As summer deepens and temperatures rise, you may notice more cyclists on the roads in your community. Just in the past decade, the number of people who commute to work has increased 60%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And when that number rises to its peak in the warmer months, you may find yourself on the road near a bike or on a bike more often, creating some potentially dangerous conditions. In recent years at Craig Hospital, we’ve seen a nearly 300% increase in people rehabilitating at our hospital after sustaining a bicycle-related spinal cord or brain injury. For both cyclists and drivers, we believe that it’s everyone’s shared responsibility to keep each other safe on the road, especially for those who have a critical safety disadvantage in a collision, like cyclists.
“As more people are taking to cycling this summer, we want to make sure that they’re riding safely,” Craig Hospital Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Robyn DePan says. “Even though the technology of our safety gear is improving every year, it's not always a fail-safe way to keep safe. Being aware, riding your bike safely, and following rules and regulations are the best ways to keep yourself safe, especially on the roads.”
Staying Safe as a Cyclist
As a cyclist, there are things you can do to minimize your risk of injury. Whether you cycle recreationally or to commute, these tips from our staff can help you protect yourself while riding a bike.
- Always wear a helmet. Every ride should start with putting on a properly fitted helmet. Whether you’re riding on your favorite trail or commuting to work on a roadway, a helmet can significantly decrease your risk of serious injury or death in an accident. A study published in the American Journal of Surgery found that wearing a helmet can reduce a person’s risk of a severe traumatic brain injury by 51%, fatality by 44% and facial fracture by 31%.
- Make sure your bike is fitted to you and in good working condition. Before venturing out onto roadways and trails, be sure your bike fits you properly and is working well. Just like a car, bikes need to be maintained to work correctly in an emergency, so always check your brakes, tires, gears and chain before every ride.
- Follow the rules and regulations of roads and trails. When you’re biking on the road, you are responsible for following the same laws as a vehicle would. Bike with the flow of traffic; stop at stop signs and red lights; and always use signals when turning. When on a trail or bike path, obey the speed limits and yield to pedestrians. People in front of you may not always hear you coming, so call out your location relative to other cyclists and pedestrians when passing.
- Be as visible as possible – but always assume drivers might not be able to see you. Wear bright clothing and install reflectors and lights on your bike to help make you more visible to drivers and other cyclists. Practice defensive cycling and try to anticipate how a driver or cyclist's movements might affect you; they may not see you, so be prepared to respond quickly.
- Avoid distractions. Just like driving, cycling requires your full attention. Stay off your phone and avoid wearing headphones or eating while riding; things can happen quickly on roadways or trails, and being fully aware of what is going on around you is critical in keeping yourself and others safe.
Your Responsibility as a Driver
As a driver sharing the road with cyclists, you carry the responsibility of operating a larger vehicle that has the potential to seriously injure others, especially those on bikes. However, there are things you can do to help protect others on the road with you.
- Respect bike lanes and leave space when passing. Don’t obstruct or drive in bike lanes except to make a turn and always yield to cyclists when turning. Treat cyclists as you would other cars and pass them with the same space you would give another vehicle. The law requires you give at least three feet to a cyclist as you pass.
- Look behind you and to your right for cyclists when turning right. Make it a habit to always check for cyclists coming up behind you or to your right when you’re making a right-hand turn, especially at intersections. When you don’t check beside you and behind you when turning right, you risk colliding with cyclists riding in shoulders or bike lanes.
- Yield to cyclists and don’t underestimate their speed. Cyclists have the same rights as a vehicle when traveling on roadways. Yield to them as you would another car and be careful not to assume they are traveling slow enough for a quick turn in front of them; you may cause a serious collision.
- Give driving your full attention. In all driving situations, be fully aware of what’s going on around you. Avoid distractions like phones and food; you never know when a distraction might prevent you from seeing a cyclist in a critical moment. Give driving your full attention to protect yourself and others on the roadways.
CRAIG GRAD STORY: MIKE WOLFNER
Cycling is a big part of Craig grad Mike Wolfner’s life. In 2013, Mike was climbing the amateur ranks of bicycle racing in Colorado and had just earned his Category 2 license. “Biking is a great balance of fun and sport,” Mike says. “I like the tactics and strategy and teamwork. I love the whole physical fitness part of cycling; it’s one of the absolute best cardio endurance sports. And being in the mountains, it's just gorgeous in Colorado.”
In 2013, Mike was returning from a long bike ride descending from the mountains on Route 40. While traveling 40 miles-per-hour, Mike hit a large rock in the road straight on and was thrown over his handlebars headfirst into a guard rail. “Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet and the helmet saved my life, but I still sustained a pretty nasty head injury,” Mike says. “I had a fractured skull; I needed a craniotomy that day. I had the shearing impact of going from 40 to 0 at once.”
About a month after his accident, Mike’s first memory after his crash is at Craig Hospital while in rehabilitation for his traumatic brain injury. “One memory, I was on my bicycle, and the next memory, I was at Craig in a wheelchair.” Mike says. “I had to learn how to walk again because my vestibular balance system was pretty much eliminated, and I had a lot of muscle atrophy. Toward the end of my stay at Craig, my physical therapy sessions included riding on a stationary trainer bike in the therapy gym. Then I actually had to get reacclimated to the road, so I went through a training process with my physical therapist to go out onto the road and review all the safety steps to make sure I was okay.”
Today, Mike is back on his bicycle, and minimizing risk is now a big tenet of his recreational biking. “Now I’m more cognizant of the impacts and the risks, so when I'm descending in the mountains and going fast, I always look at the speed I'm going and then hit the brakes because it's just not worth it to get down a couple minutes faster,” Mike says. “The risk is not worth it, so riding prudently is something that I do now.”
Since he’s spent a lot of time cycling on roadways, Mike has lots of practical tips to share with others on staying safe. “I like to minimize my exposure to cars. While I rely on riding on the road primarily, I always choose roads that are low traffic, low speeds with bike lanes preferably,” Mike says. “A big thing to always remember is to share the road - and sharing the road goes both ways. I see a lot of cyclists abuse their rights on the road where they blow through stop signs or they don't signal. When you're on the road, the same rules that apply to cars apply to you, too. You need to completely stop at every intersection. Always signal, and expect that cars do not see you. Ride defensively and make sure cars see you.”
He encourages drivers to stay alert as well. “The biggest thing is to think of yourself in a cyclist’s shoes,” Mike says. “It's not worth driving aggressively or not paying attention. Think about the impacts your car can have if you're on your phone texting - especially in Colorado where there are cyclists everywhere. You're putting yourself at risk, and there have been people that have just by pure accident hit a cyclist and sometimes ended their lives. It's absolutely not worth it.”
Mike is happy to be back on his bike today and encourages others to learn how to minimize risks while cycling. And as a big helmet advocate, he often shares a recent helmet study by Virginia Tech, his alma mater, with fellow bikers.