Cycling safety and etiquette while on the road (Opinion)

We have been seeing a significant number of patients after bicycle crashes in the Tahoe Forest Hospital Emergency Department this summer. In an effort to keep our residents safe, I am sharing some safety topics gleaned through many years cycling, and my own personal extensive crashing experiences.

There are only 2 types of traumas we see in the Emergency Department; those that involve the brain and spinal cord, and everything else. Obviously, this is an oversimplification, but you should do everything you can to avoid being a member of the first group.

E-bikes are now ubiquitous in town. We are seeing more accidents involving e-bikes, likely due to the ability of inexperienced cyclists now able to travel at 20+ mph. Having a passenger increases the instability of the bike. Texting or checking your phone while riding (or driving) should not be done, and it actually is illegal to have headphones or earbuds in both ears while riding.

Helmets. Helmets are associated with up to a 70% lower risk of serious head injury in the event of a crash. In addition, helmets are required by law on everyone riding a bike or e-bike if less than 18 years old. If you wear a helmet, you MUST buckle the chin strap or else the helmet flies off and then your head smacks the ground! (This applies to all helmet use. Skiers, boarders, skaters etc.) Helmets should be replaced after a crash; even if not visually broken; the foam compresses and it will not protect your head in subsequent crashes. In addition, helmets should be replaced after 5 years of use as they become damaged from UV light and sweat.

Plan to be seen. EVERYONE riding on the road should have a bright taillight. Most are inexpensive and sold in local bike shops. Cyclists are hard to see, and you should do anything you can to increase your visibility such as bright clothing, or reflective clothing at night.

When passing other cyclists, and this especially applies to e-bikers who travel faster, pass on the left only, and announce “passing on your left” so as not to startle the cyclist you are passing. Hand signals indicating turns are easy on a bike; simple extend your arm on the side you are turning 100 feet before the turn. To signal a left turn, extend your left arm straight out, and right arm extended for a right turn. Always travel in the same direction as the traffic is going. Motorists are not looking for cyclists riding on the wrong side of the road.

Courtesy is a two way street. We expect motorists to be courteous to us, but cyclists must be courteous as well. Meaning, obey traffic signs and road markings and avoid riding side by side. Bicycles must follow the rules of the road like other vehicles. California law requires a motorist passing a bike to give at least 3 feet of clearance between any part of the vehicle and any part of the bike or the person riding it. Where 3 feet of clearance isn’t available due to road or traffic conditions, the driver must slow down and pass only when it’s safe to do so.

Be safe; rubber side down!

Jonathan Laine is a 32 year Truckee resident and lifelong cycling nut. He is an Emergency Medicine physician. In addition, he has a very extensive personal résumé on crashing!

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