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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Ride Smart, Ride Safe, Ride On

Apr 29, 2012 06:33PM ● By Tanner Jones

From the quad-crushing climbs of Mt. Lemmon to the smooth pavement of the bike and pedestrian paths throughout town, Tucson is consistently recognized as one of America’s top bicycling cities. With hundreds of miles of bike lanes and trails, there are ample cycling opportunities for every skill level, from the competitive cycling enthusiast to commuters and weekend family riders.

Cycling, either as a hobby or sport, brings myriad benefits, including improved health though exercise, environmentally friendly transportation and general fun and enjoyment for all ages. But before jumping on your trusty velocipede (bicycle), consider becoming educated about bike laws and safety, to make each outing as enjoyable as possible.

One of the most influential groups promoting and educating bicycle safety in Tucson is the Pima County Bicycle & Pedestrian Program, which works with the Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee, the Tucson Department of Environmental Quality, the Arizona Department of Transportation and other groups and bicycle clubs.

Matt Zoll, Pima County Bicycle and Pedestrian Program manager, says, “Our bike safety programs promote cycling for work, play, and health.” The programs offer a variety of courses for cyclists ranging in age and experience. “Classes cover riders of all ages, from 4 to 90 years old,” says Zoll. “Some people have not been on a bike for 15 years, so this offers a refresher. We give out free helmets, lights or locks to those who participate.”

The first thing to check before heading out on the roads or trails is the quality of your bike. “Ideally,” Zoll states, “riders want to start off with a good bike. There is a different between a bike you buy at WalMart versus a bike you buy at a bike shop.” Many of the local bike shops in Tucson can provide appropriate sizing and fitting, and many provide free or reduced maintenance fees for their customers.

“In the programs, we teach basic pre-ride safety,” Zoll says. “Riders should check tire pressure, look for cracks or thorns in the tires, and then shake and inspect for loose ball bearings to make sure everything is secure.” When the bike is ready to roll, riders should also pack appropriately. “We say to bring a cell phone, hydrationsystem (water bottles, hydration packs), gloves, helmet, and identification, in case
something goes wrong and the rider is unable to communicate.” Proper riding attire is also important.

While many commuters ride in their work clothes, brightly colored clothing or reflective vests may provide better visibility, and longer rides may require padded shorts for comfort or outer clothing to guard against the elements. Riders that commute or train in the dawn or dusk hours are encouraged to use handlebar and tail lights, as well as reflectors on the wheels and body of the bike.

Cyclists should also bring a repair kit for fixing flats and making on-the-road repairs. Zoll also encourages bringing a small manual for quick fixes. “We produce a mini-pocket guide that not only has repair tips, but also includes the pertinent traffic laws and safety guides for riders to reference when out on the road.”

Finally, before the pedals startturning, it’s a good idea to have a route set. The Pima County Bike and Pedestrian Program offers free bike maps that include bike and pedestrian trails and streets with bike lanes. “The maps are good,” Zoll says, “but people may want to drive the route or ride it on weekends. There could be construction, or the road may look good on the map, but be rough to ride on.” Another good idea is to check with local bike clubs about the routes they take and become aware of the conditions on those streets.

For parents, cycling is a great way to expose kids to the outdoors and get active, and there are bike accessories for kids of all ages. From pull trailers to tag-along tandem, children can experience the joys of riding early on. For those just learning to ride on their own, a park or trail closed to vehicles is probably the best place to start. Zoll notes, however, “Even on what appears to be a safe path, something could come up, so parents should remain close and keep an eye out.” In addition, Zoll maintains, “Parents should practice what they preach. We want kids to be safe and wear helmets, so parents should model this and wear them, too.”

So mount up, get some fresh air and exercise and experience why Tucson continues to be one of the best biking cities in America.

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Tanner Jones is a freelance writer based in Tucson.