This blog post is written by Emily Wheeler and is published as part of our exchange with Tar Heel Tone-Up.
Not everyone wears a helmet on campus, but we all really should, especially if you bike alongside road traffic. Having a helmet that fits properly and snugly to your head can be the difference between a crash that leaves you with a few scuffs and bruises and a crash that leaves you in the hospital for weeks. Sure, helmets aren’t the most fashionable accessories to wear around, but they aren’t made to be a fashion statement, they’re meant to protect your very valuable head. Most helmets consist of a hard plastic shell covering a stiff foam that is made to absorb the crunch of impact instead of letting your skull take the blow. You can learn more about how to properly fit a helmet and the different types of biking helmets available here. I assure you that concussions and other head injuries will cost you a lot more than a good helmet.
Image by Bill Selak of Flickr Creative Commons
2. Closed-Toed Shoes
Let me tell you a story: one day, my mom and I were at home and my sister was at a friend’s house down the road. We get a call from the friend’s mom saying that Jenny (my sister) had a bicycle accident and that we needed to come right away because she needed to go to the hospital. I was expecting a concussion or a broken arm, but as it turns out, she and her friend were biking around the neighborhood wearing flip-flops, and as they were speeding downhill, her foot slipped off of the pedal and it spun up behind her foot, ripping a big gash into the back of her heel. A few hours and at least ten stitches later, we were all just thankful that her Achilles tendon wasn’t damaged. The moral of the story is to wear shoes that are appropriate for an athletic activity, such as biking, which usually implies shoes that will stay snugly on your feet and cover both your heel and toes. Several long-needled numbing shots into an open wound were enough to convince all of us (but especially Jenny) that flip-flops should never be worn while biking.
3. Pants Leg Clips
Have you ever noticed that many bikers commute with one pants leg rolled up? Many people use biking as a form of transportation more than purely for exercise, which means that they often ride their bikes wearing clothes that they will be wearing for the rest of the day at school or work. Pants legs can be loose and floppy at the bottom, which puts them in danger of getting caught in the chain (causing you to crash, rip your pants, or both) or simply getting a nice black grease stain on them as you ride. Rolling up the pants leg on the chain side can help prevent this problem, but can leave you with freezing cold ankles during the winter or one oddly wrinkly pants leg for the rest of the day at work. Instead, many regular bikers choose to wear pants leg clips to quickly keep their pants held closer to their ankles and safely out of the way of the chain. You can find flexible metal clips or these reflective bands for extra safety at night!
4. Hand signal knowledge and lights!
As a biker on the road, you need to realize that you are considered a vehicle and must follow all of the same traffic rules as the cars, trucks and SUVs on the road with you. Make sure to have lights on your bike when riding anytime near or after sunset: typically a flashing red light at the back of the bike and a white light in the front. It’s also important for your own safety to make sure that other drivers know when you are turning and stopping to prevent devastating crashes. Make sure you know the three main bicycle hand signals, and remember that you typically do all of them with your left hand:
- Left turn: Left arm extended fully to the side, parallel to the ground.
- Right turn: Left arm bent at the elbow in a 90º angle with fingertips up toward the sky
- Slowing or stopping; Left arm bent at the elbow in a 90º angle with fingertips toward the ground
5. Bike Lock
The sad truth about the fact that bikes are nice and often have expensive parts is that they are often a target of theft, especially in a campus-like setting where there are bikes galore all day, every day. Protect your bike by buying a sturdy chain lock or U-lock that is long enough to go through at least one wheel (preferably both), as well as the frame of the bike and the rack to which you are locking the bike. Bike thieves know that most people lock up the frame of their bike, but the wheels and tires are also valuable and can usually be quickly removed from the frame. Prevent this problem with an appropriate lock that can also lock up the wheels as well as the frame, and if you can’t carry your helmet around with you, you can always lock your helmet to your bike as well.
As an added measure of safety, if you ride your bike on campus you should consider registering it with UNC DPS to get a free bike permit, a coupon for 50% off a bike lock, and the serial number of the bike engraved into the frame.
Bonus: Mini bike pump and extra tire tube
You can buy surprisingly tiny bike pumps that will easily fit into your backpack in case you ever have an unexpectedly flat tire! If you’re really dedicated and you rely heavily on your bike to get you from place to place, you should also consider carrying a spare tire tube and patch kit in case of a completely blown tire in a rushed or emergency situation! Learn the simple process of changing a bike tire here.
With these key biking accessories, you’ll be prepared to use your bike to commute quickly and safely without fear of greasy pants legs or flat tires ruining your otherwise lovely day. And if you’re not an outdoor biker in need of various important biking accessories, you can walk on over to the SRC or Ram’s to bike indoors with Campus Recreation to kick-start your fantastic Labor Day weekend! Happy Friday!