Safety Archives

Should You Wear a Helmet While Riding?

My short answer is Yes.

Should there be laws that require it? I don’t know.

Do helmets make you safer? I should hope so. But am not completely convinced.

These questions come to mind because of a post I read at Bicycle Touring Pro this week. Darren was pointing out an article that indicated there is not enough evidence to show that riding with a helmet actually made the rider safer. Beyond the article, there is some good comments from both sides of the argument at the bottom of the blog post.

Someone pointed out an article on Wikipedia where the pros and cons are laid out. It might be worth investing the time to drink a cup of coffee to try and dig through the issue.

I admit that I don’t always wear a helmet, but I always feel like I should be wearing one.

Helmet Mounted Bike Mirrors

As a kid growing up in the 70s, I remember having my handlebar mounted bike mirrors. They were big and bold. And, frankly, I never thought they worked that well. But we didn’t wear helmets back then so we didn’t have the choice of using a helmet mounted bike mirror like today.

Helmet mounted bicycle mirrors are easy to position and give a great field of view since you can easily turn your head a few degrees without affecting the direction your bike is traveling. Because the mirror is close to the rider’s eye it does not need to be very large to be functional. This means that there is not much weight involved with a helmet mirror.

Helmet Mirror by Third EyeAdvantages:

  • Small and light
  • Always available if wearing your helmet, even if you ride multiple bikes
  • No blind spots
  • Not easily stolen

Disadvantages:

  • Must wear your helmet to have a mirror
  • Distracting
  • Helmet must be well-fitting or the mirror will be out of position
  • Makes tossing your helmet into a sports bag a bit more tricky
  • Can be easily broken off the helmet

If you always ride with your helmet, then you will always have your mirror. This makes it easy to jump on anyone’s bike and still have the comfort of knowing what is behind you. There are no blind spots because it is a simple matter to make a full sweep of what is behind and beside you by slightly turning your head.

There are some who say that wearing a helmet or glasses mounted mirror creates an unnecessary distraction. I can attest this was true the first few times I used a mirror like this, but you quickly get used to it and it becomes a trusted tool instead of a distraction.

The thing I dislike the most about a helmet mounted bicycle mirror is that tossing your helmet into a gym bag, or packing it in anything, becomes awkward. There is the fear of breaking the stem of the mirror (which are designed to break in a crash). Some can be attached with a Velcro© tab making it easy to remove and replace. I have not tried doing that, but my fear with it is that vibrations would be more pronounced. It would certainly be worth trying before permanently attaching your mirror to your helmet.

If you always wear the same helmet when you need a mirror, this is a great option. However, if you switch helmets regularly, then getting a glasses mounted mirror or handlebar mounted mirrors might be a better option.

High Humidity = Slick Roads

Last night was a cool fall evening with 97% humidity. I was riding home from work and had a clear opening through an intersection where I needed to make a left-hand turn. I wasn’t going overly fast, but I was certainly going faster than I normally would since—for the first time that I can remember—I didn’t have to stop at the light or wait for traffic before turning.

As I was making a beautiful sweeping turn both my wheels started sliding on the wet asphalt at the same time. It wasn’t as slick as ice, but the effect was the same. I was not able to recover from the slide like you can do if only your back wheel slides out from under you. I hit the ground and slid on my left side.

Because there was oncoming traffic (though it was more than a block away), I wanted to get to my feet as quickly as I could so they could see me (the accident happened after dark). I had lights on my bike, but I did not pretend to think that the cars would pay attention to small lights in the middle of their road. While collecting my bike I just happened to look over and saw my phone lying in the road. Had I not seen it, I probably would not have noticed it was missing for a couple of blocks. I did a quick scan of the road to make sure there was nothing else lying around.

My bike is mostly fine; I tore the cover on my saddle. The chain was off the chain ring when I first got on, but with a rotation of the pedals it jumped back into place. I was in the big chain ring. The phone works, but it does have some discoloration in the screen. My pants are destroyed; I ripped a big hole down the left thigh. The sleeve on my coat did not get torn. The reason it didn’t was that it slid up my arm which resulted in my arm having a good bit of road rash. Probably less than I would have if I wasn’t wearing the coat though. I have a few other random cuts and scrapes.

This was my first potentially serious wreck since I was a kid. I have always been scared of hitting the ground in this way. While I don’t want to do it again, I am thankful it was not as bad as I always imagined.

Be careful out there when the humidity is high. Those little rocks in the asphalt can get slippery. Don’t cut it close with traffic. I had plenty of room between me and the oncoming cars to gather myself and make my presence known, but I know there are times when I have cut it too close in the past. Maybe this will serve as a warning to not take risks with traffic in the future. It took less than a second to go from a beautiful left turn to sliding through an intersection.

