In Alabama, wearing a bicycle helmet is a personal choice. The decision to wear (or not wear) a helmet is divisive and not an open and shut case. Pro-safety arguments for wearing a helmet are well-known, but what about the other perspective?
Modern bicycle helmets are made of hard plastic on the outside, a type of foam on the inside, and a way to attach your head. On impact, the plastic helps your helmet to slide and more evenly distribute the impact force, the foam compresses against the plastic, which slows your brain when it compresses against the inside of your skull. Most helmets work well if your head hits something hard. However, there are many other factors to consider:
I wear a helmet on almost every trip I take. However, I do not feel safer wearing a helmet – it does offer great rain and sun protection. I dislike the inconvenience of having an additional thing to secure when I leave my bike. However, I would never judge a cyclist who chooses to go helmet-free, for the reasons I have outlined above.
ValloCycle is Alabama’s oldest citywide bike share. We welcome riders of all experience levels. For more information visit vallocycle.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Community bikeability (how suitable/fit for biking an area can be) scored in a number of ways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asks the six questions that help us assess neighborhood bikeability. This month we will focus on the first question – Do you have a place to bicycle safely?
If your last ride was on the road, with motor vehicles, you may have encountered some of the following issues: no space for bicyclists to ride (no bike lane or shoulder; narrow lanes), disappearing bicycle lanes or paved shoulders, heavy and/or fast-moving traffic, too many trucks or buses, no space for bicyclists on bridges, or poorly lighted roadways.
Immediate solutions to these roadway challenges:
Long-term solutions to these roadway challenges:
If your ride was on an off-road trail/path without motor vehicles, you may have encountered some of the following issues: path ended abruptly, path didn’t go where I wanted to go, path intersected with roads that were difficult to cross, path was crowded, path was unsafe because of sharp turns or dangerous downhills, path was uncomfortable because of too many hills, or path was poorly lighted.
Immediate solutions to off-road trail/path issues:
Long-term solutions to off road trail/path issues:
After reviewing both short and long-term solutions, commit to seeing at least one solution through to the end. Getting involved is as easy as contacting the local government and your representative. Visit cityofmontevallo.com for a list of department heads, committee members, and your local municipal representative.
Bicycling, whether for transportation or recreation, is a great way to get physical activity into your day. Riding should be something you enjoy doing. Choose routes that match your skill level – start slowly and work to your potential.
Bicycles are the most efficient form of transportation designed by humans – its calorie input to distance ratio wins every time. Most bikes do a wonderful job moving people, but what about your stuff? Every bike should have some type of bag to keep the essentials for travel. If cargo capacity is limiting your bicycle outings, follow these tips to enjoy biking with stuff:
Large Loads – can be challenging on a bicycle. A cargo trailer is a wonderful option. It is capable of holding larger bags and even children. Oversized loads can be awkward on a bicycle – a friend once welded a short cylinder to his frame to help carry pipes for a plumbing project.
Just about anything is better than holding a bag in your hands or hanging it off your of your handlebars. Maneuverability and braking are limited and your focus is distracted by the need to keep the sack contents clean and clear of the wheels and gears. No matter what system you use, just make sure your load is secure and as low to the ground as possible – the lower the load, the easier it is to balance your bike.
The Guardian reported that bicycle usage has increased dramatically in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Riding bicycles has built-in social distancing, lets you see the world at a slower pace so you don’t miss the small things, helps prevent depression, decreases stress, helps with memory and reasoning, and helps improves brain health. Consumer Reports recommends the following steps for safe pandemic cycling:
With the first weeks of fall behind us and the southern summer (hopefully) fading into our memory, enjoy riding as the weather gets cooler with these fall cycling tips:
The Summer Solstice occurs on June 21st (11:54am), bringing the first days of summer and the southern sun’s legendary heating of the south. Take a break to ride and enjoy these hot weather cycling tips:
You may have noticed some awesome infrastructure upgrades around Montevallo recently, including a lot of newly paved roads. Riding your bicycle on fresh asphalt provides a smooth ride comparable to floating on a cloud. Unfortunately, riding on clay bricks provides a mostly unpleasant experience that most cyclists avoid. Brick pavers have been part of Montevallo since 1896 and avoiding brick roads on campus isn’t always practical. Follow these tips to learn how to ride on brick pavers:
Route choice – plan your route to avoid the worst sections of road. There are many newly paved sections of campus such as Bloch and Vine Streets that have smoother bricks for riding. As tempting as it is to ride on the sidewalk, remember that in Alabama it is not lawful to do so.
Scan Ahead – keep an eye out ahead for bad sections of road so you don’t wait until the last moment to react to a large bump in the road. A predictable cyclist is a safe cyclist.
Bunny hop – use the standard bunny hop to avoid an unforeseen obstacle. The same move you used as a kid can be practiced and used as an emergency measure when needed.
Ride on the saddle – although it is tempting to stand on your pedals to take the shake out of your backside, you need weight on the back wheel to maintain traction and stability.
Bend your arms – do not lock your arms straight while riding on bricks; doing so can transfer the bumps directly to your head and spine. Keeping your arms bent allows them to become shock absorbers when riding.
Relax – staying relaxed and flexible on the bike will help you avoid pain. Tensing your muscles amplifies the knocks of an uneven surface.
Grip – Finding the balance between a firm and light grip on your handlebars will take some practice. The right balance will assist in navigating the pavers.
