I have been told, and I am convinced that there are two types of people in this world. Those that have taken a spill on a bike, and those that will. I am one of those that have taken the spill. While on a training ride a few summers ago I had put in some great miles going up a canyon with a friend of mine, and while on my last stretch to home I was heading west on an unfamiliar road and a car came within about 1 foot of my left shoulder. It shook me up a little bit and I looked up at the white van as he zoomed past me. About 10 feet in front of me, there were some diagonal railroad tracks and it took about 1/10th of a second for gravity to make the best of me as my tire got sucked into the railroad track and shortly thereafter turned the left side of my body into an exfoliated mess of road rash. The 1st thing I learned that day is to keep my eyes on the road a good 20-30 feet ahead of you because anything can happen at anytime. The other things I learned are to be familiar with your area you’re riding in and most importantly to attack railroad tracks at a 90 degree angle.
Another lesson learned is a story about "Bob" and "Steve". While on a training ride going up a canyon with a small shoulder a particular car comes within inches of a pair of cyclist’s shoulders. About 50 feet ahead of them, the car pulls over and a man starts hobbling over to them with them with his hickory cane. It is then that “Bob” notifies “Steve” that a not so kind gesture had been made to this gentleman and he was probably not in the mood for casual talk. Tempers flared (as did heart rate zones, going from Zone 2 to Zone 5a in about 7 seconds), a cane was raised as a threat to either smash some faces or worse, the bikes. Finally, apologies were made on behalf of “Bob” and everyone lived to ride another day.
Does behavior or accidents like these sound familiar to you? Now you don’t need to admit it, but maybe someone out there has made one of those unpleasant gestures to motorists. Why is it that motorists in general seem to despise cyclists? A few things that come to mind are athletes on group rides riding 2-3 abreast on any given road when the road is busy and/or does not have a wide enough shoulder to support something like that. How about when there is a red light and we don’t want to get our heart rate any lower, so we look both directions and just go for it?
Here are some pointers that you can put in the back of your head so you don’t end up like “Bob” or “Steve”, but in a worse way:
- In most cities, cyclists are allowed as far out as 3 feet on any given road. That comes out to putting our tires where a car’s right tire would be while driving on the road. A lot of motorists may not know this, and they may think we are hogging the road. If at all possible, find a road that has a wide shoulder and be cognizant of your surroundings and if you are riding with a partner give a heads up to your riding partner and make a single file line.
- Be aware and conscientious of cars coming in both directions and also of trucks with wide trailers they are towing. Some of these trailers are about 1-2 feet wider than the vehicle itself, which can mean danger for you.
- If traveling on a busy road with trucks pulling trailers or semis, make sure that you are a safe distance from them. Sometimes vehicles that size produce a draft effect and can suck you into their wake for a split second. When they pass you, you are in their draft and getting out of that can be a wobbly ride and can knock you off balance.
- When you are on the road, always remember that your bike weighs in around 20 pounds and a car outweighs you and your bike a few thousand pounds at least. Any which way you look at it, you and your bike will not win.
- Finally, most importantly, you never know who you may interact with. As you get more experience riding on roads, you will find that there are some drivers who will go on the opposite side of the road for you, and there are some that will, unfortunately, come within inches or feet of your body for no apparent reason. When we are outside, whether we are training for a race or on the race course itself, we are ambassadors of our sport, and we need to show everyone around us from local motorists to our beloved volunteers respect and gratitude.