Nite Ize – BikeLit Review

BikeLit packagingLast summer I picked up a couple of red BikeLits for my bikes. These are LED safety lights made by Nite Ize. These have been a great investment since my family and I commute by bike to our regular activities. Almost half of our commuting is after dark. While I have more than a normal amount of reflectors on our bikes, I needed some lights. Previously I bought lights that used AAA batteries which were very bright, but did not have a good mechanism for holding them onto the bike. The batteries made them too heavy and the bracket either folded down so the light wouldn’t show, or the light just popped off the bike. They were all destroyed within 2 weeks of purchase.

That is the reason I was looking for something with a better way to attach to the bike. If the light had smaller batteries that would have been a bonus. When I saw the BikeLit from Nite Ize I was happy with the possibilities.

This light connects via 2 hooks. These are perfect for attaching to the rails underneath the saddle on our bikes. Another thing I like about the way they attach is that they are very easy to put on and take off, yet I never worry about them accidentally falling off. I was concerned that the hooks would weaken over time, however I have had these for almost a year and that has not been an issue. I don’t foresee it becoming one either.

When turned on you have a choice of using a solid or strobe light. The lights use 2 CR2016 batteries and should last 20 to 25 hours depending on which mode you use. The batteries can be bought through Amazon for less than $1 each. If you use the lights regularly, then you may want to consider picking up a few extra batteries. While I bought these lights in the United States, we currently live in Argentina. I recently had to replace the batteries on our lights and paid $2.50 per battery at a local watch store. That is $5 per light! A friend reminded me that $5 is a small price to pay for the extra insurance a rear light will give you when riding at night.

Originally I paid about $8 for the lights. You can buy a two pack (red and white) at Amazon for less than $11. If you look at that Amazon page, you can choose just the red or just the white light. They are under $7 each. I have no experience with the white light, but if I were looking for a light, I would buy the combo pack just for the savings.

These lights are waterproof. They slip on and off the bike easily. The red BikeLit that I have can easily be seen at a distance. Even if you don’t use them for your bike, at this price it is worth having a couple of these around any time you want to be seen.

Handlebar Mounted Bike Mirrors

There are many different types of bicycle mirrors. Some prefer mirrors that mount on the rider’s helmet while others prefer bike mirrors that mount on the bike in some way. There are even some riders who despise bike mirrors completely. Whatever camp you are in, here are some advantages and disadvantages to handlebar mounted mirrors.

There are various types of handlebar mounted bike mirrors. They can be mounted on the bar ends, clamp onto the handlebars or even stow into the bar ends when not in use. Depending on whether you have straight bars or drop handlebars as to which type of mirror works best. One of the most interesting types of bike mirrors for drop handlebars is a mirror that is not much bigger than the diameter of the bars which mount on the end of the drops and allows the rider to look straight down to see the traffic behind him.

Advantages:

  • Always on the bike
  • A stationary position in relationship to the handlebars

Disadvantages:

  • Of necessity, they must be larger than mirrors mounted closer to the rider’s eyes
  • Easy to steal
  • Easy to break in a fall
  • Constantly moving in relationship to the rider’s line of sight

Unlike glasses or helmet mounted mirrors, handlebar mounted mirrors are always on the bike. The rider does not have to remember to grab the mirror before heading out the door for a ride. The bike mirrors are connected to the handlebars; therefore, it is easy to temporarily twist the bars to get a different viewing angle.

However, because the mirrors are further away from the rider, they must be larger to get the same field of view that glasses and helmet mounted mirrors offer. The need to move the handlebars to get a better viewing angle can be dangerous or impossible in certain situations.

The most important thing about having a mirror on your bike is actually using it. Being aware of the cars, and other cyclists, around you will help keep you safe on the road.

Locking Your Bike

I came across an article on how to lock up a bike. The author has some good explanation and pictures. I encourage you to go read the whole page. But here are the highlights.

how to lock a bike

What needs to be locked?

  • Front tire
  • Rear tire
  • Frame
  • Seat

You can do some of these with the same chain or U-lock, but you will need at least 2 locks/chains to secure everything. Also the more locks the thief has to break the more likely you are going to encourage them to move on to the next bike and leave yours alone.

The wheels and the frame should be locked to each other and an immovable object such as a bike rack or solid pole. Even if your bike does not have quick release wheels, you must lock both of them. You can remove one of the wheels and lock it to the other wheel and frame if necessary.

Keep your chain as short as possible. The more slack there is, the easier it is for a thief to break it with a metal pole. This is even more important with a U-lock.