Have Fun But Please Be Safe On Your Bike In SoWal

October 22, 2011 by Jennifer Howard

Yes, friends and neighbors, and especially vacationers, the laws of physics are not in your favor when you are riding a bicycle. It’s simple. You are less protected on a bike than in a car, and you are more difficult to see.  A little bit of caution and prudence can go a long way to even out the situation.

Talk to any Emergency Room physician or nurse, and they will all concur, wear a helmet.  And that doesn’t just go for kids.  Some of the worst injuries occur when youngsters are securely helmeted but the parent or grandparent isn’t. 

All it takes for mom or granddad to go flying over the handlebars is hitting an obstacle, running into loose gravel or sand, or having the front wheel of the bike go into a drain grid.  A head injury from this type of bike accident will many times result in total paralysis or death.  Not a good end to a family outing, nor a good memory for the kids/grandkids.  Sadly, this is a very common occurence.

Use the designated bike path.  I live up Mack Bayou Road, which has a large, marked bike path along one side.  Several times a week, I dodge a bike rider on the side of the road opposite the bike path.  In addition to the laws of the road that these cyclists are disreagrding, let me assure you that drivers are not looking for them outside of the bike path. 

Keep in mind the sad fact that at any given moment, a driver may well be on their cell phone, texting, eating a burger, putting on makeup, changing the music, or arguing with their spouse.  You, the cyclist, are not top of their mind, particularly when you are in an unexpected place.

Resorts like WaterColor and Sandestin and Rosemary Beach are not accident-free zones.  No universal law promises that nothing bad will happen to you because you are on vacation, and the posted speed limits are low.  Driving through crowded resorts with cars parked on either side of the road is downright scary due to kids and adults darting out from every direction — often without a glance around for a car. 

Even though I literally creep along at under 20 mph, I have slammed on my brakes to avoid a cyclist more times than I care to count.  A week or so ago, a child of about 4 or 5 years riding a bike WITH TRAINING WHEELS, turned off the sidewalk on one of Watercolor’s bridges and into the path of my car. 

I hit the anti-lock brakes full force.  The child didn’t even glance at my car, which outweighed him and his bike exponentially.  He continued to ride down the middle of the bridge, his little bike shifting from side to side as each training wheel engaged.  I might have pulled up and given him a stern warning, but his parent — also on a bike and also helmetless – was lovingly watching him from the other end of the bridge.  I waited until the kid made it across the bridge, then slowly pulled into the other lane to get around both of them.  Neither acknowledged me in any way.  Not smart.

It’s a lot of fun to rent some of the non-conventional bikes available these days.  Tandems, bikes with little cars to tow kids, reclining bikes, etc. are all a blast to ride.  But if you are not proficient in riding them, stick to the good ol’ two-wheeler. 

In particular, if your kids aren’t strong enough to manage one of these kind of bikes, don’t allow them to ride them.  I looked out my office window one day to see two small-ish girls trying to manage a tandem bike.  Neither had the leg strength.  They toppled over several times IN THE STREET as their parents looked on.  I would have been as amused as the parents were except I know how fast people in big SUVs often turn the corner and barrel down the street.

A tragic accident happened recently in South Walton.  From reading media reports, the cyclist killed was doing everything right — he was on a good bike, wearing a helmet, and in a bike lane on the side of the road.  Even so, tragedy struck and he was killed.  Every single vehicle on the road outweighs and moves faster than a bike. 

Please do the intelligent things to even your odds.  Wear a helmet.  Ride in designated bike paths.  Be aware of what’s going on around you.  Keep your children safe.  Have fun but be smart.  You will not beat the laws of physics.

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