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Citibike - ATGATT – or at risk

Whenever you get on your bike, I bet you seldom ask yourself “Is today the day I will fall?” If we thought about falling all the time we were riding, we would probably sell our bikes and take up knitting in the interest of personal safety.

The reality is that falling is something we are very likely to experience, and it will more likely than not happen on a tarred road. While Mr. McAdam’s innovative road surfacing technique did a lot for waterproofing our highways and byways, it is not noted for its friendliness towards exposed skin. Enter Think Bike’s favourite acronym – ATGATT. Short for “All The Gear All The Time”, it was coined to help remind riders to wear protective gear.

A proper helmet is your most important piece of gear. A full-face helmet gives by far the best protection, whereas an open-face leaves your chin and lower face unprotected. Studies have shown that in 35% of accidents, injuries to the chin and face occur.

Helmets that don’t cover the ears, a style popular with cruiser riders, have recently been declared illegal in South Africa. Also beware of cheap helmets – they seldom comply with accepted safety standards. A good helmet should have DOT, SNELL, ECE or BSI certification.

Given that the law requires us to wear helmets, it is understandable that the most common injuries for bikers are “roasties”, or abrasive injuries. They are caused by sliding over the road surface without adequate protection, and are extremely painful and inconvenient. Although not serious injuries by themselves, roasties can easily become infected – in a worst-case scenario this can lead to septicaemia, or blood poisoning, which can kill you.

Proper protective clothing includes a suitably reinforced jacket, abrasion-resistant pants, gloves and boots (the latter because foot and ankle injuries are also very common in bike accidents). Safety gear is not cheap (although you can get a decent outfit, excluding helmet , for less than R2 000) but a more than worthwhile investment.

Brightly coloured retro-reflective vests or bibs are also becoming a common sight on South African roads. These bibs increase the visibility of riders both by day (the bright colour) and by night (reflective strips). Since the most common excuse from motorists causing bike accidents is “I didn’t see you”, Think Bike encourages riders to wear bibs to be more visible.

The last bit of safety gear on my list is one few people think of when they talk about ATGATT – a decent rain suit. It’s not going to protect you if you fall, but it does protect you against the elements. A rider who is cold, wet and miserable is less likely to ride at peak concentration levels than one who is dry and comfortable.

As much as we at Think Bike recognise that wearing protective gear is a personal choice, we encourage bikers to consider the consequences should they fall. ATGATT may be expensive, but it still is a great deal cheaper than a skin transplant.