The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson famously said “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of bikes.”
Technically, Tennyson’s version ends with “love,” but in the spring higher temperatures and lower precipitation turns, lightly or not, the fancy of the Pacific Northwest’s bicycle enthusiasts and commuters to thoughts of open roads, fresh air, and the chance to test their winter-weary muscles on the pedals once again, which is basically the same vibe Tennyson was going for.
Or, as another British poet put it a century after Tennyson: “I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride my bike. I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like…”
But, before the poetry of budding spring collides headlong with your passion for two-wheeled travel, tap the brakes and focus on preparing your bike and your gear for the cycling season. Follow these guidelines to improve your odds for avoiding accidents or serious injuries while riding a bicycle in the State of Washington.
For many of us, part of the spring cleaning ritual involves rolling out the bikes for the first time since Thanksgiving. Tempting though it may be to hop on that ride and coast down the hills of West Seattle, there are several things you need to check out in order to ride safe:
- Tire pressure. If your bike sat all winter, those tires will likely need air. Pump the tires up to the appropriate pressure, and check back after 24-hours. If the pressure has dropped significantly, you may need to replace the tube or tire.
- Brake check. Lift the front of your bike off the ground and spin the front tire; squeeze the brake handle to stop the tire. Note whether the brake reacts correctly and adjust accordingly, and repeat to check the back brake.
- Gear shift. Run through your bicycle’s possible gear combinations, and investigate any sounds or vibrations which could indicate your gears need adjustment.
Professional Tune-Up and Repair
Unless you are confident in your command of bicycle repair, you will need to take your bicycle to a repair shop to diagnose and troubleshoot any concerns uncovered by the maintenance checklist, and many cyclists choose to schedule an annual tune-up from a knowledgeable repair person as one of their rites of spring.
Sometimes the only thing between you and colliding with a distracted driver taking that right-hand turn without signaling is a freshly installed set of brake pads or a precisely aligned drive train. When in doubt, drop the $75-$100 for a complete check and adjustment from a reputable bike shop. You’re worth it!
Upgrade Your Helmet
There are a lot of reasons to wear a helmet when you are riding a bicycle, not the least of which is that it is the law. If you live in King County, it will cost you $30 plus court costs every time you’re spotted without a helmet.
Even if local laws do not require helmets, every cyclist should wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, whether in city traffic, on suburban streets, or along country roads. Using a certified, properly fitted, and undamaged helmet can significantly reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury resulting from a bike accident. One Seattle-based study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1989, estimated helmets reduced the risk of head injury by as much as 85%.
When purchasing a helmet, check to see that it carries a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), ASTM International, or Snell Memorial Foundation sticker. These three organizations monitor and maintain product standards for protective equipment and only grant approval to helmets that meet their exacting requirements. If possible, opt for a helmet with high visibility—bright colors, reflective tape or stickers, and bold graphics—as this offers another opportunity to make distracted drivers aware of their two-wheeled fellow travelers.
Check that the fit is snug without limiting your view or range of motion. Older helmets need to be replaced when straps or ratchets can no longer maintain tension, or foam cushions in the helmet fail to keep the helmet in place.
Any helmet that was involved in an accident, or that sustained a serious impact or fall, should be replaced. The EPS foam which provides the protective cushion in the event of an accident does not break down over time, but any moderate to severe impact can collapse the foam’s structure, rendering it worthless to protect your brain from trauma in the event of an accident.
What to Do If You’re in an Accident
If you are involved in an accident while riding a bicycle, your safety should be your primary concern. If you are able, move out of the street and away from moving vehicles. Contact emergency services to provide first aid, direct traffic, and document the event.
If you are able to safely remain at the scene, there are several things that you can do to better ensure your rights and interests are fairly and justly protected following a bicycle accident:
- Seek medical attention. If EMS responds to the accident, be sure to have them check you over. If EMS is not present, or if injury-related symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical attention as quickly as possible. Obviously, one benefit of early diagnosis and treatment of injuries is to provide the best chance for a full medical recovery, but medical treatment also establishes an evidentiary record of the timeline and severity of your injuries. Waiting to seek treatment can not only have an adverse effect on recovery, that delay could be twisted to imply your injuries were not severe, or that they were the result of a separate event.
- Document the scene. To the extent it is physically safe to do so, gather information about the scene of your accident. Cell phone cameras are an excellent resource for documenting elements of the landscape, the vehicles and objects present, and the conditions of the road at the time of your accident. Photos or video of your injuries, your bicycle, the vehicle which struck you, other vehicles present at the time of the accident, and any objects or conditions which may have contributed to the accident which caused your injuries provide solid evidence to be considered as part of any legal action.
- Collect information. Be sure to get the full name of the driver who struck you along with their contact and insurance information. If you are attended by emergency services at the scene, request their names and contact information for their services; you or your legal team can request the medical report detailing the accident and your injuries to substantiate your claims. Request the contact information for any witness to the incident, and be sure to request the name and contact information for any law enforcement officers at the scene. Request a copy of their accident report when it is filed in the day or two following the accident. Check that the information in the report is accurate, and be sure that you or your representative contacts the police to identify any factual errors or conflicting information.
- Hire a lawyer. If you have been injured as the result of a bike accident, you need someone with experience representing cyclists injured in the State of Washington. Insurance companies may balk at the cost of medical treatment and continued care, or opposing counsel may attempt to shift the blame for the accident. If the at-fault driver faces criminal charges, you may need experienced guidance for your role in that criminal process. Clients with severe injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, often rely on the courts to secure the financial resources to provide long-term physical therapy, emotional therapy, adaptive technology, and compensation for lost wages, limited employment, pain, and suffering.
Max Meyers Law PLLC is a committed advocate for the rights and interests of cyclists in King County and across Washington. If you have been injured in a bike accident, contact our offices for a free consultation to learn what we can do to protect your interests, demand just compensation, and get you back on the road again.