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First solo road ride on Sunday: safety concerns.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Daily Blog

October
23
2012

This morning I wanted to talk about Sunday’s solo road ride in a little more detail. This ride was significant because it was my first solo ride on busy roads. Many of the roads I was on were single lane with no shoulder or bike lane.

First of all, the weather on Sunday was outstanding! It was cool and sunny, and the skies were crystal clear. Mike and I had planned on a road ride, but he had to bail at the last moment. I was pretty sure the rest of the guys I know were already out riding, and so I was faced with an indoor session on the fluid trainer, or a solo ride. There was zero chance I was going to ride indoors on the most beautiful day of 2012, so I decided to hop on the bike and go explore.

Some of the roads I was on had bike lanes, and even though cars were zipping past me just a few feet away I didn’t find that too unnerving. The roads that freaked me out were the single lane roads with no real shoulder and no bike lanes. The speed limit on these roads was between 45-50 MPH, and there was enough traffic that I was being passed pretty regularly. I rode a safe distance from the edge of the road, and maintained speeds between 20 and 30 MPH.

Since purchasing my road bike I’ve done a lot of reading and studying. I’m up on Florida cycling and traffic laws, and I’ve read volumes of cycling safety information. So even though I’m well aware that a “rear end” type bike/car collision is one of the most infrequent types of accidents, that knowledge did little to alleviate my fears as cars were forced into the oncoming traffic lane in order to go around me.

Some motorists were extremely respectful of my right to share the road with them, and they did everything they could to make sure I felt safe (followed a safe distance behind until it was safe to pass and, when passing, they gave me plenty of space). On the other hand a few people drove so closely behind me that I could almost feel the heat from their cars’ engines. Others passed so closely I could have reached out and touched their sideview mirrors.

As a mountain biker, putting my life into the hands of strangers is the only aspect of road riding that I’m having difficulty adjusting to.

Earlier this month two local cyclists were killed in separate incidents on the same weekend. In one of the accidents, Forrest Flaniken, 53, was killed on a Sunday afternoon by a teenager believed to be high on K2 (synthetic marijuana). Forrest was obeying traffic laws, wearing a helmet and riding in a bike lane. The teen hit him from behind, killing him, and then tried to flee.

That same weekend yet another local cyclist was hit and killed by a teenager driving an SUV.

These stories are not uncommon.

Fixing a flat about 12.5 miles into Sunday's 23 mile road ride.

Fixing a flat about 12.5 miles into Sunday’s 23 mile road ride.

Most people are safe and courteous, but it only takes one who isn’t.

I flatted about halfway into the ride, and thankfully it was in a spot where I had plenty of room to change the tube. While I was changing the tube, a couple of people felt the need to yell insults as they whizzed by me. Seriously? What the hell is wrong with people? I can’t even begin to comprehend the mindset of someone who feels compelled to hurl insults at a perfect stranger who is simply out for a bike ride. It’s pretty sad. I don’t like being on the same road as those kinds of people–especially on a bike.

I think group rides are probably much safer than solo rides: motorists are forced to pay more attention to a group of cyclists than a single rider, and are probably less apt to confront them.

I love mountain biking, and I really want to enjoy road cycling, too. The safely issue is making that very difficult. I’m not sure how to get around that, or if it’s even possible to do so. Any thoughts on all of this from the experienced roadies?

John Stone Fitness Comments

9 Responses to “First solo road ride on Sunday: safety concerns.”
  1. Having bright front & rear facing lights and a helmet mirror helps me feel somewhat safer. While a mirror doesn’t look great and adds a small amount of drag, it gives extra time to react if a car looks to be passing too closely. I use this mirror http://hubbubcustom.com/store/proddetail.asp?prod=helmir. The planet bike Superflash Turbo or Radbot 1000 are both good rear lights.

    There are also certain days of the year where I’ve learned it is best to stay off the road: Memorial day, 4th of July and Labor day.

