Intro to Bike Commuting, Part III

Photo by drocksays. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Contingency Planning

The most important thing you can do as a bike commuter is to remain mentally flexible. As long as you hope for the best and prepare for the worst, you should be fine. That said, there are things you’ll encounter on the road that require a certain set of behaviors, and can ameliorate negative situations.

Drivers. You need to understand one thing — in any sort of confrontation with a car, the car wins by default. You, with your bike might weigh 250 pounds, but a car is going to be anywhere from 10 to 20 times that weight. I’ll say it again: the car wins by default.

There are going to be assholes out there who will buzz in close to you, throw shit at you, scream and swear at you. And while the temptation is strong to give them the finger (or make other lewd gestures) and to return the berating, do fight the urge. Anyone who will go out of their way to harass you has enough issues in their life where they’re probably not above vehicular assault. Be careful, and keep a cellphone on-hand.

Mechanical failure. This is one of those things that can be prevented ahead of time. Get your bike tuned-up about every three months if you’re riding it extensively. Check it over the night before a ride — make sure there’s no knocks, rattles or squeaking. Lube the chain. Make sure your brakes work. Make sure there’s nothing embedded in your tires that could poke through and cause a flat.

Pick the brains of the mechanics at your local bike shop and learn everything you possibly can. You can probably get them to show you how to change a flat tire, but more advanced stuff you’ll probably have to take a class. A lot of shops do offer maintenance classes — just ask!

And carry a cellphone so that you can deal with the stuff you can’t fix by calling for a ride.

Crash! Okay, let’s be honest — just like driving, when you’re riding a bike frequently, eventually you’re going to crash. It happens. Once you hit the pavement, resist the urge to jump right back to your feet — you’re not racing, you’ve just hurt yourself, and you should assess the situation.

If you lost consciousness at any point, your first step should be to pull out the cellphone and dial 911. Do not attempt to keep riding at this point.

If your neck or back hurt, stay where you are and call 911. Do not get up or attempt to move around.

Next, check to see if you’re bleeding anywhere. Chances are, you are. And chances are that it’s mostly just some bad scrapes. In the case of scrapes, wipe the area clean as best you can and then you can soldier on to your destination. When you get there, scrub the area clean of debris and dirt with an anti-bacterial soap. Put betadine (or similar) on it and bandage it. I recommend Tegaderm, which will aid the healing process nicely.

If there’s a deep gash with a lot of blood, you need to stop the bleeding. In most cases, this should be simple enough to do with direct pressure. However, if the cut is spraying blood (arterial), you are going to need medical attention. In either situation, you should probably call 911.

Check yourself for broken bones — the collarbone is the most frequently broken bone in cycling. You throw your hand out to arrest your fall and the collarbone will take the brunt of the force and either snap, or pull free from the top of your shoulder. Look for obvious deformity in your limbs — you may not feel the pain right away because of the adrenaline surge — and move on from there. If you are having trouble moving a limb, or the skin under your fingernails starts to darken, it can be the sign of a broken bone. You’re done riding for the day (and probably the next 4-8 weeks). Call 911.

Get the idea? Carry a cellphone and call 911 if you have anything worse than some scrapes/sprains.

Weather. One of the ten commandments of the cycling commuter is, “Thou shalt refer to the weather report.” And check it the morning of your ride, rather than the night before — a lot can change in 8 hours. As long as you dress appropriately for the weather, and do so in easily-removable layers, you’ll be fine. More on the specifics of dressing for the weather are going to be detailed in Part Five.

Conclusion. Getting through bad situations on the bike are a mix of preventing them through methodical bike maintenance, and using common sense when things do turn south. Keep your cool, think about the situation, and keep your cellphone handy.

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