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Winter bicycling tips: Bike year round and be safe!

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/James Zimmerman

Thomas Fish the executive director of The Motion Initiative

Thomas Fish the executive director of The Motion Initiative /Thomas Fish

Daniel Koert the owner of Commute Bicycle shop

Daniel Koert the owner of Commute Bicycle shop /Daniel Koert

More and more Grand Rapidians are choosing to give up the automobile for the bicycle. They are learning that if you are equipped correctly, you can ride your bicycle year round. Drivers expect less bicyclists in colder months, so it is up to the every bicyclist to take steps to ensure his or her safety. The purpose of this article is to inform you, the reader, of some safety measures that can be taken to decrease the odds that you are struck by an automobile. 

As a bicyclist and member of the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition (GGRBC), I feel that I have a substantial amount of knowledge about this subject; but I wanted to hear what the experts had to say about this matter. I interviewed Thomas Fish, the executive director of the Motion Initiative, to get his expertise on the subject. The Motion Initiative is a nonprofit, volunteer, youth bicycle program. They operate a bike shop at 1035 Godfrey S.W. The shop is for kids to utilize in order to earn a bicycle, maintain it, and become trained in bicycle maintenance. 

Mr. Fish shared his personal thoughts on what safety steps can be taken. He says you must always stay visible by installing reflectors and front and back lights. You must also use lights at all times during the day. He encourages bicyclists to wear bright, reflective clothing. Mr. Fish stresses that bicyclists should ride lawfully in traffic at all times and respect the road and all the dangers associated with it.

“Do not be a hindrance, but do not make yourself vulnerable either,” Mr. Fish said. Mr. Fish informed me that you should never anticipate what a motorist is going to do. He also wants bicyclists to relize that brakes work at about 50% or less in wet, snowy or icy conditions.

A majority of urban bicyclists have flat thin road tires on our bicycles. To be safe, these definitely need to be replaced. I thought I would go to a wheel expert to get the low-down on what tires to choose for winter riding. I went to Commute Bicycle Shop located at 120 S. Division. I talked to owner Dan Koert who started the Wednesday evening rides. He informed me that when it comes to bike tires in the winter, the rider has two options to choose from. The first is to use straight cyclecross tires which are essentially mountain bike tires. The second option, and the safest, is to use studded cyclocross tires that have side knobs reinforced with metal. The brands that Mr. Koert recommends are either Continental or Nokian, which are available at Commute Bicycle Shop or other bicycle stores in the city.

The most important safety feature is your helmet. According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, non-helmeted riders are 14 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than helmeted riders. In the end, it comes down to being smart, alert, and never taking anything for granted.

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