Primer 4 F-U-N: May is Bike Month. Come Ride with Us


It’s time to get in gear, Spanish Village! This is Bike Month, Summer is almost here, and we have an historic event upcoming. Mayor Bob Baker and the San Clemente City Council will be officially declaring May as Bike Month at Tuesday’s Council meeting. Please come (6 pm) to support the effort, as our leaders put their best feet forward by presenting signed, framed proclamations to our 3 local bike shops.

That’s not all that’ll be going on. I’ll be leading family weekend bike rides on May 4, 11, and 19. May 25 of Memorial Day weekend, the O.C. Bicycle Coalition’s Pete Van Nuys will be leading the rides, so come out to join us as we push the pedals and teach parents and kids how to be safe out there. Here’s a rendezvous map.

Both Pete and I are certified bicycle instructors, so you’re sure to learn the rules of the road and techniques to stay safe when sharing the roadway with cars. Parents: this is a great time to learn how to teach your child to ride safely while having fun in the sun.

Here are some tips that will serve you well:


Always wear a helmet. Calif. law (CVC 21212) requires people younger than 18 to wear one, but grown-ups need to set a good example by putting a lid on.

There have been many articles recently debating the value of wearing a helmet and whether helmets discourage people from riding. Please disregard as unsubstantiated those opinions that say helmets don’t prevent head injuries. Scientific evidence based on emergency room data says otherwise. Results from that E.R. study are consistent, showing an approximate 3-fold increase in the risk of death from head injuries for people who do not wear helmets compared with those who do.

The Federal Highway Administration Crash Factors websiteprovides additional evidence of the reduced risk of head injury when wearing a helmet. Here’s what they have to say:

“While helmets may not have an impact on the frequency of crashes, numerous studies have found that use of approved bicycle helmets significantly reduces the risk of fatal injury, serious head and brain injury, head injury, and middle and upper face injury among bicyclists of all ages involved in all types of crashes and crash severities. Relative risk reductions estimated in a meta-analysis of 16 peer-reviewed studies were 60 percent for head injury, 58 percent for brain injury, 47 percent for facial injury, and 73 percent for fatal injury.8

If you still don’t find that evidence persuasive, then think of your wallet: head injuries are expensive and can cost you time off from work, to say the least. If you have kids, think of sticking around to watch them grow up and make you a grandparent.

Always wear brightly colored clothing. By making yourself more visible on the roadway, you’ll buy motorists reaction time to enable them (and other bicyclists) to adjust to your presence. I never wear black, gray, light blue, or earth tones unless I ride with my neon safety vest over the top.

Whether I ride day or night, I wear a fluorescent safety vest with retro-reflective, 3M tape, similar to the ones worn by highway workers. Also—when you wear a Camelbak or other hydration pack, that obscures your jersey color, so put the vest or bright colored clothing over the top of it.

If you’re going to ride with me on our family rides, I’ve bought (10) neon orange jerseys for people to borrow for the ride.

Lights and reflectors: If there’s any chance you’ll be riding at dawn, dusk, sunset, or in foggy/rainy weather, you should always carry a white headlight for the front and a bright red light for the rear. Not all lights are created equal, even when rated by the number of lumens, so do your homework and don’t be a cheapskate with lights. Your life depends upon seeing and being seen.

Calif. Vehicle Code section 21201 requires the following when riding in darkness, even if you’re riding on the sidewalk or a Class 1 Bikeway (no cars):

  1. a white lamp in front that’s visible for 300 ft ahead and laterally,
  2. a red, rear reflector* visible for 500 ft.,
  3. a white or yellow reflector visible from 200 ft. on both pedals, shoes, or ankles,
  4. a white or yellow reflector mounted front of center and facing sideways (e.g., mounted in the spokes), and
  5. a white or red reflector mounted at the rear of the center and facing sideways (e.g., spoke-mounted)

Lots of people remove their reflectors from the spokes b/c they think they’re not cool. Put them back on!!! They’re extremely effective and don’t require batteries. Sometimes bike shops keep a box of them that people have asked to be removed, so you can pick them up for free.

When I was training as a bicycle instructor, we did an experiment on a dark street using a bicycle outfitted with the standard reflectors in the spokes and compared them to other types of reflective accessories. We found those cheap, OEM reflectors were superior to everything when crossing the path of headlights. Also, they had the added benefit of rotating with the tires. That draws motorists’ attention and makes bicyclists more visible, especially at intersections.

The other essential accessories were the bright, flashing taillights. (I have zip-tied Planet Bike flashing lights to both sides of my bicycle frame. My neighbors tell me they think I’m a fire truck coming down the street!)

*Even though Calif. law requires only a red reflector for the rear, don’t be a minimalist. Get a high-quality red light from our local bike shops. They cost about $20-30 and the batteries last a long time. Make your ass flashy!