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  2. It will never be a nice feeling when cars are zipping past you with a 25 to 30 mph difference. But you will get accustomed to it, just like your first mountain bike downhill over branches and roots with high speeds, first time it probably was scary as hell.
    A little mirror will help you so you see the car coming before it passes you and it’s little less a “surprise”

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  3. John,

    First I love reading your logs, I read them everyday. Secondly I can understand your nervousness on riding on the road, Being a health care provider in a level 1 trauma center here in michigan I have seen my share of car vs bike is what we call them. There is really no way around it. Be lucky to have a bike lane or something but like you said they’re those small percentage of people who don’t pay attention and an accident will happen. To the idiots that were hurling insults at you. I can’t stand people like that and I would chase their asses down. Just my mentality though, I have zero patients for that crap. Good luck with your future riding I just got a sweet Specialized mountain bike so I am cleaning it up.

    Cheers

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  4. Ride as if you are invisible. Expect people to either not see your or not care that they see you. It’s kept me safe so far and I’ve had numerous run ins with people who think I’m sub human because I’m on a bike.

    Yelling, hand gestures, etc just escalates the situation and can only cause future issues. I’ve been there. The highlight was when a school bus driver flipped me the bird. Good role model! =)

    You have a go pro, right? Mount that bad boy on the stem or seat stay. It won’t keep a car from hitting you, but it will be good documentation if you ever have to call the cops.

    Keep up the good work!

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  5. We motorcyclists use the same roads popular with cyclists on weekends, and I’ve witnessed a lot of road rage directed at cyclists. Much of it is understandable. No driver wants to be trapped behind a rolling roadblock of bicycles traveling at 15 mph in a 40-50 mph zone while riding three or four abreast, making it impossible for motorists to pass. It’s not only grossly inconsiderate, it’s illegal (FS 316.2065):

    “Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two abreast may not impede traffic when traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing and shall ride within a single lane.”

    Unfortunately this isn’t the only statute cyclists routinely ignore, so it should be no surprise that other road users have developed such a dim view of us.

    One phenomenon every motorcyclist and cyclist should be aware of is that even the most considerate and attentive drivers may not ‘see’ you, even when you’re directly in their field of view. This kind of selective blindness is well known. The British have even coined a term for it: SMIDSY (‘Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You!). It apparently occurs because a driver’s mind is trained to recognize certain shapes to watch out for, like the familiar outlines of cars and trucks, but less familiar shapes like the narrow outlines of tandem two wheeled vehicles just don’t register. There have been a number of incidents over the years where cars have driven right into my path or nearly run me off the shoulder of the road when I was in plain sight. This is why I refuse to ride my bicycle in heavily trafficked areas. Unlike my motorcycle, it doesn’t have powerful ABS brakes, it can’t match the speed of other traffic, and it doesn’t have the horsepower required to rapidly accelerate out of dangerous situations. I wish I could be more positive, but I’ve concluded that the risks of riding a bicycle of Florida’s public thoroughfares vastly outweigh the advantages.

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  6. Good stuff here, thanks everyone.

    I’m not going to give up road cycling, but I do feel there’s a lot I can do to drastically minimize my chances of a “car vs. bike” accident.

    Something that came up on Facebook (and was also touched on here) that I think is key is picking safe roads. A couple of the roads I rode on Sunday are not very safe for cyclists. I think riding with some more experienced roadies (and I know quite a few of them because they also mountain bike) will allow me learn where the safest roads and routes are.

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    • John, I honesty think that is the most important factor. I would not classify myself as a serious cyclist, but I do quite a bit of recreational road riding on my hybrid. I too did all the research on laws/techniques/etc, and read through the spirited debates on many on forums when I started riding on the road. But in the end I feel the most important thing I learned was to be very selective about what roads I will ride on. I’m riding for recreation, not transportation, so I try to stay on back roads that would be used by local residential traffic only and not thru-traffic, and stay area from commuter routes. Usually, a 45 MPH road with no bike lane/shoulder would be a no-go for me. Of course, this all depends on what you have available in your area, but with some creative planning you can sometimes come up with routes you didn’t realize existed. I know nothing about the Florida area, but I have found online resources in help identify the amount of traffic on roads in my state, and will also use Google Maps to scope out the lane/shoulder situation. In some cases I have even taken a test run in the car to scope out a route.

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  7. John, my friend Irwin rides with the Florida Freewheelers, and I’m sure they have maps available showing all the most popular routes. This is their website:

    http://floridafreewheelers.com/ffw/

    I know all the routes they take because they’re the very same routes motorcyclists ride on weekends, and for precisely the same reasons: little traffic, scenic (usually), very few blind turns, and the paving is in excellent condition. None of them are within riding distance of your house, though.

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