When I was about 10, we lived in a suburb of Tacoma, Washington. Our house was built on the side of a hill and our driveway curved around to the back of the house, so we would take our bikes and race around the side of the house down that hill to get onto the street — between the front and the back of the house, the elevation changed about 10 feet so it was a pretty steep slope on that drive.
On one side of the drive was also a big stone retaining wall. As an adult, I am amazed that one of us: my brothers, our friends, or me was not seriously hurt or injured riding our bikes down that hill. We dodged cars on the street, we hit the retaining wall, we skidded and slipped and tipped over bikes at full speed more than once. But the worst we ever suffered was skinned knees and elbows. We were extremely lucky. Unfortunately, not all bicyclists are so lucky. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2019, 846 bicyclists were killed on US roadways.
May is National Bike Month, and as we close out the month and with school newly out for the summer, it’s a good time to talk about bike safety. Bicycle crashes occur mainly in one of two ways — falls and involving cars.
Falls are the most common and those involving cars are generally the most serious and account for the majority of fatalities. In terms of raw numbers, Texas is in the top 3 U.S. states for bicycle fatalities, however, if you look at miles of road per accident or per capita, Texas is not in the top 10 for bicycling accidents.
Regardless any death on a bicycle, as we know far too well from the deaths we have had out on Highway 191 between Odessa and Midland, is a death too many.
A few other facts about bicycle injuries and fatalities: Deaths most often occur between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. regardless of the season. Over 75% of bicycle deaths occur in urban areas. Deaths on bicycles are eight times more common in men than women. Thirty-seven percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involved alcohol.
There are huge benefits to bicycling when it’s done safety. There are distinct health benefits to bicycling. Bicycling burns an average of 540 calories per hour, but even casual bicyclists have benefit with bicycling at less than 10 miles per hour burning about 300 calories per hour.
The average person loses 13 pounds in their first year of routine bicycling. Bicycling 20 miles per week reduces a woman’s risk of heart disease by 50%.
Bicycling has also been shown to reduce stress, boost metabolism, strengthen immunity, reduces high blood pressure and risk factors for diabetes, and it improves coordination and balance which reduces risks for falls. There are financial benefits to bicycling as well. A daily four-mile bike commute saves the average person 66 gallons of gasoline each year.
The key to gaining the benefits while mitigating the risks of bicycling is paying attention to bicycle safety. One of the biggest pieces of bicycle safety is a helmet. I realize it’s not “cool” and for a pre-teen or teenager, a helmet is probably looked at as a form of torture, but most serious injuries and deaths on bicycles are related to head injuries.
Helmets go a very long way to preventing those injuries. Make sure helmets fit properly and are replaced if they are damaged. The NHTSA has a good video on fitting a bike helmet on their website at www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/bicycle-safety. The next step is avoiding crashes. Use a bicycle that fits you — bicycles that are too big are harder to control.
Make sure the bicycle is in good working condition, bicycling skills do not compensate for brakes that don’t work. Make yourself more visible — bright colored and reflective clothing, lights and reflectors on the bicycle. Make sure your shoes are tied well and laces are tucked away so they don’t tangle in bicycle chains and gears. Make sure carried items are in a backpack that is worn properly or strapped to the bicycle, and limit riders to one per bicycle.
Please get out there on a bicycle this summer and throughout the year. It is great for your health, it’s fun, and I know for me, some of my best memories are associated with bicycling with my family. Just remember to stay safe!