Do an ABC-Quick Check before you ride:

  1. check the air pressure in your tires, according to the limit stamped on the sidewalls, and make sure your tires aren’t worn out. If the rubber is flaky from being out in the elements, then replace the inner tube and tire;
  2. make sure your brakes work and are properly adjusted. (Calif. Vehicle Code section 21201 requires at least one operational brake on a bicycle);
  3. check the quick release levers at the axels. 
  4. check, clean, and lubricate your chain and gears. You should be able to smoothly shift up and down. If the gears are stuck in one position, especially if that position makes it too hard to pump the pedals, then you’ll need to get the gears adjusted and possibly replace the cables, which stretch over time.

If you’re unfamiliar with any of the bike parts and maintenance, then take your bike to one of the two bike shops on El Camino Real (Cycle Werks and San Clemente Cyclery). They have expert mechanics that will get you dialed in so your bike is safe on the road. A basic tune up costs about $60, plus parts. If you bought your bicycle from one of these shops, the tune-ups are free, at least for the first year. (You won’t get that kind of deal on a WalMart bike).

Shoe laces: make sure your and your children’s laces are tied up close to the shoe. If they’re long or flopping around, they can get caught in the front sprocket and cause a fall.

Long, floppy other stuff: check your clothing and anything else on your bicycle to be sure it’s secured and won’t shift and get caught in your spokes. That includes bike locks, straps, and bungee cords. An unintentional, faceplanting endo is NOT fun.

Behavior and the Rules of the Road

Bicyclists are NOT vehicles but they are traffic under the Calif. Vehicle Code. CVC section 39000 says they are a “device upon which a person may ride, which is propelled by human power . . .” Since 1959, CVC section 620 has defined “traffic” as including everyone who uses the highway, including pedestrians and bicyclists.

To ensure everyone’s safety, we all have to follow a common set of rules when using the roadway.

According to CVC section 21200, bicyclists have  “all the rights and [are] subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle.”

 That means we’re required to do the following:

  • ride in the same direction as vehicular traffic when we’re on the roadway;
  • stop at all signals and stop signs;
  • use hand signals when stopping or turning;
  • obey speed limits;
  • choose the roadway position that matches your destination;
  • ride as far to the right of the roadway as is safely possible.

That last rule about riding to the right comes from the Calif. Vehicle Code section 21202 and is often the subject of misunderstanding by everyone. The exact language of the Code is as follows:

“Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations . . .”

Here’s how to interpret that law:

The first criterion is the speed of the bicyclist, relative to the vehicles on the roadway. If a bicyclist is moving at the speed limit of the roadway or is otherwise moving at the speed of cars, then there is no obligation to move to the right side of the road. They can “occupy the lane,” if they so choose. In that situation, a bicycle is equal to a car.

The second criterion is “as close as practicable.” That last word, “practicable,” does NOT mean “possible.” Rather, it meansas safe as possible under the circumstances. In fact, moving too far to the right can create safety problems instead of preventing them.

The bicyclist is NOT required to ride so far to the right that he/she rides:

  • in roadway debris,
  • in the gutter,
  • near the gutter seam,
  • off the pavement,
  • in the deadly door zone,
  • to permit a close, unsafe pass by a vehicle, or
  • in a turn lane when intending to go through the intersection (that would be illegal, anyway).

The third criterion lists four exceptions for riding to the right. According to the Code, bicyclists are NOT required to ride to the right when:

  1. passing another bicycle or a vehicle,
  2. turning left,
  3. avoiding unsafe conditions (often the doors of parked cars), and
  4. approaching a right turn.

Ride in a straight, predictable path. If you’re riding in the center of the effective lane of travel, then you’ve already increased the ability of motorists to see you and anticipate your movements.

A common mistake bicyclists make is weaving in and out of parked cars. Bicyclists do that for several reasons.

  1. They don’t know how to ride assertively to ensure their safety.
  2. They think they’re being more courteous to motorists behind them.
  3. They’re often afraid of the cars behind, especially when those cars are travelling very fast.

On residential collector roads and others where speeds are low, you’re safer riding that predictable path in the center of the travel lane. Weaving unpredictably between cars is always dangerous because motorists don’t know what the bicyclist’s going to do next.

(Aside–A good place to observe the dangerous weaving behavior is Coast Hwy through Laguna Beach, especially north and south of downtown where vehicle speeds are at freeway levels.

Because that city allows parking on PCH where there are no Class 2 bike lanes, individual bicyclists are pushed out into the right-most traffic lane. Bicyclists also have to risk their lives to avoid the bushes because Laguna doesn’t trim the vegetation that grows out into the shoulder of the roadway where bicyclists are forced to ride.

Even though I’m trained to ride in those conditions, I totally avoid riding through Laguna Beach and don’t recommend that individual bicyclists ride there because it’s extremely stressful. If you’re riding in a large peloton, you’re functioning as a big truck on the roadway, so you’re safer. I prefer to take Metrolink to Irvine to get to Newport Beach and points north or I drive.

