by Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director
August 5, 2014
Whether you’re riding for fun or to transport yourself around town, there are many places in Independence to ride a bike. Similar to any aerobic activity, cycling is great for your body and your overall health.
Bicycling is one of the most efficient modes of human locomotion as well as one of the best activities for improving our health. Cycling has been associated with improved cardiovascular fitness, as well as a decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease. It is also wonderful for toning and building your muscles, especially in the lower half of the body. Cycling is a great low-impact mode of exercise for those with joint conditions or injuries to the legs or hips. Moving both feet around in circles while steering with both your hands and your body’s own weight can help with your coordination skills. In short, riding a bike has even been linked to improved mental health.
Now that you know some of the benefits of riding a bike, make sure you know the laws that apply to cyclists.
According to Missouri law, on public streets and highways, a bicyclist has the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle operator. Motorists must treat bicycles in the same way as any other vehicle. Bicycles must obey the same traffic laws, with limited exceptions, in the same way as motor vehicles.
Missouri law also prohibits cyclists from riding on the sidewalk in a business district. Additionally, City ordinance prohibits anyone 13 or older from riding a bicycle on any sidewalk in any district.
Roads with a designated bike lane are the best option for bike riders. Designated bike lanes cannot be blocked by any stationary object, nor can motor vehicles drive in a bicycle lane unless to cross the lane or otherwise provide for safe travel. In that case, the driver of a motor vehicle must yield to any bicycle in the lane.
As a cyclist, always ride with traffic, and try to ride as near to the right side of the roadway as possible. Studies have shown that, for teen and adult bicyclists, riding on the street with traffic, not against it, is far safer than riding on the sidewalk. A person operating a bicycle may also ride on the shoulder adjacent to the roadway, but they are not required to do so.
Make sure that you signal before changing lanes or changing your position within a lane. Before merging, changing lanes or turning, scan behind and in front to ensure that it is safe to make this maneuver.
Be extra careful at intersections. Do not assume you have the right-of-way when there is a vehicle approaching. Be aware that motor vehicle drivers may not see you approaching the intersection, or may believe that you are moving at a slower speed than you are.
To be seen by motorists, wear bright colors and stay out of a vehicle’s blind spots. When bicycling at night, every bicycle needs a front-facing lamp, a rear-facing red reflector, and reflective material or lights visible from the front, rear, and both sides of the bicycle or bicyclist. Every bicycle should also be equipped with working brakes.
Wear a bike helmet every time you ride, even if you are going for a short ride. Wearing a helmet can prevent serious head injuries or death. For the safest helmets, look for a sticker that says it meets standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). It’s also important to make sure your bike helmet fits you properly. You don't want it too small or too big. If you're unsure if your helmet fits you well, ask someone at a bike store.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a bicycle safety initiative for children, parents, and adults called "Be A Roll Model". It is a campaign to encourage everyone to model safe behaviors to enhance the safety of all road users, including those who bicycle. The goal is to decrease the risks of traffic crashes and preventable injuries and deaths. NHTSA invites everyone to adopt this campaign and encourages adults and youths to do the safe thing when riding or driving around bicycles.
For more information on bike safety or NHTSA’s “Be A Roll Model” campaign, go to http://www.nhtsa.gov/Driving+Safety/Bicycles/Be+a+Roll+Model or http://www.nhtsa.gov/Bicycles.