Riding a bicycle is a skill most people master at a young age. After conquering balance, braking and the fear of falling, it serves as the first form of freedom for youngsters. In later years, cycling can become a leisure or health activity, competitive outlet, or transportation to work. But cycling also poses serious risks. The CDC reports that almost 500,000 emergency department visits in 2013 were bicycle-related injuries, and as the weather changes in New England there are added risks to consider that pose a threat to those driving on two wheels.
Each fall, hundreds of leaf peepers descend on New England from around the country. While it’s a boon for tourism in the region, leaves pose serious hazards to cyclists. Leaves tend to build up in large piles along curbs and the sides of the road – typically where cyclists travel. They can cover obstructions, cracks, or holes in the road leaving cyclists blind to the dangers ahead. Leaves also create a slippery surface, especially when wet, which diminishes traction, causes skidding and loss of control. Ride slower and avoid clumps of leaves between the sidewalk and street to avoid potential problems.
The sun poses its own issues during the fall, rising later and setting earlier, impacting visibility through morning and evening commuting hours. Drivers likely have their visors down in their vehicle to block rays, which can sometimes effect sightlines. When lighting is an issue, cyclists need to be highly visible in traffic. Wear clothing that stands out against the background. If you’re riding next to a row of trees changing colors, red, yellow and orange aren’t necessarily the best choices and always be sure to wear reflective gear. Keep in mind that the sun will disrupt your vision too so investing in a good pair of sunglasses with dark lenses can improve your visibility as well as protect your eyes from dirt or foreign objects. Consider traveling on a less congested route when visibility is poor to increase your safety.
Changing Weather Conditions
Fall weather also brings drastic temperature fluctuations, frost, precipitation, and sometimes an early dusting of snow. Being susceptible to so many elements means you have to be vigilant in maintaining your gear and your bicycle. If you’re too hot or too cold, your awareness of your surroundings will decrease. Dress in layers to adjust to the changing temperatures, always wear cycling gloves to protect your hands, and make sure outer layers are easy to remove if you have to adjust when stopped. Once you’ve selected the best outerwear, be sure to inspect your bicycle before riding. Check the tires, chain, brakes and screws. A well maintained bicycle decreases your risk of serious malfunction while riding.
Despite its inherent dangers, fall in New England is a beautiful time to be active outdoors. The scenery is vibrant, the weather is comfortable and it’s an ideal time to exercise and enjoy the beauty of nature. Staying alert and taking steps to minimize risks will ensure you have a safe and enjoyable ride throughout the fall.