Laguna Beach is an obstacle to public safety that disrupts bicycle-based commerce north and south of its city limits.)

Sidewalk riding can be very dangerous. Although it’s legal in San Clemente, regardless of the location, bicycling on the sidewalk requires a high level of vigilance.

Young bicyclists are especially prone to the dangers of sidewalk riding because they perceive sidewalks as being car-free. So, sidewalk riders have a decreased sense of situational awareness. That often gets them into trouble.

There are a few other reasons why kids are in danger while riding on the sidewalk.

  1. Kids aren’t generally good decision makers because they lack the roadway observation skills of more mature people.
  2. Their parents often instruct them to stay out of the street, away from cars.
  3. Neither kids or their parents know how to ride on the sidewalk safely.

Here’s what you need to know about sidewalk riding:

Every driveway is an intersection. Cars can quickly cross a sidewalk rider’s path without detection, especially when shrubbery obscures the motorist’s line of sight down the street.

  • Children need to be instructed to perceive all driveways as car-crossing points, whether they are riding on the sidewalk or in the street adjacent the driveway.

Riding opposite the direction of motor traffic is very, very dangerous, especially when you’re on the sidewalk.

  • Ask yourself this question: when motorists are entering the street from a driveway, in which direction are they looking? In the U.S., they look left.
  • The bicyclist riding against motor traffic is approaching the intersection or driveway from the right.
  • Typically, the motorist doesn’t look right until the last minute before entering the roadway, if he/she looks at all in that direction. The motorist isn’t expecting oncoming traffic from the right.

That’s what creates the dangerous conflict point between the young bicyclist and the motorist, so sidewalk crashes often happen between the two. (In fact, as I was writing this, a headline popped up about a 14-year-old who was killed in Glendale because he was riding the wrong way on the sidewalk. See below.)

Sidewalks are often interrupted by roadways, but kids don’t naturally perceive the change in risk from the pedestrian environment to the vehicular one.

  • That’s why ADA curb ramps making a smooth pedestrian transition from sidewalk to street are often deadly for kids on bikes. Again, the problem is created by the kids not being aware that they have entered the domain of the car once they go down that ramp or off the curb.

Kids on sidewalks should be instructed to always WALK their bicycles across the street and behave as pedestrians, looking both ways and activating the pedestrian signal if one is present.

  • Do NOT let your child smoothly and thoughtlessly ride into the street, even on a green light, even with the pedestrian signal, even in a school zone.

Here are a couple of examples of common, dangerous, sidewalk situations involving kids:

On May 2, a sunny, Thursday afternoon in Glendale, Calif., a 14-year-old was riding on the sidewalk, heading opposite motor vehicle traffic. The intersection ahead couldn’t have been designed more safely: a 4-way stop at the intersection of two 2-lane roadways, with a roundabout in the middle. Speeding through the intersection wasn’t possible.

A schoolbus was on the cross-street, had stopped at the stop sign, and proceeded through the intersection. But the kid never stopped. He flew off the sidewalk at a high rate of speed and out in front of the schoolbus. The driver never saw him coming and the collision was fatal—and preventable.

Had this boy been properly trained by his parents—or a formal bicycle education program at his school—he would have known to dismount at the intersection and WALK his bicycle across the street. (See Glendale News Press article).

Last year, in a school zone in San Clemente, a school bus had been waiting to turn right at a signalized intersection. The crossing guard had safely escorted the kids to the other side of the street while the pedestrian signal was green. The vehicle signal was red. Then observing parents held their breath.

There was a straggler, a little kid on a bike, riding on the sidewalk, trying to catch up with his friends. The vehicle signal turned green. The schoolbus had the right of way to go right. The kid never stopped.

The bus driver did what most drivers would never do: looked in the side-view mirror for traffic approaching from behind. The driver saw the kid and the little tike on a bike flew by on the green, right in front of the bus. He was blissfully happy: he caught up to his pack of peers and never knew what almost happened. That day, there was an angel on the bus.

If either of those stories brought tears to your eyes, then spread the word to take bicycle education seriously. The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition regularly sponsors bicycle education courses. Here’s the link to learn more. Feel free to email me with questions.

Education is one reason why we’re holding family fun rides starting this month and continuing for the summer.Kids need to be taught how to ride, how to perceive, how to make good decisions. So do their parents. Learning comes through practice and experience riding with educated people.

Don’t rely upon angels. Educate yourself and pass that education on to your kids, one pedal stroke at a time.

Come ride with us tomorrow, 11 am, at the North Beachbike rental, across from Kaylani Coffee. (Map here). We’ll decide where we’re going based on the ages of the kids who show up. The speed of the slowest person will be the speed of the ride. Max. speed is 10 mph.

Bring money for ice cream or a visit to the petting zoo or a train ride home . . . and a smile. Be prepared to have fun in the sun and learn on the run.