Friday, August 29, 2014

Share the Road, not the Lane - Part 3

I got started on this subject as a result of several incidents that happened last month.  As a prolific cyclist, I generally will see interactions that are less than optimum between cyclists and motorists on a weekly basis.

Me and My Ford Ranger
See, I don't always wear my Stretchy Pants &
I do drive a Motor Vehicle
Keep in mine, I am a motorist too!. So I do see both ends of this, and I do not think that more bike lanes or bike trails are the answer as some times this only seems to escalate the conflict while diminishing the safety all at the tax payers expense.  I have had motorists express that they feel that bike lanes are a waste of their tax dollars as they have no intention of ever using them. 
I would like to point out that I could say the same thing about school systems for the same reason,,, but I do agree that bike lanes are a waste of money here in Indiana because we already have laws in place that make them unnecessary - but that will be the subject of another blog.

I would like to point out that my groups ride primarily in rural areas (We do frequently have to ride out of more populated areas to get to less traveled parts of the country.  This is mostly due to parking issues) Incidents with motorists (i.e people yelling at us to get on the sidewalk - not legal or safe in most municipalities - swerving at us, laying on the horn, waving at us with one finger, etc.... ) tend to happen no matter where we are and are in the minority.  But that does not excuse the behavior of that lower crust of society, particularly when it occasionally puts my riders in danger. Surprisingly a lot of Motorcyclists seem to be in this group.  Many people don't seem to realize that all of us on "bicycles" in our tight clothing also drive cars and some of us ride motorcycles as well.

Todays subject is unsafe behaviors by motor vehicles.  One of the unsafe behaviors that we frequently observe is passing when it is not safe to pass.  For example on blind curves, double yellow lines, with vehicles approaching (I particularly do not want to share the lane when the passing vehicle is having to negotiate both myself and oncoming traffic - formula for me to get hurt)

Just last week, I had a young driver (whose father obviously was instructing) pass me on a double yellow (it was a safe enough area, but he cut in before he was clear of me and nearly took me down)  Way to go dad!

The following incident happened last month to a friend of mine on a rural road out near Coatsville, IN (you can see the area in question on google maps at )
"On July 13th at approximately 7:30 pm, my 10 year old son and & I were riding our bikes on a county road.  This is locally known as Heritage Lake Drive in the Heritage Lake Community in Coatesville, Indiana.  This particular drive is 8 miles long and is a no passing zone.  We were riding single file when a car approached from behind travelling approximately 25 mph.  The speed limit on this road is 35 mph.  There was a car approaching from the front when the car behind decided to pass my son & I.  The car towards the front was forced off the road by the car passing us.  The car passed us with less than a foot of clearance.  We were on our way to pick up my van from a mechanic who lives nearby and relayed the incident.  Both he and his wife pointed out the house where the vehicle that illegally passed us belongs. 

We attempted to call the non-emergency line at the Putnam County Sherriff’s Department, which went unanswered.  The next day during normal business hours, I again called the non-emergency line.  I was told that I needed to call the Property Owners Association office to report the incident.  When I persisted to try to report the incident, I was directed to call the Putnam County Sherriff’s dispatch line.  I called the dispatch line and reported the incident.  The dispatcher who answered the call asked if there was any property damage.  There was no property damage to my knowledge, so the dispatcher explained to me that there technically was no “incident”.  I then asked the dispatcher what my rights were when riding my bike in Putnam County.  At that point, the dispatcher asked for my name & phone number so he could have a deputy return my call regarding the incident.  I did end up calling the Property Owner’s Association office and they made note of the incident and told me that they would make the property manager aware of what occurred. 

