Saturday, October 5, 2013

Get Home Safe

On Thursday, cycling lost Amy Dombroski, an American professional cyclocross racer. She was hit by a truck in Holland. On January 3rd of this year, we lost Burry Stander, a South African professional mountain bike racer.  He was hit by a taxi in South Africa.

When a rider like Amy or Burry is killed by a motor vehicle, I feel shaken. We don’t expect that to happen to people who know what they are doing. Because of this, I felt that I should add my two cents to the bike safety dialogue.

When you ride your bicycle, you are responsible for your own safety. Drivers are not responsible for your safety. Your riding buddies are not responsible for your safety.

Be visible.

There is no reason to ride without a rear-facing flashing red light. They are cheap, widely available, and lightweight. Get one. The brighter the better.

Also, your new Rapha kit may look sharp, but black and gray aren’t terribly easy to see. I’m not saying you shouldn’t wear Rapha or the like, but maybe pair it with a high-viz helmet. There’s a reason that road workers wear neon.

Be predictable.

Don’t swerve. Stop at stop signs and traffic lights. Signal before turning.

Be careful in a group.

People often say that there is safety in numbers, but where there are large groups of cyclists, there are angry drivers.

Ride leaders, be smart about route selection for your weekly rides. Is there a stretch of road on which you always seem to have trouble with drivers? Pick an alternate route. In the 4,000-lb. car vs. 18-lb. piece of plastic argument, we don’t win.

Know when to ride single-file. Yes, you have the right to ride two-abreast, but sometimes it’s not appropriate. If you’re going to ask drivers to “share the road,” you must do the same. A little common sense can go a long way.

Remember that your actions reflect on all cyclists, not just you. If you smack a car’s hood or needlessly hold up traffic, you make all of us look bad. Chances are that someone else will pay for what you did.

Know how to ride your bike

If you are not a technically skilled rider, you should not be on the road. Cycling in America is dangerous. Cycling without proper skills is even more dangerous.

When I ride on the road, I take comfort in the knowledge that I can hop a curb to get on the sidewalk or insta-turn into the grass without crashing. I can look over my shoulder without veering into the road. I can ride over train tracks, gravel, potholes, etc. These skills should be part of every cyclist’s repertoire.

Know when to get off the road

At certain times of day on particularly dodgy stretches of road, I hop on the sidewalk or ride in the grass. I know that cyclists are not supposed to ride on the sidewalk, but I also know that I’m not supposed to be hit by a car on Johnson Ferry. If a quarter mile of sidewalk riding is what it takes to get home safe, do it.

Just yesterday, I felt uneasy on a stretch of road, so I road in the grass for half a mile. I was able to do this because I have the necessary skills and I ride 28 mm flat-resistant tires that will stand up to a little “off roading.”

I know that a lot of people will take issue with this section. I have had good friends tell me that it’s our job as cyclists to claim our space on the road. I understand the sentiment, but I have two jobs that supersede that job—being a husband and a father. Making a point is not worth my life. It’s not worth yours, either.

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