Women & Bicycles Tip: Your Helmet May Not Be Protecting You

e6MXyK7ObZyMVaWZ7KTNlYi1U8M0BlyNV1r6XhihuwIThis is part of our Women & Bicycles blog series,  part of WABA’s initiative to build a stronger women’s bike community and get more women on bikes.  These posts aren’t exclusive to women, but they’re produced with and through the Women & Bicycles’ programming. Click here to learn more and get involved. We recommend and teach responsible, predictable, confident biking. We teach you to bike where you are most visible,  bike in visible clothing, and bike so that other road users can predict your behaviors. We also teach that helmets are really your last line of defense on the road. So we definitely recommend them. But there’s a good chance your helmet isn’t protecting you at all, because so many people don’t know how to fit them properly. If your helmet is not fit to your head properly, it’s not doing you any good.  

Six Common Helmet-Fit Problems:

Helmet 11

Problem 1.)  You forget to buckle your helmet! If it’s not buckled, it’s the same as wearing no helmet at all.

Problem 2.) You have not adjusted the helmet clasps (the plastic piece that joins the two straps on one side) to fit below your ears. This woman’s helmet clasps are nearly below her chin.

Problem 3.)You have not shortened the helmet straps to sit snug around your face so that the buckle sits securely below your chin. The straps should be tight enough such that you can only fit two fingers between your chin and the buckle.

Helmet 3Problem 4.) You’ve adjusted your helmet properly, but you put it on backwards, a mistake countless bicyclists in the D.C. area make every day.

Problem 5.) Your helmet straps are too loose, so the brim of your helmet isn’t sitting level across the top of your eyebrows.

Helmet 6 Problem 6.) Your helmet straps and clasps are too loose, so the brim of  your helmet is not just above your eyebrows. This woman’s helmet is sitting at the top of her forehead instead of just above her eyebrows.  Her forehead would not be protected in a crash.

Perfect Helmet Fit Looks Like This:

The helmet is facing forward and buckled The helmet clasps sit right below her ears The helmet buckle is snug below her chin The helmet brim is level and  just above her eyebrows

  To make sure your helmet fits properly, click here to watch a tutorial by the League of American Bicyclists. And please remember, just because you’ve strapped a helmet, doesn’t mean you’re any more safe on our roads. Fit your helmet properly and attend a WABA class to practice visible, predictable, and confident biking (classes are $10 and hosted throughout the region).      

Resources: Biking Visibly

This blog post is part of a new series by our bike ambassadors. It’s dedicated to presenting tips that will encourage new riders to get started. We’ll link these posts on our Resources page, forming a library of tips for beginning cyclists. Staying visible on your bicycle is extremely important, but easy to overlook: You may not think you’ll ever get caught biking in the rain, dark, or fog, but the more you ride your bike, the more likely it is to happen! In the winter in particular, if you’re not lit up, you’re nearly invisible. Today, we’ll cover the basics on some obvious (and maybe not-so-obvious) ways to stay lit up. THE OBVIOUS Front Light Mount a light on your handlebar and let your light shine where your bike is heading. This should be sufficient if you’re biking around town and have the added benefit of streetlights to light the way. A helmet-mounted light will shine where you’re looking. Consider doubling up if you’ll be out alone on a trail at night! Rear Light Flashing, or not flashing, put a red taillight to your rear. It’s a personal preference if you wear it on your bag, jacket, or mount it to your seat post, but the higher the light, the more visible it is to drivers. Remember to only use a red light behind you. Just like a car, a red light indicates a bike’s rear.

Consider a light set like these Planet Bike blinkies.

Reflectivity At the very minimum, bicycles are required by law to come equipped with standard reflectors, front and back. If you purchased a used bicycle, or yours have fallen off over time, consider adding reflectors to your wheels, pedals, under the seat, or on your handlebars. If you want to add something more unique or stylish, there are plenty of creative options out there from reflective stickers, bike wrappers, tape, and reflective wheel stripes. Check out more about reflecting on your bicycle. Hi-Vis Clothing Safety black is not a real thing. While your all black coat may be stylish, it camouflages you in the dark. Consider wearing bright colors, or adorning your outfit with high-vis items such as a vest, ankle straps, leg or wrist bands. Many bicycle-specific clothing companies have reflective stripes built into their clothing and bags, but you can achieve the same function much more affordably by adding reflective tape to the gear you already own. To test what you’ve got, have someone else ride your bicycle in your high-viz gear so you can get have a clear picture of how easily you’re seen.

