There are two big safety problems that come from riding e-bikes. First, you’re riding something that can go pretty fast, but one without some of the safety systems that motorcycles and cars come with. So it’s easy to get in over your head and hurt or kill people (including yourself). Second, you’re riding on top of something that ain’t cheap. Someone might attack or even kill you to steal it. In this article, I’m going to talk about the safety and self defense measures you can take to keep yourself out of the harm’s way.
Avoiding Serious Injury
If you watch this video (it’s time-stamped to start right at the point I’m about to discuss), there’s a crash where some people on e-bikes were going way, way too fast. I’m not one to say that all speed is bad, because the evidence doesn’t support the assertion that speed alone causes accidents. What causes accidents is going too fast for conditions. The problem is that e-bikes can sometimes go as fast as motorcycle speeds, but without the benefit of motorcycle tires, brakes, or stability. Both riders end up off the road, with one crashing fairly badly.
Beyond equipment, there’s the problem of going faster than people expect. Someone is about to walk out or drive out in front of you, and they look out first. They see someone on a bike and think to themselves, “Oh, a cyclist. I have plenty of time.” and then pull out in front of you. A number of people, both on bikes and on foot, have been seriously injured or killed by this error.
Most of this is solved by slowing down, but you can’t know when to slow down unless you’re paying attention. If things get congested or there’s a lot of cross traffic, you need to slow down. If things are wide open, you can probably open the bike up a bit and move faster. Once again, it isn’t the speed as much as speed that was too much for conditions.
One more thing: ease into things. Don’t hop on an e-bike and try to take it to the limits on the first ride. There’s a lot more power and speed than you’ve ever had on a regular bike, especially for the more powerful models. Keep things on a lower setting and be gentle with the throttle in the beginning until you get used to all of that power.
Safety Away From Town
Going far from town? You’ve got a different set of things to worry about. Out in the woods, you’re unlikely to see random cars and pedestrians darting in front of you. Instead, you’ve got the opposite problem: nobody’s there to help if things go wrong.
As I pointed out in this other article, you need tools and spare parts. I won’t rehash that, but I will point out that it can be literal life-and-death if you break down in the middle of nowhere, more than a day’s walk from help, without the necessities of life. It’s easy to take a “day ride” on an e-bike that covers the ground that you’d have to go camping to cover on foot. This helps more people, especially the elderly and the disabled, to get better access to the wilderness (not literal federally-designated wilderness areas — bikes aren’t allowed there), but it also can strand you out there. Being able to fix things up greatly increases your safety.
No matter how many spare parts you bring along, sometimes things can still break or other things can go wrong, like a crash. So you need to think about your survival.
Obviously, you’ll want food and water if you’re venturing out into the boondocks. You’ll want a hydration pack, a water bottle, or both if you’re going out far. Even if you don’t think you’ll need much water, carry extra if you’re going out further than you could walk in a couple of hours. Better safe than sorry. If you’re going even further, you’ll probably want to pack along some food. Once again, imagine having to walk back from your destination. Carry what you’d need to make the walk, and you won’t go hungry if you end up having to do just that. Survival bars and MREs are great ways to carry a lot of calories without carrying a lot of weight.
It’s also a good idea to have a limited form of shelter or protection from the heat or cold. Having a rain poncho, space blankets, or a small shelter survival could all be appropriate if you’re going very far. As with the food and the water, it’s all about having what’s appropriate for your journey if things went wrong. If nothing else, dress in layers so that you can add a layer if you end up being out after unexpectedly dark, or subtract a layer if you’re out in the heat longer than you expected.
One big thing: tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back. That way, if you don’t show up, someone will come looking for you somewhere along the route you were biking. That could be a big lifesaver.
I know, you’re probably thinking that you’d just break out your smartphone in the event of major problems and call for help. In most situations, that’s a good bet. But, even close to cities, e-bikes can take you into terrain passenger cars generally don’t go into. This means you could end up in low spots where there’s no signal. The further you get from town, the more likely it is that you’ll encounter a lack of cellular signal.
Consider alternatives, like amateur radio, a satellite communicator of some kind, or one of the many different kinds of emergency locator beacons (radio, satellite-based, etc). Google is your friend on this, but keep in mind that you’re probably not preparing for the end of the world. Unless you’re preparing for your safety during World War III (a much bigger prospect lately), you can probably count on satellites working instead of trying to rely on the vagaries of the ionosphere or the presence of a repeater like you would with amateur radio .
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba
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