Thursday, April 11, 2013

Let's Be Careful Out There.... (thank you, Phil Esterhaus)

Spring is in the air and it it time to get the bike off the trainer and back on the road!


I write this on April 11th -- a date far enough along the calendar that we SHOULD be able to be out on the roads, but alas, in case you haven't heard, Minneapolis (and much of the midwest) has been the victim of a very lousy spring.  Rain, cold, wind followed by more rain, cold, wind and today -- yes, today, the city received 7 - 10 inches of wet, heavy snow.

What a difference a year makes.  Last year at this time, the weather was warm, lakes were open, people were out on bikes, and golfing and living large.

This year, we are all slowly going a little stir crazy and are anxiously awaiting the first real whiff of spring so we can GET OUT and get moving.

I have braved the roads and bike paths a couple of times this year....all three times were on days when the weather was somewhat cooperative.   I had to get out.  I just couldn't take the trainer any more.

Well, I wasn't the only one out there.  The bike paths were jam packed with people and, since at this time of year, bikers and pedestrians share the paths, I thought it might be a good time to send out a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder to cyclists and pedestrians (aka peds) alike focused on good and safe bike etiquette in the hopes of keeping us all safe and sane out there on the roads.

(Disclaimer:  although the suggestions below come from me and represent my personal point of view,. I make them in the spirit of offering them up to help us all avoid injury and aggravation).

Who Are You?  I can't stress enough the importance of getting and wearing a Road ID.   This handy ID will not only provide you and your loved ones peace-of-mind that you can be identified, your 'in case of emergency" people can be contacted and any allergies are listed so they are avoided if you need emergency treatment, wearing it makes you look cool.  Whether you wear the wrist or ankle band version, or use the hip, cool and groovy dog tag (like I have), you'll feel safer out there.  (And your significant others will breath a little easier when you are out there for those long rides....)

See and Be Seen:   I've gotten in to the habit of hooking a blinking light on to my back jersey pocket every time I ride.   SUPER important at night or dusk, I'm wearing one now during the day to help alert (distracted) drivers that I'm sharing the road.   Bright colors also help distinguish me from foliage and increase the liklihood that I'll be seen. 

As for front lights, I always have one if I'm going to ride at dusk or night.   Helps me to be seen aslo for me to see problems like pot holes or other obstructions in the road. 

ET, Phone Home:  If you are going to bring you cell phone with you, carry it ON you in a pocket, not IN your bento box.  Why?  On the off chance you get thrown from your bike, you can access the phone that is in pocket to call for help.  If it is in your bento box, and your bento box is on your bike, and your bike is  100 feet below you on a cliff, you have a very different set of problems. 

Call it.  Period.   I'm sure this has happened to you.  You are on the bike path, minding your very own business, when ZOOM.  Some stoked up, Super Rider zips by you so closely that you can almost feel their body heat.  Yet, you had no clue they were behind you, much less next to you until they left you in their dust. 

I ask you, Super Rider:  how hard it is to just say "ON YOUR LEFT" before you pass?  (Actually, I ask everyone, just how taxing is it for you to call this safety signal out to alert other riders or runners/peds sharing the path with you?)

Without calling this out, how do you know that I won't suddenly veer to the left to avoid pot hole, or "just because" I decide to turn left, cutting directly in to your path ?  (See SIGNAL YOUR INTENT below).  If I don't know you're on my flank, a slight move to the left could cause disaster for both of us. 

Calling out your intent is an easy thing to do, will cost you ZERO in watts, and could potentially save us both in bike repair and bandage costs.

On a related note, when you hear "On Your Left", this is not a cue for you to crank your head to look behind you, which will cause you also turn your arms to the left, which will cause you to steer the bike to veer to the left and  in to the path of the person passing.  No, no, no.   When you hear the call, you simply have to steer a little to the RIGHT of the path to help provide a little more space between you the person passing you.   It is a simple as that. 