THE NOT-SO-OBVIOUS Reduce Your Speed Slow down! This is less about you being visible and more about being able to see any obstacles in front of you. Particularly on roads you are less familiar, obstacles and debris are more difficult to spot in the dark. Lane Positioning Where in the lane should you ride to be most visible? Hint: Don’t hug the curb! Taking the lane (or riding in the center of a travel lane) is your legal right, and helps keep you visible to drivers. If no designated bicycle lane is available, riding in the center of a traffic lane not only allows you to avoid hazards near the edge of the road, but prevents oncoming vehicles from turning directly in front of you or passing too closely. And doing so keeps you out of the door zone (the area three to four feet away from parked cars). IMG_4565

Resources: Bike Route Planning

This blog post is part of a new series by our bike ambassadors. It’s dedicated to presenting tips that will encourage new riders to get started. We’ll link these posts on our Resources page, forming a library of tips for beginning cyclists. Once you’ve found the bike that works for you, it’s important to ensure it’s in working condition for riding before venturing out onto the road. Now that you’re all geared up, it’s time to plan your two-wheeled tour—of D.C., Maryland, Virginia, or anywhere! Before mapping out your bike route, it can be helpful to consider your options. How comfortable are you riding in traffic? Do you prefer bike lanes and trails? How much time do you have to get to your destination? What time of day will you be riding? Do you want to avoid or tackle the hills? Basic Route Planning Google Maps (both the desktop browser map and the smartphone app) has an option to select bicycling directions. Just as if you were trying to get driving or walking directions, simply type in the start and end locations and click the bicycle icon. Fullscreen capture 11222013 114932 AM.bmp Often, there is more than one way to get from point A to point B. Dark solid green lines show separated bicycle facilities like trails or cycle tracks. Medium solid green lines indicate that street has a dedicated bicycle lane, but is not separated from traffic. Dotted green lines represent places in the city that are considered “bicycle routes” and/or have sharrows painted on them. Depending on personal comfort level, mileage, and timing, you could choose any number of different ways to get around D.C. While an electronic mapping function like Google Maps may produce the directions for the most direct route, it may mean riding on busy streets without any dedicated bike infrastructure.  Some riders may be comfortable taking the lane, but others may not. Getting to your destination via the most bike-friendly route may mean taking an indirect path on trails and side streets in order to avoid major thoroughfares. D.C.-Area Trails While the D.C. trail network is not complete, there are a number of connections to and from the city for commuting to work or getting your workout. Trails can provide a safe alternative for riders looking to get out of traffic or to those looking for a scenic weekend ride. In some cases, trails are the only real connection between destinations. Check out or complete list of trails in the D.C. region.

Multi-Modal Routes Having the option to hop on transit with your bicycle is a handy one. Whether you get a flat, get caught in a blizzard, or are too tired ride, knowing your options for getting home can make it easier to decide to go by bike. Metro: Folding bikes are allowed on Metro Rail anytime during the usual hours of operation. Regular bikes are permitted at all times except for certain holidays and Monday-Friday rush hours, which are 7 a.m.-10 a.m. and 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Bicycles are permitted any time during the weekends. You must use the elevator with your bicycle. Bus: Every Metro Bus has two bike racks on the front of the bus. You can carry your bike on the front of the bus at any time with no additional charge. Learn how to put your bike on the bus. Park and Ride: Many of the area metro stations have bike racks or lockers on site. Check WMATA’s website to find out if your station has these amenities. Consider bicycling from home to the Metro for your commute to save on parking costs! With over 200 stations in the region, Capital Bikeshare gives you the option of one-way, short bike trips. Check Bikeshare’s website for details about how to join, and use the app SpotCycle to figure out which stations near you have available docks or bikes. Paper Bike Maps If your smartphone is dead or if electronic maps just aren’t your thing, there are plenty of printed bicycle maps available for navigating your way through the city. Check out our complete list of maps available in the Maryland, Virginia, and the region, or stop by the WABA office to pick one up. Friends and Forums Pair up with a friend who bikes in your area and ride together. Talk to them about their favorite or fastest routes. If you don’t have a trusted bicycle buddy, hop onto the Washington Area Bike Forum and ask other bicycle enthusiasts in the area. Everyday bike riders are an invaluable resource when it comes to finding out where the best places to bike are, where you’ll find the biggest hills, and where to enjoy the best views of D.C.! Remember:
  • Double check your bike route on a map before heading out!
  • Come prepared! Don’t count on trails to be well lit or for bicycle routes to be well signed. Knowing ahead of time where you’re going will save you frustrations later.
  • Leave extra time for new routes. Sure, there are times when getting lost can be a fun adventure, but not when you’re running late!

