KAUFMANN: Join the bicycle boom

Since March, bicycles have sold in record numbers. The stars aligned in favor of outdoor cycling when the spring thaw coincided with stay-at-home orders and gym closures. Those of us who had bikes dusted them off and got them repaired; others rushed retailers to grab the last affordable cruiser.

My pre-COVID resolution was to purchase my own bicycle, so I was already planning to join the ranks of the summer spinners. I envisioned happy family trail rides with our teenagers. 

Thankfully, the Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail provides the foundation for my visions to become reality. Last fall, a connector was completed between Fort Street and US-12 in Niles, winding through the picturesque Brandywine Creek Nature Park. Now marks the first summer we can ride the trail continuously from Plym Park in Niles to the Indiana state line and beyond.

I set off on my own to enjoy the IN-MI RVT one gloriously sunny morning, since the available teenager had decided that his bed was more glorious. Pedaling my new-to-me 10-speed along the St. Joseph River, I felt a familiar thrill of freedom from my youth.

Whether we are young or young-at-heart, observing simple safety procedures can help ensure a happy ride for all. Here is a short refresher course compiled from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines, Indiana and Michigan bicycle laws, and placards on the IN-MI RVT.

Before you leave home: To determine proper fit, straddle your bicycle with feet on the ground. Your body should clear the top bar by 1 to 2 inches for a road bike and 3 to 4 inches for a mountain bike. The seat should be level, and high enough so that there is a slight bend in your knee when you push the pedal all the way down. Check that the brakes work and the tires are properly inflated.

After checking your wheels, check yourself. Wear a helmet that fits, tie shoelaces, and keep clothing and loose items out of the chain area.

On the road: Bicycles are considered vehicles by law and are supposed to move with traffic flow. Obey all signs, laws and lights just like when driving a car. Signal with the left arm for turns and slowing down so drivers can see.

Distracted riding is a big no-no. State laws require cyclists to keep both hands on the bike unless signaling. Keep headphones off and cell phones down.

On the trail: Practice politeness. Cyclists should stay on the right half of the trail unless passing. Before overtaking pedestrians or other bicycles, clearly say “Passing on the left” and slow down.

Be alert for stops at road crossings, and remember that road traffic has the right of way unless there is a traffic stop button provided. Look left, right, then left again. Make eye contact with drivers to verify that they see you. Children must cross all intersections with an adult for safety.

Riding the roads and trails this summer is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and forget about the pandemic for a little while. Long live the bicycle boom of 2020! I hope it lasts until my teenager gets out of bed…

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