Some safety tips to keep in mind if you choose to ride your bike.
By Neil Bezdek
As Americans assess the damage from Hurricane Sandy, many are scratching their heads wondering how they’ll get around for the next few days. Streets are flooded, tress are down, roads are blocked by debris, gas stations are boarded up, and public transit is shut down. In my current digs, in New York City, the subway won’t reopen for nearly a week, and the bus system hardly rivals the speed and capacity of its underground counterpart.
Fortunately for us, the solution is clear—bicycling. As most East Coasters struggle to get moving again, no doubt the hearty among us will immediately take to the muddy streets on two wheels.Despite the convenience, though, riding through the aftermath of a hurricane warrants a few special considerations.
Lower your tire pressure.
A softer tire creates a larger, more supple contact patch with the ground for superior traction on slick surfaces. It’s also less likely to puncture on sharp debris, in the same way that a balloon is harder to pop when it has less air.
Drop your saddle by a centimeter or two.
A lower center of gravity improves stability and will make it easier to put a foot on the ground if you slip.
Avoid all fallen tree branches.
Even the smallest twig can shoot up into your spokes and send you to the pavement. If one gets into your rear wheel, mitigate the damage by squeezing the brakes to lock the wheel and take pressure off the blockage. Also, use caution on wet leaves, as a blanket of these can be as slick as ice.
Try to bypass puddles, even familiar ones.
Sure, you might have a sense of a murky puddle’s depth, but there’s no telling what sort of debris the storm might have swept into the water. Further, low-lying areas of pavement often sink—and crack—because of erosion from below.
Be smart about crossing moving water.
If you’re forced to traverse flowing water—a common feature on many bike paths—be as swift and steady as possible. Pedal up to speed before splashing across, and avoid hitting the brakes or turning until you’ve made it safely to the other side. Compensate for a crosscurrent by raising your pedal on the upsteam side; this will shift your weight downstream keep you upright as the water applies lateral force. If the water is more than a couple of inches deep, find an alternate route.
Expect street users to behave erratically.
After natural disaster, many road users will act is if the normal rules are suspended. Even in areas where stoplights are working, motorists and other road users will be distracted as they survey damage, instead of keeping their eyes on the road.
Drain your bike when you’re done.
Most frames have strategically placed holes that allow water to drain out of the frame when the bike is stored upright. If your bike is truly waterlogged, expedite the process by removing the seat post and tipping it upside down before storing it right side up.
Also, keep in mind that most types of
rims tend to hold water. Drain them by deflating the tires completely and positioning the valve hole at the bottom to allow fluid to seep out.
Above all, stay safe and don’t break the rules. Cyclists already have an image problem. Don’t exacerbate it by venturing out if local officials are still asking for everyone to stay indoors.