Safe riding starts with wearing suitable clothes. Not everyone rides in cold temperatures but if you do, protect yourself from frostbite. In hot weather you don’t want to overheat but you should also protect yourself from excessive sun exposure and consider long pants to protect against ticks. Ticks are not much of a problem while riding but you will probably be stopping at some point.
I also wear high visibility colors. I don’t like to ride with cars but most trails have an occasional road crossing. An added benefit is better visibility to other trail users. I have almost been run off the trail a few times by other riders not paying attention. Most of the instances involved teen aged tourists on rental bikes. Trails also traverse wooded and other areas often shared with hunters. You don’t want a hunter to mistake you for a deer running.

Safety also needs to be considered when parking your car. Many trail-heads are located in isolated areas. This makes for a tempting target for would be thieves. I remember riding back to the trail-head one day last year to find a police officer taking a report from a young female trail user. Apparently she had her purse stolen from her car while she was out on the trail. She not only had her purse and its contents stolen but had a broken car window as well.

I always make it a point to not have anything of value in the car while I am out riding. Even small items I stash out of sight to be sure would be thieves are not tempted. I know of some trail users that go so far as to place a sign in their car stating the car is unlocked – please don’t break the window. Unfortunately these precautions were not enough for me this summer. I went for an hour or so ride and when I returned to my car I found my bike rack missing. The rack was a strap on with no provision to lock it to the car. This particular trail-head is near homes and a firehouse, didn’t help.
The missing bike rack annoyed me more because I no longer felt comfortable parking at this trail-head, the closest to my house. I made a point to immediately report the theft to the local police department. Later in the day when my wife got home I told her what happened. She said “I guess you will need to go out and buy a new one”. My reply was that there was no need, I stopped at my local bike shop after making the police report and had already replaced it.

It should go without saying, wear your helmet. I have fallen a few times on my bike. Most of the time I could have anticipated the possibility. Once it was while riding a steep nature trail (not bike trail, see Dunmore Reservoir #1). Other times it was while riding on ice. There have been several close calls that I would not have anticipated. Sometimes it is loose graves that I did not expect, other times it is an animal. Dogs are often not as well behaved as their owners like to think they are. I have had several close calls with dogs unexpectedly jumping into my path, sometimes on a leash, sometimes not leashed. I have also had some close calls with wild animals. More than once I have found myself within 10 feet of a deer and was lucky the deer headed away from me. I also had a black bear run across the trail within 10 feet of me.

In the summer, when you decide to wear shorts and short sleeve, don’t forget the sunscreen. A wide brimmed hat is good to keep the sun from you face and eyes but the hat precludes a helmet. I have found after much searching a topless hat that I can wear with my helmet. More recently I found a brim made specifically to attach to your bike helmet. I don’t generally mention specific commercial products here but this brim attachment was difficult to find. Search for “Da Brim”.

I often ride in jeans. If you wear jeans or other similar loose pants be aware that the pant leg can get caught in the chain. My current bike has a guard that protects against this happening but my previous bike did not. I learned the hard way to use a Velcro strap to secure your pant tight to your leg. The straps for this purpose usually also have reflectors that aid in visibility also.

Animals are a concern for some. I have had a few dogs snarl and lunge at me but most were leashed by their owners and did not pose an issue. I have only been chased by a dog twice. The first time I was able to ride fast enough that the dog was not able to reach me. The other time the dog was closer but was called back by the owner before he got too close. Some people keep chemical spray handy for such instances. Others have suggested a whack with a tire pump. The best suggestion I have seen was just a squirt from your water bottle. Without personal experience, I am not sure about any of these methods. Hopefully my luck continues.

Some people are concerned about wild animals. The only wild animals of any concern that I have encountered in Pennsylvania are deer, rattle snakes and black bear. The deer are unpredictable but usually run away from you, most of the time while you are still a considerable distance away.
Black bear are generally scared of people and will run away. A notable exception is if you get between a mama bear and her cubs. Don’t do that! It will not end well. Rattle snakes bites are serious. I do see rattle snakes on the trail on occasion. They are generally docile and don’t bother you if you don’t bother them. Baby rattle snakes are cute but their bite can be more serious than an adult rattler.I will often stop to take a picture but keep a good distance away. Use a zoom lens and outstretched arm. Steer clear of moving sticks, which is what snakes often look like from a distance.

You should also be aware that many trails pass through rather remote areas that may not have cell service. No cell service means no easy access to emergency services. Plan accordingly. Some trails are patrolled. The Lehigh Gorge section of the D&L trail is patrolled by conservation officers. I have seen police officers on bikes on the Schukill River Trail near Valley Forge and on trails near St. Geroge, Utah. I have also seen officers on horseback on the Wissahickon Trail in Philadelphia. I am sure other trails are also patrolled but these are the ones I have personally seen patrols on.

Use some common sense and you will find trails a safe and enjoyable getaway. 

Trail-head where my bike rack was stolen. Notice houses in upper right and firehouse in upper left.

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