustaining serious facial lacerations and had ligamentous damage in my neck.

Needless to say, my accident serves as plenty of inspiration for a blog post on bicycle safety! New York City has added many more bike lanes over the years, making biking in the city more accessible. However, with the amount of foot, bike and car traffic here, it can be dangerous! I found myself wondering, what ARE the bike laws in NYC? I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t stop at all of those lights in Central Park…

So we’re all safe cyclists, here are the NYC Bike Laws from the New York City DOT website:

  • Ride in the street- never on sidewalks unless the rider is age 12 or younger.
  • Ride with traffic- not against it (though I constantly catch people going against traffic).
  • Stop at red lights and stop signs- cyclists are required to obey all traffic signals, signs and pavement markings, INCLUDING all lights in Central Park!
  • Use marked bike lanes or paths when available- this refers to both streets and roadways in the park. I constantly see people riding outside of the bike lanes both in Central Park and on common roadways.
  • Use a white headlight and a red taillight, as well as a bell or horn and reflectors- I find the importance of this law to be grossly undervalued. Being seen and heard is the first line of defense in regards to bike safety.
  • Helmets- ONLY children under the age of 14 are required to wear helmets. NOTE: NO LAW FOR ADULTS! (But everyone should still wear them, even if it isn’t the law!)
  • Headphones- cyclists cannot wear more than one earphone attached to a radio, tape player or other audio device while riding. (While the law says you can wear one headphone, really you shouldn’t wear them at all in order to stay more alert!)

I was surprised that absolutely no helmet laws exist for adults in NYC! So what about the rest of the country? According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, not one of the 52 states in the U.S. requires people to wear helmets over the age of 15. I find this appalling and terrifying, especially because my helmet definitely saved my life. So wear your helmets, people!

In addition to knowing the bike laws, what are some of the most important aspects of bike safety? To help answer this question, I interviewed triathlon coach Kevin Hanover from HBodyLab Triathlon team in New York City.

SG: How do you teach bike handling skills to help your athletes feel comfortable in the saddle in a busy city like New York?
KH: I believe bike handling skills are one of the most important defenses we have as cyclists and triathletes. First, make sure your bike is properly fitted to your size to ensure you can maneuver your bike as efficiently as possible. Find a local cycling coach, such Jose Soto who works with my team, and go to an empty parking lot or part of the park with very little traffic. Practicing things such as clipping in and out of the pedals, getting on and off the bike and tweaking the weight balance ratio (between the handlebars and saddle) are all excellent skills to work on. In a busy city like New York, it is essential that you stay calm and confident while riding, as defensive riding saves lives.

SG: My accident occurred on a late Saturday morning in Central Park when bike and foot traffic was quite heavy. What are the best times of days for cyclists or triathletes to ride?
KH: Great question Sarah. My team has two outdoor sessions per week: one between 6-7am on a weekday morning, and one after 7pm on a weekday evening. This helps to eliminate many of the obstacles that could cause a crash such as car and heavy bike or foot traffic. I recommend saving the easier and less exerting workouts when riding outside, and always using front and rear-mounted lights. For tougher workouts that require higher speeds and interval work, I highly suggest taking your bike indoors and using an indoor bike trainer. This is a great way to ensure you’re riding as safely as possible while still getting in a quality workout.

SG: Considering there are no states in U.S. that require adults to wear helmets by law, what is your opinion on wearing helmets?
KH: I think that is absolutely insane. Every single state should have a law that requires ALL bicyclists to wear helmets. I don’t know about you but I love my head! The single most important line of defensive in cycling, in my opinion, is wearing a helmet. Whether you’re traveling one or 100 miles, always wear a helmet. Protecting your head will save your life.

SG: Out of all the things we’ve discussed today, what are the most important aspects of bike safety?
KH: These are the things I stress most heavily for my athletes (and anyone riding!):

  • Wear a helmet at ALL TIMES while riding
  • Road ID: always wear one with your information and names and numbers of emergency contacts
  • Let your immediate network know when and where you’re riding
  • Do any speed or interval work on an indoor trainer
  • NEVER ride with headphones

Riding a bike is an incredibly fun and efficient way to exercise. Take proper precautions to stay alert, calm and confident, and ALWAYS WEAR YOUR HELMET!

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