Few things scare me more than the rumble of a muffler-less truck, snow tires humming against the dry pavement. Every fiber of my body tenses. You’d think a veteran highway patrol officer would be comfortable around moving traffic by now. I’m not, especially not when I’m on a 19-pound bike wearing polyester and plastic. I feel like a guy in a row boat meeting up with a 5000 ton barge in the middle of ocean. Vulnerable. Exposed. Small. Defenseless.
I guess it is not really traffic that scares me, it is people that scare me. Mentally ill, cell phone talking, cigarette smoking, texting, make-up applying, tired, drunk people - - they scare me! And they drive!
I began this article intending to write the “Officer Friendly” bike piece for Beginner Triathlete, but just before I began putting my thoughts on paper, the newspaper reported a local surgeon had just been killed by a car while riding his bicycle in Italy. Two weeks ago, a couple of rednecks refused to move over and just missed striking me with their side-mirror shouting, “You ain’t ‘pose to be on the road, that’s what the bike path is for, you moron.” So, you are not going to get the “Be predictable, be courteous, be visible,” bike safety article this time.
While new laws making cell phone use illegal while driving may make the roads a little safer for us cyclists, my advice is to ride Zen. I can hear many of you now – “What?” “Never!” “I’m a Type ‘A’ and I’m not changing.” Riding Zen means nothing more than being keenly aware of your surroundings and in control of your emotional state at all times. It also means riding safe, riding smart and:
Riding without headphones.
Riding with a rearview mirror.
Wearing a properly fitting and secured helmet.
Stopping, pulling over, and getting off of your bike the second you sense danger.
Riding with traffic and riding as far as practical to the right.
Wearing reflective or bright gear.
Not riding into the sun (drivers are blinded and won’t see you).
Riding with a friend or group.
Considering walking your bike, stopping completely, and letting traffic clear first when crossing a busy street or highway.
Considering driving to the local bike trail, avoiding busy roads.
Becoming familiar with state and local bike laws.
If you are involved in an altercation or crash:
Do NOT confront or even speak to the occupants/offenders/aggressors.
Do get a license plate number, vehicle description, description of occupant(s).
Do carry a cell phone with a camera function.
Do contact the local police immediately.
Do take a picture of the vehicle, license plate, occupants, injuries, and/or damage.
Do note the weather, wind, sun, condition of the road, presence of debris, etc.
Do ask witnesses to provide a statement to police.
Do carry some type of identification and medical bracelet, if appropriate.
Do not swear at or flip-off aggressive or inattentive motorists (tough one, I know).
Do contact your local prosecutor, mayor, or the media if you feel the local police are not responsive.
Always go to the hospital if struck by a vehicle. Obtain copies of all medical reports.
If confronted, use your bike as a barrier. Keep your bike between you and the aggressor.
Encouraging local police and media outlets to run safe cycling public service announcements.
Lobbying for more bike lanes.
Calling local legislators in support of proposed bike friendly laws.
Bottom line is that drivers are driving faster and driving with more distractions today than ever before. Road rage is a relatively new social phenomena and new legal concept. Driving a 2600 pound vehicle puts anyone in a position of power and control over a cyclist, no doubt. Unfortunately, some people seem intoxicated by this power and chose to act recklessly when encountering vulnerable cyclists. Don’t give up your right to ride, just don’t be dead right. Namaste.
Snow Skiing, Wife, Reading, Listening to Music, Working, My Kids, SCUBA, Teaching, Travel, Philosophy, Economics, Apologetics, and an occasional Triathlon. BT Rawks!