May is Bike Month, and this year finds cyclists in a unique spot—with gyms shut down due Covid-19, lots of people have turned to their garages and dusted off their bike for exercise. Even if you’re not trying to replace your Stairmaster time, people across Austin have been turning to cycling as a way to spend some outdoors time with family, or just get some fresh air.
“A lot of people are out cycling, and a lot of people are out cycling maybe for the first time,” said Christopher Stanton, founder and executive director of the Ghisallo Cycling Initiative. They’re a local non-profit organization that helps underserved communities access their interests by bike. Part of their work includes cycling safety programs for students and their families, so who better to give us some safety pointers for getting around Austin during a pandemic?
“We want to make sure you have not only a good ride today, but also many days to come,” said Stanton.
Tip #1: Bike Shops Step one in bike safety is having a bike you can safely ride. You might find yourself in need of a tune-up, but are shops even open right now?
“Bike shops are considered an essential service,” Stanton said. “So many of them are open.”
But if you’re not sure about hours of operation, or which ones are closest to you, fear not, Ghisallo Cycling Initiative has you covered.
“Ghisallo developed a website called BikeShopStatus.com,”Stanton said. “It has every single bike shop mapped out, along with notes on their hours of operation, their status and additional requests from them for how to approach the shop.”
But no matter where you take your bike, Stanton suggests following one courtesy move. “If possible, do some level of wiping down your bike if you’re bringing it in for repairs.”
Tip #2: The ABCD Quick Check “There’s a couple things we suggest you do either weekly or before each ride called the ABCD Quick Check,” Stanton said. This stands for Air, Brakes, Chain and Cranks, and Drop Test.
“You’re listening for sounds,” Stanton said. All bikes make some noise, but running through the checklist ensures there’s no new odd noises that might suggest a problem. Plus, who wants to bike on flat tires? Speaking of tires, the Quick Check is to ensure that if your tires have a quick release, that it’s properly locked down.
“That should be a way to help you know your wheel is secure,” Stanton said. “And you don’t do a sweet jump and you go one way and the wheel goes another.”
Tip #3: Helmets “In Austin, if you’re 17 years old or younger, you’re required to wear a helmet,” Stanton said. And even if you’re a skilled (and older) rider, Stanton recommends that you wear one.
“I wear a helmet to ensure that, if the unexpected happens, less worse things occur,” Stanton said.
But in order for a helmet to really do its job, it needs to be properly fitted. Ghisallo Cycling Initiative has a detailed five-step explainer on getting your helmet in its proper place, but the key takeaways are that it should face forward, that it’s level, and that it’s snug.
Tip #4: Where Are We Going? Your bike is tuned up, your helmet is in place...now where are you going to go?
“A lot of people are going to the one or two places that they know,” Stanton said. “Which means there’s a lot of people at those places, so it’s hard to do physical distancing.”
Maintaining safe distances is key, so Stanton suggests using this as an opportunity to explore new places.
“Maybe you’ve never ridden a bike downtown before because it’s always so busy with cars,” Stanton said. “Be a bit adventurous, and give yourself a bit of space.”
Tip #5: Watch Out For Each Other “It’s more car-related than it is bike-related,” Stanton said. “Car volume is down, but crashes are up. Anecdotally, it looks like the information around that is the people that are driving, are driving more rushed, and they’re maybe driving less safely.”
Stanton suggests that cyclists try to stick to more secure bike lanes and residential streets. The city of Austin offers a bike map that ranks streets by comfort and safety, but Stanton also asks that motorists give those on bikes plenty of space and take the speed down a notch.
“We’re all in this together on these roadways, and it’s always been that it’s our responsibility to keep each other safe,” he said.
If you want to get in on the Austin cycling community from a safe distance, the Ghisallo Initiative is hosting We Bike Wednesdays. Cyclists can ride in their respective areas and submit a photo with the hashtag #gciwbw and be entered for prizes from Texas Coffee Traders and the ABGB. Stuck inside? No bike? No worries! Ghisallo is also hosting a virtual film festival throughout the month of May.
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