At our Property Owner’s Association Board meeting, my wife explained the situation to a deputy who works security at the lake.  My wife was told that if an officer did not see the incident, no incident occurred.  We have recently had several acts of vandalism at the lake (egging, ringing doorbells at 2 AM, and mailboxes being destroyed) that were not observed by the police, but are still being investigated.  The police officer also indicated that in her personal opinion, she did not feel that it was “safe” for a 10 year old to ride his bicycle on Heritage Lake Drive.  My son rides responsibly, with his helmet, and has participated in many group rides on roads that are 50 mph and more frequently travelled than Heritage Lake Drive."
I am very disappointed in a number of things that happened here.
  1.  The lack of interest/response by law enforcement - they could have at least pretended that they cared - they could have at least given the alleged offender a strong talking to or lacking that gumption, sent him a strongly worded email.
  2. The fact that law enforcement in this case seemed more concerned with property damage than a threat to life a limb
  3. This particular deputy's obvious disregard of the fact that the "10 year old" was supervised by an adult and the fact that Father and Son were acting safely within the law, while the motorist in question was doing neither. I could make the case that it is not safe for a 10 year old to be riding in a care on "Heritage Lake Drive" when there is the risk of being run off the road by oncoming traffic.  Seriously? This woman works security for this community? Again, at least act like you care instead of trying to ignore the issue and put in lame opinions.
After all of that is said, I do see plenty of Cyclists who do not ride safely as well. Here are some common transgressions I observe
  • Riding the wrong direction as if you are a pedestrian.  This is extremely unsafe as walkers and runners can easily step off the road as a car approaches, but especially when there is a curb, this is not practical for a cyclist, it is a very dangerous practice and illegal.
  • Running stop signs, I understand the urge to roll a stop sign and conserve momentumm, but we are doing this for fitness as well as fun so at least put your foot down. I see plenty of cars roll stop signs as well but that does not make it safe.
  • Riding unpredictably in general.  I see cyclists riding around bike trails (not on but in the street on the wrong side looking like they are going to get on a trail only to swerve away at the last instant! What's up with that?
I will be addressing safe riding in some future installments, but my opinion is that the majority of cyclists who are hurt and killed is a result of the above. (plus not wearing helmets) I believe this group to typically be low mileage cyclists with little to no group experience.

In my opinion, cyclists who ride safely and are extra alert for faux paux by motor vehicles avoid a lot of grief, but can only account so much for their safety when motor vehicles pull dangerous and illegal stunts.

What is the answer to all this? Education!

Put the effort into educating motorists and cyclists alike as to what is legal and acceptable behavior and I believe we will not only have safer highways for cyclists but for everyone who uses them.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration encourages all road users, including motorists and bicyclists, to respect each other and foster a safer transportation environment. Bicycles on the roadway are, by law, vehicles with the same rights, and responsibilities as motorized vehicles.

Be nice to each other :)

Until next time,

Happy trails and safe riding!


coming up
 - Why greenway trails and bike lanes are not the answer in my next segment
-  What is average?
-  3 for 3 don'ts
and much more

Got a topic you have questions about, send me a message or post in comments and I will do my best to give you a solid answer

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

All about Bicycle Helmets

Consumer reports helmet video
Today, I am taking a break from my Share the Road not the lane Series to talk about, what is the absolute most important part of your cycling gear, the helmet.

I get a lot of questions about what the difference is in cycling helmets, what to look for in a helmet and why they vary so much in price.

For me the most important thing about a helmet for a new user is Comfort!

....what??  I know that many of you are likely gasping with surprise that I didn't put how well it protects your head at the top of my list.  There are 2 reasons for this.
  1. Virtually all helmets are going to give you a reasonable amount of protection or else the manufacturer risks liability if the product they recommend to protect your head fails to do so.  Examples of the amount of risk assumed by helmet manufactures can be illustrated by the Greg Bedan vs Rawlings when in 1981 a Johnson County Circuit Court jury in Indiana returned a $5.8 million judgement yesterday against Rawlings Sales Company, over a spinal cord injury sustained while Greg was wearing one of their helmets.  That was a lot of money back then and the suit was over a failure to warn that the helmet would not protect against spinal cord injury.
  2. If the helmet is not comfortable, you are a lot less likely to adopt it's use all the time.  A helmet owner with a comfy helmet is a happy helmet wearer.
So what makes a  helmet comfortable?  A number of things
But this is the one that saved my
Head at Mount Mitchell
  • In my opinion the first thing is fit.  If the helmet has great adjustment, you should be able to be comfortable in all circumstances.  If you are wearing a hat underneath (BTW there are 2 reasons to wear a hat under your helmet) #1 if it is raining - your want to wear one of those funny looking cycling hats to use the specially designed short brim to keep the rain out of your eyes. #2 as an additional head warmer.
  • Second is maximum venting.  The more your helmet lets the wind through, the better, as far as I'm concerned.  You can always put a cover over your helmet to block the wind when it gets colder, but if it is hot, you can't very well ad to your vent space.  A great helmet will be much cooler than a cheaper (not so great helmet)
  • Finally, weight.  If the helmet is very light and does not feel like it is even there, if becomes so comfortable, you will likely forget that it is there.
The most expensive helmets I have personally owned were the Giro Ionos that I paid $179.95 for and the Belt Volt (about $180) By the way - the Volt is discontinued and can right now be found for as little as $70!! a steal at that price, I just bought another one!

