By Jordan W. Charness
I recently took up bicycle riding again. This doesn’t mean that I have given up all the motorized vehicles, just that I decided to spend some quality time with the kids and maybe even lose a pound or two. In the past week I’ve learned that bicycle seats make you hurt in places you never want to be hurt in and riding my motorcycle is way more comfortable, and faster but not nearly as satisfying. There is something about finally winning the occasional bike race against my six year old that makes me want to become good enough to win the next race by more than a hair.
Riding with my six and 11-year old children also taught me something that I was ashamed to find out. My kids don’t really know the rules of the road! Thinking back on it, I remember teaching them how to ride a bike but I don’t recall spending too much time teaching them to respect the laws that would apply to them or even what those laws were. If you haven’t discussed the issue at length with your kids you might clip this column and talk to them about it soon. Their lives might well depend on it.
On our first outing I had Dov, my 11-year old son lead off followed by my daughter, Talia the 6-year old. I brought up the rear so that I could observe what they were doing and so they would not see me panting and gasping and dragging behind. While they had no problems controlling their bikes, following the rules seemed to be lackadaisical at best.
And the rules must be followed. It’s the law. More specifically, traffic laws not only apply to motorists but to bicyclists as well. In the first place, bicyclists must obey all road signs. Yes, all of them including stop signs, one-way signs and red lights. I now know from experience that starting a bicycle from a dead start is way harder than pushing on a gas pedal but nonetheless bike riders must come to a complete stop at stop signs and red lights.
We are all aware that motorists have a tendency to glide through stop signs – one more good reason for the bicyclist to come to a complete stop. If the car doesn’t stop at the intersection and the bicycle rider ignores the sign as well who do you think is going to be the most bent out of shape if the two collide?
A bicyclist must come to a complete stop at a red light and wait at the light until it turns green before moving off. Remember that cars move faster than you do and may appear seemingly out of nowhere. Motorists don’t expect anyone to be crossing the intersection against the light. Once again if they hit you, it will hurt!
When you are on a bicycle you must travel in the same direction as the car traffic. Always hug the curb as much as possible. Car drivers may misjudge the distance between their far right corner and your rear end. Even a tiny clip will send you flying.
The only exception to the ride on the right rule is when there is a bicycle path demarcated by a painted line on the road. These are mostly for two-way bike traffic no matter which side of the road they are on.
The Law requires that you ride in single file when travelling in a group and that you always signal your turns using the appropriate hand signal. A left turn is indicated by sticking your left hand straight out. A right turn is indicated by bending your left arm at the elbow at 90 degrees with your hand pointing at the sky. (When driving their cars motorists may use the same hand signals instead of the electronic turn signal indicators. I don’t know why you’d want to but now at least you know you can.)
The law also makes it illegal to do certain things on your bicycle. You are not allowed to carry a passenger unless the bike is specially equipped to do so. You are not allowed to ride between two lanes of traffic or ride on the sidewalk. Wearing headphones for iPods is also illegal. You are not allowed to drink alcohol while riding – save the cold beer for when you get home… as long as you are of legal age, that is.
If you fail to obey the traffic laws you can be ticketed just like a motorist. You have a legal obligation to identify yourself to a police officer if the cop has reason to believe that you have committed an offence. There is of course another law that applies. The law of physics that says in any collision between a bicycle and a car or truck the bicycle will be the loser, in more ways than one. Think about it and ride safely.