Signal Your Intent:  Ahhh.  Another of my favorites.  I'm riding behind you on the bike path, just enjoying the day, when BOOM, you decide you are going to make a left-hand turn, RIGHT NOW.  

I don't care if you are turning left, right or stopping.  Signal your intent so those behind you have a clue as to what we need to do to help keep us all safe.  If you are stopping, we'll slow down so we don't ram in to you.   If you are turning left, we won't try to pass you at the exact same second you decide to turn your wheel.  If you are turning right, we'll just keep moving along.  We just need to know.

Bike Paths = Moving Lanes of Traffic:  Imagine this:  you are driving down 35W, when you see your best friend's car in the lane next to you.  You haven't seen your friend in a couple of days, so you both decide to stop, in the middle of the freeway, so the two of you can chat and catch up for a few minutes. 

Common scenario?  NO.  Why?  Because we know better than to stop and block traffic in a live, moving lane.

Why, then, do some riders think this is perfectly okay to do on a bike path?  Aren't bikes moving along the path when you decide to stop and chat with friends?   Bike paths are moving lanes of traffic.

If you stop on the path to chat, or to adjust your helmet, or to look at the lake, or to grab a drink of water, eat a power bar, take a picture to upload to Facebook or just to rest, PULL OFF THE PATH.   

Get yourself and your bike on to that little patch of grass that separates the bike path from the walking path and feel free to stay there as long -- and as safely -- as you want.

Oh, and, when you decide to get back on the path, look both ways before pulling back in to the moving lane of bike traffic.   I know this sounds like a no brainer, but you'd be surprised....

Rock, Paper, Scissor = Ped, Bike, Car:  I look at it this way:  When I'm walking, I need very little time or distance to be able to stop my forward momentum to get out of harms way.   I need a lot less time or distance than if I am on a bike, where my speed is greater, and if something happens suddenly in front of me that I have to avoid, I need a lot more distance to slow myself down to a stop (without catapulting myself over my handle bars), or turning to avoid a collision.  If I'm driving a car and going even faster than on my bike, I need a whole lot more room to avoid sudden disaster. 

Therefore, if I'm walking and want to cross the bike path, it is up to ME, the WALKER to wait a couple of seconds for the bike to pass before I meander across the pathway.  

Same logic applies if I'm on a bike and come to stop sign at an intersection and meet up with a car that wants to cross my path.   It is up to ME, the BIKER to give that car lots and lots of leeway to go before me.  I will let the car go first even if I have the right of way.  WHY?  Because the car outweighs me in a big way and getting hit would really put a dent in my day (and the car's fender).

Family Fun:  I'm guessing that my opinion on the following will be controversial:  it is not my job to watch out for your kid.  (Yes, I said it.).  I will also say, that I do my very, very, VERY best to not do any training rides on bike paths during peak times of the day when families want to be out for a nice spin around the lake(s).  However I will also reiterate that, it is your job as a parent to make sure that your kid is riding in a manner that keeps us all safe.

Things that help: 
  • If you have little riders with you, keep them in front of you, so you can see what they are doing and how they are riding.  (Are they swerving, are they staying on the right side of the path?).   If you ride in front of them, you have no idea where they are on the path, how far they are behind you or if they stopped because they got tired. 
  • Make sure your kid knows "right" from "left", so they know to move to the right when being passed (and hearing the call), and that they know how to signal their intent.  Good biking habits start early!
  • Speaking of kids, the other thing that scares me is when I see a family walking back to their car and needing to cross the bike path.   I see a lot of grown-ups that let the kids run in front of them as they are moving toward the street and the kids just don't realize that they need to LOOK before they cross on to the bike path.  I might be moving like a snail on my bike, but if your kid runs in to the path and I can't stop, it is will be a very unhappy end to a day at the lake.
Little things -- like the suggestions above -- can go a long way in helping keep all of us safe on the roads.   Once the weather cooperates enought so that we can get back on the roads, that is.

Happy riding, everyone!