Friday, March 30, 2012

2012: Do you ride in the road?

On the road with Linda, late 1980's.
“So, do you ride on the road?” is question that finds its way into many conversations with non-cyclists, and even with bicycle shopping customers I interact with. There is a level of concern in their asking, and in some cases out-and-out fear. The un-said statement is that “the road” is a dangerous place to bicycle, and why do you ride there.

Dozen’s of answers can roll throw you mind when that question pops up. You can cite the statistics, or personal experience. Everything in life has risks. Waking up, taking a shower, a flight of stairs, eating a meal, or the drive to work all carry the possibility of an unexpected demise. Living in the midwest with tornadoes, on a coast with hurricanes, or California with earthquakes all present risks.

I hear from time to time of riders who after something in the news, or having a close call, just bag-it and stay off the road. I have had a half dozen “memorable” close calls, but only two incidents that brought my bike to a stop. My only ride to ever end with an ambulance ride was bike-on-bike; when another rider hit a hole in the road, and then fell on me. He did a racing trained somersault, and was shaken, but was ready to ride. I was dropped like a rock on my shoulder, and ended up with a broken collar bone and 3 broken ribs. But that is the worst of it in 40 years and 175,000 miles (now 42 years and 190,000 - April 2014).

There is certainly a bit of luck involved. There is also a some training and learned skills. I took some cycling safety courses to heart early in my riding, and that was invaluable. Road position, and looking at drivers were the two earliest lessons. I ride with a helmet mirror, but I always look at the overtaking car before I make a traffic move. Making eye contact with a driver will make a huge difference in your “negotiation” for your right to the road. That is all part of vehicular cycling, staying safe by behaving like any other vehicle in traffic.

I always ride at least a handlebar width from the side of the road.  Riding too timidly on the the white line or edge of the road is a sure way to invite a car to pass when conditions are not safe. And riding to close to the edge can be dangerous riding regardless of traffic, since if you focus on the edge, sooner or later you will ride off it. A bike will always follow your eyes, even to the point of riding you into the obstacle you want to avoid.

I don’t ride with some fool hardy sense of invulnerability; I am just as concerned about the risk of the distracted soccer mom, the drunk driver, or car load of teen agers when I ride as when I drive. If anything, my lessons learned riding make me a more aware driver.

If I had stopped after the first scare, I would not have met my wife, and shared thousand’s of mile with her, in places like High Hill in Alberta, Palm Desert in California, or the back roads of New England. Had I stopped after that bike-on-bike crash in 2004, I would have missed 4 springs of shared training with my oldest son for our TOSRV weekends. I would have missed the family week of riding on GOBA, and the the 5 day Michigan tour with my youngest son. And I would have missed last nights sunset. The risk of never having lived all of those moments, far out weighs whatever may come tomorrow.

Yes, I ride in the road.

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