Tires – consider wider tires that allow for lower pressures. While you don’t want to allow your tire pressure to dip below the recommended range (this could create a pinch flat that will lead to a flat tire), higher pressures bring an intimate meeting with every road bump.
By using these tips, you can easily navigate the uneven roads in our community. Practice these strategies the next time you are riding around town – the more cyclists in town, the safer the streets are for riders!
Montevallo is home to the oldest settlement in Shelby County. It was Jessie Wilson who claimed the hill on the northern bank of Shoal Creek to create a homestead. Hills have always been a part of Montevallo. Knowing how to utilize a multitude of gears on your bicycle is an essential skill. Many beginner cyclists fail to change gears throughout the ride. Follow this simple guide to shift like a pro!
Chainrings – these are the gears in the front near the pedals. They are attached to the crank arms that your feet turn. There are usually 2-3 gears on the chain-rings. Moving from the larger chainrings to the smaller chainrings will make pedaling easier. Moving this gear makes larger, more noticeable, changes to the drivetrain.
Cassette/freewheel - these are the gears attached to the rear wheel. There are usually 6-12 gears. Moving from the smaller gears to the larger gears will make pedaling easier. Moving this gear makes subtle, less noticeable, changes to the drivetrain.
Shifters – in the United States bikes are commonly setup with the left shifter for the chainrings and the right shifter for the rear gears. When in doubt remember “Right is Rear.”
Purpose – the purpose of gears is to ensure a comfortable pedaling no matter what terrain you are traveling. Utilizing different combinations of the front chainrings and the rear cassette/freewheel will allow you to pedal with ease.
Learning – find a flat and safe area to experiment with your bicycle. Put the chain in your small or middle front chainring. Now experiment by riding around and shifting into different rear gears. Get comfortable shifting while riding and learn which way to shift for the pedaling to become easier and which way to shift for the pedaling to become harder. Be sure you are pedaling while shifting; most gearing systems will only shift when you are pedaling.
When to Shift – Ideally you want to maintain the same cadence in pedaling on whatever terrain you are approaching. Shifting into easier gears when climbing a hill and harder gears while going down a hill would be ideal. Experienced cyclists shift into an easier gear as they approach a hill, not when already on the hill. Shifting while your chain is under load, such as going up a steep hill in a high gear, will be difficult.
Cross Chaining – is when your chain is at the extremes of its tolerance. Cross chaining occurs when the rear and front gears are each on the largest or each on the smallest. The bike chain is placed at an extreme angle. There is usually some additional chain noise associated with cross chaining. This scenario is to be avoided due to an increased likelihood of the chain coming off the gears.
Test out your new shifting skills on our next group ride! We welcome riders of all experience levels.
Alabama was ranked the 39th most bicycle friendly state by The League of American Bicyclists in its 2017 survey. Areas being considered in this ranking include: infrastructure & funding, education & encouragement, legislation & enforcement, policies & programs, and evaluation & planning. Alabama’s best ranking was in infrastructure & funding for cycling projects, and our lowest ranking was in legislation and enforcement. We need to improve our laws to improve this score, but until then, motorists and cyclists need to have a better understanding of Alabama’s existing bike laws. Here are the laws we receive the most frequent questions about:
Bicycle = Vehicle (Ala. Code §§32-1-1.1(81); 32-5A-260): A person riding a bicycle has all the rights and duties of the driver of a vehicle. This includes the same penalties for driving while intoxicated or under the influence of controlled substances (Ala. Code §§32-5A-191; 22-27-90). As a cyclist, it’s important to follow the rules of the road, both for safety and to leave motorists with a positive impression of cyclists!
Helmet Law For Minors (Ala. Code §§32-5A-283; 32-5A-285): Whether you are the operator or passenger, a helmet is required for anyone under the age of 16 while riding in public. Thus, those over the age of 16 can make their own decision as to whether they want to wear a helmet.
Lights & Reflectors (Ala. Code §§32-5A-265): While riding at night, a WHITE front-facing light visible for at least 500 feet and a RED rear-facing reflector visible between 100-600 feet when illuminated by a vehicle headlights are both required. A rear light is not required, but will further improve your safety.
Where to ride (Ala. Code §§32-5A-263): Wherever there is a usable path for bicycles adjacent to the roadway (such as a bike lane), a cyclist should use that path. When riding on the road, bicyclists should ride as far to the right as “practicable” – this means that while you should normally stay within 2 feet of the right side of the lane, if there are obstructions or issues with road quality, you can move further into the lane. Also, while some folks feel safer on the sidewalk, cycling on the sidewalk is prohibited under Alabama law (Ala. Code §§32-5A-52).
3-Feet Passing Law (Ala. Code §§32-5A-82) Alabama has a 3-foot law! Motorists shall give cyclists at least 3 feet of space while passing them given that they are no more than 2 feet from the shoulder of the road. The passing vehicle should give you more than half the lane in space to comply with this law, and ideally they will give you the whole lane as they pass.
While at times being on the roads seems scary for cyclists, following the rules and keeping alert around motorists will help you stay safe and minimize motorist-cyclist conflict!
Bicycling is a great activity for kids – it can improve coordination/physical fitness and foster independence – but teaching kids how to bike takes some time and effort. Helping your children get off on the right foot is worth the energy. Our goal is to focus on making cycling a fun activity. However, making cycling fun isn’t just something for the young – people of every age can have a joyful bike experience by following these tips:
Before the Ride