More and more Wichitans are pulling their bicycles out of the garage and tooling around the neighborhood, bicycling advocate Barry Carroll has noticed.
In fact, “I think we’re seeing a tipping point around bicycling in our community. More and more … the average person is venturing out on bikes,” said Carroll, who leads Bike Walk Wichita, a nonprofit that promotes safe, active transportation.
One-day counts in various locations in Wichita in 2012 and 2013 showed a 19 percent increase in riders from year to year. According to the national Alliance for Biking & Walking Benchmarking Report, between 2 percent and 2.9 percent of Kansan commuters bike or walk to work.
One of those commuters is Wichitan Amy Delamaide. She and her husband sold one of their two cars in February and take turns biking from their College Hill home to work, depending on which of them needs the car at work.
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“We probably would have liked to live in a city where a lot more people were walking or biking. It was about aligning our lives to live the way we want to where we live now,” Delamaide said.
While Wichita may be moving toward being more mobile – the City of Wichita Bicycle Master Plan has a goal of tripling the number of bicyclists from 2012 to 2022 – it’s estimated that 60 percent of bicycle owners are reluctant to actually ride them, Carroll said. “They need some encouragement.”
That is coming in the form of 60 miles of bike paths in Wichita with more bike lanes and paths on the way, Carroll said, and a city effort to prioritize projects that will help bicyclists into the future. The public’s input on the priorities is sought at an open house from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. May 27 at City Hall.
Knowing the proper safety and maintenance practices also helps people feel more comfortable about hitting the pedals. Here are the basics along with some innovations that may make you join the growing ranks of bicyclists out on the paths this summer – including at the Wichita River Festival, which will once again have a free bike valet this year.
Getting the bike in shape
If you haven’t had your bicycle out on the road in a while, the simplest thing is to take it to a bicycle shop for a checkup, Carroll said.
“We’re lucky here to have several high-quality bike shops in our community,” Carroll said.
For regular maintenance, have a bicycle pump and plan to pump up the tires every couple of weeks, whether you ride the bike or not, Carroll said. Tires slowly leak air either way. Proper inflation helps the tires roll better and helps avoid flats.
“A common mistake people make is they underinflate their tires, and they get pinch flats from the inside-out if they hit a rock,” Carroll said.
Otherwise, occasionally put bicycle lube or a light oil on the chain and wipe with a rag, Carroll said.
Delamaide said she inflates her bicycle tires and can change a flat but otherwise leaves maintenance to a bicycle shop.
Maintenance and safety are tied together.
• Whenever you are biking far from home, be prepared for flats, Carroll said. They can happen no matter what you do. It is dangerous to ride on one, and doing so can tear up the tire, he said.
So make sure someone can pick you up if you have a flat, or learn how to fix a flat and have a couple of spare tubes with you, along with either a bicycle pump or a CO2 cartridge to inflate the tire. The cartridge is a handy innovation that affixes to the stem of the tire and will inflate it.
Carroll also advises not riding on grass, because stickers in the grass can puncture a tire.
• Wear a helmet, and make sure it is positioned level on the head, not tipped back.
Here are the recommendations that Safe Kids, a charitable organization for preventing injuries in children, gives for a proper helmet fit:
Eyes: Position the helmet on your head. Look up and you should see the bottom rim of the helmet. The rim should be one to two finger-widths above the eyebrows.
Ears: Make sure the straps of the helmet form a “V” under your ears when buckled. The strap should be snug but comfortable.
Mouth: Open your mouth as wide as you can. Do you feel the helmet hug your head? If not, tighten the straps and make sure the buckle is flat against your skin.
• Wear bright colors for greater visibility.
• When heading out for any distance, drink plenty of water and eat something first. Take a water bottle and, as you go, “drink before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry,” Carroll said. “People don’t realize they’re expending a lot of energy. People get a kind of weak.”
• Slather on the sunscreen before heading out, and carry it with you to replenish on your ride.
• While you should stick to the pavement when riding, be wary of sidewalks. In the first place, riding on them downtown is illegal. Motorists can easily be taken unawares when a cyclist darts in front of them through intersections on a sidewalk. Plus the pavement is often uneven, Carroll said.
“Sharing the road is important. And bicyclists have to use the same rules of the road that motorists do. It’s important we stop at all the stop signs, that we don’t run through them, that we ride in a consistent manner and don’t wobble all over the road, and use hand signals to let drivers know where we’re going. I think that’s what scares motorists are those unanticipated movements.
“Motorists need to do their share. There’s a state law called the 3-foot rule,” the minimum space that motorists must give bicyclists when they pass them.
• If you’re riding at dusk or later, have lights on the front and back of your bicycle. Amy Delamaide occasionally rides her bike to social events in the evening.
“I make sure I have the lights on like I need to. I stay safe as I normally do.”
Again, wear bright clothing for visibility.
• Plan your route ahead of time to avoid busy streets. Updated maps with bike lanes and bike paths are available in bike shops, at City Hall, at the neighborhood city halls, and online at wichita.gov (click the bicycle icon and then “maps”).
People who live far from bike paths often put their bikes in their car and drive to the paths, Carroll said.
Traveling on streets that have fewer cars also reduces the yelling or honking that bicycle riders may endure from motorists, Delamaide said.
“If I do get honked at or yelled at, I just do my best to keep riding safely and steadily. I’m confident that the person in the car will soon recover from the few seconds of inconvenience he or she has experienced.”
The city of Wichita wants to provide more education so both cyclists and motorists know proper etiquette. New safety videos can be found at wichita.gov; click on the City7 Videos icon.
“The more bicyclists on the road, the safer they are, the more motorists are looking for us,” Carroll said.
“And I’m seeing a lot more people using city streets and bike paths.”
And that’s good for physical health, community health and environmental health, Carroll said.