Cycling is an ideal way to enjoy the outdoors and get your heart pumping. Whether you're looking to bike to work or just take advantage of the sunshine, it's critical that everyone using the trails and roads works together for the safety of all.
The Springfield Bicycle Club has been organizing group rides, teaching bicycle safety and advocating for cyclists for over four decades. It's an excellent resource for anyone looking to become more confident and comfortable on their bike, so I reached out to board members Lori Dale and Dr. Ted Sunder for their tips on how to stay safe on two wheels.
The SBC has excellent bike maps of the Springfield area. Free print maps highlighting the various trail systems throughout the area, as well as bike lanes and recommended bike routes, are available at local bike shops. The SBC website features GPS links and PDF maps for trail, gravel and road routes.
Ride with front and back lights on, even during the day. Blinking lights are even more noticeable. Bright-colored clothing is a must, especially when cycling during dawn or dusk.
Dress the part
Wearing a helmet that's properly fitted is vitally important no matter how much or how slow you ride. "People who wear helmets have something to protect," remarked Sunder, a retired pediatric neurologist. Dale advises that clothing should not be too loose, and sneakers with laces should be tucked in so they don't get stuck in the pedals.
Follow the rules of the road
Officially, a bike – whether or not it has a battery or motor – is a vehicle by law, and therefore you're required to follow all vehicular laws," explains Sunder. Ride in the same direction as traffic and as far to the right as is practical and safe. "You don't have to be off-riding in gravel," Sunder explains, "but you do need to keep to the right. Be especially aware of blind curves and hills – if you can't see what's on the other side, then you should be over to the right for safety. This applies on trails as well as the road," notes Sunder. "Riding two abreast is OK as long as it's safe and it's not impeding traffic, but in tight situations it's best to ride single file."
Cyclists should stop at all stop signs and lights. However, SBC program director Dale cautions that you can't always assume that the other cars at the intersection have seen you, so acute situational awareness is critical. Riding on sidewalks is dangerous, Dale points out, and riders should be aware of the car door zone and ride at least four feet away from parked cars.
On your left!
It's essential to communicate while cycling, whether you're on the road or the trail. Call your pass if you're in proximity to other cyclists and pedestrians. "If you're walking and someone comes up close behind you, and you're startled and make a sudden movement, it can end very badly for all involved," Sunder warns.
"You can never over-communicate when you're out there," says Dale. "If you're in a group ride, you can't see what's directly in front of you, so it's important for the folks in the front of the group to call out that there's a pothole or something." Cyclists on the road must use hand signals to communicate with other drivers.
Share the road
Drivers should not drive or stop in bike lanes at any point. When passing a cyclist, drivers should allow three feet of space at a minimum and change lanes, if possible. Cyclists have the same rights on the road that drivers do, and drivers should educate themselves on how to share the road respectfully and responsibly. Ride Illinois is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of cyclists in Illinois. Its website offers a wealth of information, including bike safety quizzes for kids and adults as well as drivers.
Ride with a group
In addition to regular weekly group rides, the SBC hosts the Sangamon Cycling Series once a month from May through August, leading up to its premier event in September. The series, which is $25 for SBC members and $30 for non-members, was designed to be a way to build fitness over the summer, connect with other cyclists and experience the range of bike-friendly trails and roads around the Springfield area. Starting off from a different location each month, the pre-planned routes range in distance and feature rest stops and water breaks. Participants can download the route onto a smartphone GPS and ride independently or ride with an SBC group leader. Information is available on the SBC website.