Basic Maintainence

This blog post is part of a new series by our bike ambassadors. It’s dedicated to presenting tips that will encourage new riders to get started. We’ll link these posts on our Resources page, forming a library of tips for beginning cyclists. Previously in this new serious of resource tips, we talked about finding and choosing the right bike. Once you’ve found the bike that works for you, it’s important to make sure it’s in good condition for riding before venturing out onto the road. ABC Quick Check The ABC Quick Check is an easy-to-remember, fast way to make sure your bike is ready to go. It helps you identify up front things that could be inconvenient problems if they crop up while you’re riding. What does it stand for? A is for Air: Give both front and rear tires a quick squeeze to make sure tires are firm, not soft. Check the sidewall of your tire to find out what level the air pressure should be, and use a pump to fill to that amount. It’s a good idea to check for any cuts, tears, rocks, or other flaws in the tires. Proper tire inflation and care helps prevent flat tires. B is for Brakes: Check both hand brakes (if your bike has two) by making sure the whole brake pad squeezes tightly on the wheel’s metal rim, not on the rubber tire or on empty air. There should be space between the hand brake lever and the handlebar. If your brakes do not fully stop the bicycle, do not ride until they are fixed. C is for Chain: Take a look at the chain. Is it dry or rusted? If so, apply a tiny drop of chain lube to each link. Each link should be free of rust and debris. Click for more advanced chain maintenance. Quick is for Quick Release: Quick release levers make it easy to adjust or remove parts of your bike for maintenance and storage purposes. Make sure any quick releases (usually found on seat posts and at the center of wheels) are closed and pointed towards the back of the bicycle. Check is for…Check!: Look over the rest of the bicycle. If you see any broken spokes, missing nuts or bolts, or have a wiggly seat that you can’t tighten, do not ride. Fix any small issues before you ride to prevent injury or causing damage to your bicycle! If you are unsure how to fix any problems on your bicycle, contact your local shop or schedule a bike tune-up. To see an ABC Quick Check in action, watch this video. Fix-a-Flat Flat tires are nearly inevitable and can leave you stranded if you don’t know how to fix them. But it’s an easy enough process that most riders can pick up quickly. The best way to learn how to fix a flat is to watch a demonstration: To see a tire-change in action, check out this Fix-a-Flat video by REI. Untitled You need a few things to fit a flat: tire levers, a pump, a patch kit, or a spare tube. The process goes like this: Pull your wheel off using tire levers. Remove tube from inside tire and check for punctures or tears. Use the patch kit to repair a small leak, or replace the tube with your spare. Slightly inflate the new tube and replace the new tube inside the tire. Put the tire back on the wheel, and the wheel back on the bike. Tighten any quick releases or brakes you may have loosened to get your wheel off. You’re ready to ride!

Tire levers, levering

Clean and Lube a Chain To keep your chain in good shape, it’s important to keep it cleaned and lubricated. Having a well-lubed chain protects the moving parts from excessive wear and tear caused by friction and rust. There are many different types of chain lube on the market, and how frequently your bike needs to be oiled largely depends on how frequently you’re riding and the conditions the bike endures. For the most part, lube only when your chain sounds squeaky or appears dry. Cleaning and lubing your chain after riding through wet, muddy conditions will keep it from rusting. Make sure to use bike-specific lube and be careful to avoid over-lubricating. Wipe away excess lube before riding.

Wipe your chain down so that the lube doesn’t get sticky or goopy.

