National Bike Month: Many Reasons to Get Out and Ride (Safely)
National Bike Month in May is an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of riding bicycles. The national sponsor, the League of American Bicyclists, encourages Americans to get out and ride – for many reasons.
Riding a bike is healthy, ecological, and fun. As over 66% of the adult US population is overweight, costing billions in healthcare dollars, physical activity is encouraged as a great boost to health. A minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least three days per week can reduce heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity while improving mental health and fitness levels. Cycling is easy, builds strength and muscle tone, improves stamina and coordination, and reduces stress.
As part of National Bike Month, the second week in May is celebrated as National Bike to Work Week. The US Census Bureau reports that there has been a 40% increase in the number of American workers who use a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation to work. But there is still much room for growth as the number of people commuting by bicycle is only estimated to be just over one-half of one percent of the population.
Portland, Oregon has the distinction of being the best place in the nation for bike commuters, followed by Seattle (WA), San Francisco (CA), Minneapolis (MN) and Washington DC. These communities have done the most to promote bicycling through engineering, education, encouragement, and evaluation as determined by the League’s “Bicycle Friendly America” program which inspires communities to improve conditions and opportunities for bicycling.
Biking to work builds morale, encourages camaraderie and is a great way to get active in your community. It is also a healthy habit, as active employees are more alert and productive and take fewer sick days. For the environment, biking reduces your carbon footprint, reduces traffic congestion, and can save money.
Get the kids started on a journey of health too. This month, the League will sponsor the first annual Bike to School Day on May 9th.
Safety, though, is still a key factor when riding a bicycle for pleasure or for commuting to work. According to researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, head injury accounts for about a third of all bicycle injuries and about three-quarters of bicycle-related deaths. Unfortunately, more than half of bicyclists do not wear a helmet which would decrease the risk of head and brain injury by 65 to 88 percent.
The League’s six Rules of the Road will prepare you for a safe and fun bike commute this National Bike Month:
- Follow the law. Your safety and the image of bicyclists depend on you. You have the same rights and duties as drivers. Obey traffic signals and stop signs. Ride with traffic; use the rightmost lane headed in the direction you are going.
- Be predictable. Make your intentions clear to motorists and other road users. Ride in a straight line and don’t swerve between parked cars. Signal turns, and check behind you well before turning or changing lanes.
- Be conspicuous. Ride where drivers can see you; wear bright clothing. Use a front white light and red rear light and reflectors at night or when visibility is poor. Make eye contact with drivers. Don’t ride on sidewalks.
- Think ahead. Anticipate what drivers, pedestrians, and other bicyclists will do next. Watch for turning vehicles and ride outside the door zone of parked cars. Look out for debris, potholes, and utility covers. Cross railroad tracks at right angles.
- Ride Ready. Check your tires have sufficient air, brakes are working, chain runs smoothly, and quick release wheel levers are closed. Carry repair and emergency supplies appropriate for your ride. Wear a helmet.
- Keep your cool. Road rage benefits no-one and always makes a bad situation worse.
Don’t have a bicycle? Many cities now are providing Bike Sharing programs as part of their public transit initiatives. To find one near you, check out the National Association of City Transportation Officials website.
Need a challenge to encourage you during your bike riding? Beginning today, Endomondo is running “The National Bike Challenge” with the goal of uniting 50,000 people to bike 10 million miles before August 31st. In addition to the benefits to personal health and environmental health, you can win some great prizes accumulating “Challenge Points.” The program is free and open to anyone who lives in the US or works for an organization with US employees.