For many of us, learning to ride a bike was the first type of freedom we experienced as kids. We can still remember the first time being on a bike – the speed, the air hitting our face, the challenge, and of course, the bumps and bruises along the way. Since the southern-most trailhead of the Allegheny Highlands Trail is at the Elkins Depot Welcome Center, Elkins is well on its way to becoming an even more bike-able community. The Welcome Center has biking maps and trail information available.
As a cyclist, it is your responsibility to ride safely and considerately, and as a driver, it is your responsibility to share the road and coexist with bicyclists. Here is some advice that will help keep you and others safe while biking and driving:
Always wear a helmet. You might not feel like the coolest cat on the street when you wear a helmet, but we aren’t in elementary school anymore trying to show off our new drift skills to all of our friends. Wearing a helmet is crucial for anyone going on a bike ride. Even the professionals wear helmets because they know that plenty of accidents happen while biking and protecting the head and brain should be the number one priority. Every year, hundreds of bicyclists die in traffic accidents involving motor vehicles, and thousands more are injured. So, when you think about those eye-opening stats, the next time you put on your helmet think of it as a fashion statement and an example for the young ones just starting to feel the freedom of riding.
Share the trail or road, and yield the right of way. There are a variety of ways to ride bikes. Whether you like to ride on the road, rail-trails, forest service roads, mountain biking trails, etc., a majority of the time you will come in contact with other people on the same route. Remember, bikers should yield to foot traffic and horses. In reference to horses, use extra caution because you don’t know how they will react and horses are a lot bigger than you. It can also be good to stop completely and let the horses pass as to not spook them. Descending riders should also yield to climbing riders considering they are working a heck of a lot harder going uphill than down. Speaking of rolling down a hill at top notch speed, it is respectful to ride in control and pay attention to your surroundings. Stay in your lane at blind corners and if you need to pass someone, slow down and verbally announce yourself.
As a motor vehicle operator, know the cyclists rights. Many drivers have little idea of the traffic laws that apply to bicyclists. Bicyclists can use the roadways like a motor vehicle, except on major highways. West Virginia laws require bikers stay as close to the right side of the road as possible and must move in the same direction as traffic. Bicyclists are always required to abide by the same rules of the road as a motor vehicle operator. For example, bicyclists cannot run stop signs or red lights, nor can they turn without using a hand signal. To use a crosswalk, bikers must dismount and become a pedestrian. As a driver, be on the lookout for these signals to understand which direction the cyclist is going. If you plan to pass the biker, make sure to give them breathing room, at least 3 feet of space.
An important note for motor vehicle operators: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE… WE REPEAT… Please get off of your phone while driving and pay attention!!! There are too many accidents, both driving and cycling, that can be prevented because a text message, phone call, email could not wait. Don’t be the problem, be the solution.
Plan ahead. We know that sometimes you just want to go out and ride by yourself, and that is okay! But, if you choose to ride out on your own make sure you tell a friend where you are going and when you’ll be returning. This is a good rule of thumb for any outdoor activity. Make sure you have enough food and water for your bike trip. We recommend a hydration pack that will also allow you to carry snacks, a small flat tire pump and spare tube, universal multi functioning tool like an Allen Wrench Key, and a map (found at the Welcome Center) or download a GPS trail app on your mobile phone.
Be kind to Mother Nature. Keep off muddy roads and trails if at all possible. Do not cut ruts and try not to spin your tires, no matter how much you still want to show off those drifting skills. Mother Nature has a mind of her own so if the trail is blocked by a tree or obstructed in some way, shape or form, take a photo and write down the exact location so when you finish that awesome ride, you can let the organization who maintains the trail know of the issue. Practice the leave no trace principles no matter where you are riding. If there is standing water on the trail, ride through it, and if you come across a technical feature on a trail that you aren’t able to ride, walk it, not around it as to not damage the physical environment. Ultimately as bikers, we want to take care of all the trails we ride so that others can use them in the future. It’s like a gift that keeps on giving.
So, where to go from here? Being aware that we are becoming a bike friendly community is crucial. We have to understand the importance of a two-way street. Bikers need to be aware of drivers and vice versa. Bicycling is on the rise. People are taking it up for exercise, to reduce commuting costs, or to practice social distancing. We can all work together and keep these cycling safety tips in mind the next time we go for a bike ride or drive.