Do It Yourself? Your local bike shop likely offers a free or by-donation basic maintenance class. Co-ops like The Bike House and Velocity are also good options. Or check out REI’s post for more info on cleaning and maintaining your bicycle.

Resources: Finding the Right Bike

This blog post is part of a new series by our bike ambassadors. It’s dedicated to presenting tips that will encourage new riders to get started. We’ll link these posts on our Resources page, forming a library of tips for beginning cyclists. 005 No matter how you want to use it—whether it’s riding to work or venturing out on trails on the weekends with your family—it’s important to have a bike that feels right. This post discusses some important factors in choosing a bike that’s right for you. There are so many types and styles of bicycles that it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to find a match. Some things to consider when picking out a bicycle include: Budget: How much do you want to spend on your bicycle? Terrain: Where will you be riding? Mostly on rocky trails? Smooth road surfaces? Distance: How far will you be riding regularly? Purpose: Do you want to use your bike for exercise? Errands? Touring cross-country? Commuting? Parking/Storage: Will you be leaving your bicycle parked outside or are you able to bring it inside? Ultimately, it doesn’t necessarily matter what type of bike you choose to ride as long as you are comfortable. If your bike does not fit you properly, is in poor shape, or causes you discomfort, you won’t want to ride it! How do I determine what size bicycle fits me? While not every style of bicycle has the same geometry, there are a few easy ways to determine whether or not a bicycle will fit you properly. Once you have a bicycle that generally fits your body type, there are many other adjustments that can be made to ensure the most comfortable and efficient ride. Be sure to pay attention to your standover height. To test a bike’s standover height, throw your leg over the top tube and straddle the bicycle. For bicycles with a top tube parallel to the ground, there should be about one inch of clearance between you and the tube. For a slightly angled downward top tube, you can expect to see about two inches of clearance. Some hybrid bicycles and many comfort styles, the top tube won’t be nearly as close to your body. Learn more about standover height from Sheldon Brown and REI.

The black arrow indicates standover height. Image via REI.

Where can I purchase a bicycle? Any bike shop in the area will be happy to help you find a new bicycle that suits your needs and fits your body size. Shops are a great place to go for a test ride and find out what type of bicycle works best for you. Try out a couple different shops before purchasing your bike, since each one offers different brands and styles. Purchasing a bicycle is an investment, so choose wisely. Check out our list of area bike shopshere. There are a few shops in Maryland and Virginia that sell used bikes, but current regulations prevent D.C. shops from doing the same. Craigslist is your best bet for secondhand purchases in the District. Make sure you know the size and type of bike you’re looking for before you begin your search. You might determine your preferred size by test-riding bikes in bike shops. I’m Still Not Convinced. Maybe you’re still not sure what type of bicycle is right for you. Another great option in the D.C. region is Capital Bikeshare. The system has over 200 stations and 1800-plus bikes for you to rent in half-hour blocks. If you’re not sure how frequently you’ll use a bike, Bikeshare is a good way to figure out if you’d like to commit to buying one of your own. What If I’m Not Confident Riding a Bike? We’ve got a class for that! Our City Cycling classes teach new and experienced riders alike how to ride in traffic. If you don’t know how to ride a bike, our Adult Learn to Ride classes are a great option. Winter is coming, so our education offerings are slowing down, but be sure to check our calendar to see if something is coming up. For more information on bike fit, see REI’s breakdown of types of bikes and riding and Simply Bike’s detailed first steps for fit. This slideshow is also a good introduction to bike fit in general. Competitive Cyclist has a DIY fitting process for those looking for a bike for athletic pursuits. And you can geek out with Sheldon Brown’s extensive explanation of dishonest frame sizing.

Pick Up Takoma Park’s New Bike Map

More bikes If you bike in or around Takoma Park, a local bike map is now available for you! In an email, Takoma Park planner Erkin Ozberk writes, “Our new bike map has been a big hit with locals since we started handing them out at Bike To Work Day….we think it fills a gap in the local print/online maps for our part of the region.” The map can be found online here. More information about Takoma Park’s transit options can be found here. The map is available for free at public buildings in Takoma Park (the community center and the rec center, for example) as well as local bike shops. WABA keeps regional bike maps in stock and should have copies on hand soon. The city of Takoma Park welcomes any feedback on the map. Photo by Flickr user afagen