I want to put on my League Certified Instructor hat and talk bicycle safety today. We all need to be very, very careful when cycling in traffic. Especially now. Cyclist and pedestrian deaths are on the rise again. More troubling, a number of states are attempting to “blame the victims” for these (mostly) avoidable tragedies. Don’t believe me? Check out this, this and this.
I talk to a lot of people while out on my bike. It’s one of the great joys of cycling…meeting other cyclists and hearing their stories. Tonight I met a guy not far from home. He must have been in his 70s. He caught my eye and I was heading uphill, somewhat gassed and so I used it as an excuse to stop. I braked and we talked for close to fifteen minutes. I think I learned more than he did.
Living where I do, I ride both roads and trails. When I’m on the trails, lots of people tell me how much they love cycling but how they don’t feel comfortable on the roads. I get it. Utah drivers recently ranked dead last in terms of their ability to avoid hitting things, so every time you head out on the road here you’re taking your life in your hands.
I still ride the roads, but lots of really nice people tell me that they won’t. That’s fine. You have to ride where you’re comfortable. I remember the instructor who taught my League Certified Instructor training saying that. Ride where you’re comfortable riding. Everybody’s different. As an instructor, I don’t get to tell you where you feel safe.
But it’s more than just where to ride. When matters, too. Let me give you an example. There’s this road not far from where I live called Valley Drive. It’s about a mile long and it’s all downhill heading east. Ogden City calls it a bike route. I can get close to 40 mph heading downhill on Valley Drive. That’s the posted limit so there’s no reason for people in cars to pass me. There are blind curves,too, and so I assert my right to the lane to avoid calamity and to protect my self-interest.
Most of the day, Valley Drive is totally safe and pleasant. Most motorists wait until we clear the curves and the road flattens out before attempting to pass. I’ve learned, though, that there are times Valley Drive is a death trap. When people are heading home from work, for example, they’re way too aggressive. They speed. They try to squeeze through spaces way too tight to squeeze through. They don’t really give a damn. I imagine most would feel really bad if they hit someone, but by then it’s too late. So I don’t ride Valley Drive when people are heading home from work. It doesn’t feel right to me.
If you struggle with the idea of riding on the roads but would like to do more of it, I’d like to suggest that you experiment with certain roads and think about the time of day and who you’re likely to encounter. Recognize that some places you might not be comfortable on Thursday afternoon you might be totally comfortable on Sunday morning. Most importantly, though, ride where you’re comfortable. Don’t take chances. Be careful. Wear a helmet. Wear a mirror. Learn how to use it. Experiment. What might not feel right the first time might feel a whole lot better the second or third time. Mostly, though, just ride. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.