You can find some really good videos on proper helmet fit on the right side of the page at the following link for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety - Bold and Italic
"Less than two percent of motor vehicle crash deaths are bicyclists." Which is good news - per 100,000 miles driven, a bicycle is much safer than a motorized vehicle - and I am doing my part to make it even more Safe!
"The most serious injuries among a majority of those killed are to the head, highlighting the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet. Eighty-nine percent of bicycle deaths are persons 16 and older, so helmet laws should include adults. Helmet use has been estimated to reduce head injury risk.
Ninety-one percent of bicyclists killed in 2009 reportedly weren't wearing helmets."

Wearing a helmet my seem like an inconvenience to many people, but I can tell you that my helmets have saved my noggin on many occasions (both on bicycles and motorcycles) and this is mandatory gear in my book.

So find a helmet that you like and enjoy wearing, even if it costs a few dollars more and you will not regret it!


Next time - Part #3 on Share the Road - Not the Lane - Real life examples

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Share the Road, not the Lane - Part 2

What are the rights and duties of a cyclist?

I found this really instructive video about the Rights and Duties of a Cyclist and while they are saying the laws and rights apply nationally, I have not personally found this to be the case.  The good news is that this is fully in line with Indiana Law (again, we are a lot more bicycle friendly than we get credit for here in Indiana - but I will be posting about that as well.

While this is a YouTube video that was originally posted by The League of American Cyclists, I found it at a great local advocacy group.

Some things that I think this video illustrates very well, is that as cyclists we need to control the lane.  This means when it is not safe for motorists to pass, we don't allow this as an option.  It is totally with in our rights according to Indiana law.

That said, we can still be courteous and make room for a car to get by when it is safe to do so.  Some notable examples are
  • When on a 2 lane but the lane is really wide we can get to the right, but be sure to leave room if you are squeezed and don't forget to wave
  • shifting into a turn lane to allow traffic going straight to get clear.
  • Waving the traffic by when it is safe to pass
  • Waving as they pass to keep them at arms length and to be friendly, possibly diffusing some frustration.
  • Be aware of what is going on around you - watch for cars approaching from the back
  • acknowledge their presence
That's it for today, but I've got some more really great installments coming up!

Next time a real life story from someone that I know!

Keep those cards, letters and questions coming!

See you on the road soon I hope!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Share the Road not the lane

Today I am writing about something that is a focus of every single ride that I lead. This is stuff that every single person who rides bicycles or drives an automobile on Indiana roadways should know.

That subject is how we as cyclist should interact with traffic and the fact that education not bike lanes are the key.

First of all let’s look at the law in Indiana (keep in mind that this varies from State to State and I would like to ad that Indiana is one of the more friendly cycling states as far as the law goes)

IC 9-21-11-2
Roadways; rights and duties
Sec. 2. A person riding a bicycle upon a roadway has all the rights and duties under this article that are applicable to a person who drives a vehicle, except the following:
(You can find the full code at this link but the exceptions boil down to bicycle specific stuff, like hanging on to street cars, carrying packages, Bells, but no whistles stuff like that)   This means (and I have verified this with several members of the Indiana State Police) that:

A cyclist has the right to the whole lane of a roadway in Indiana with the only lane restrictions being –
Lane use restrictions; riding two abreast Sec. 6. A person riding a bicycle upon a roadway may not ride more than two (2) abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles . Clearly cyclists are allowed to ride 2 abreast in Indiana, just like Motorcyclists. (Apparently in bike lanes or on bike paths, you can ride more side by side?)

I will frequently experience motorists who are ignorant of Indiana Law chastising me and my groups for riding 2 abreast (usually while passing on a double yellow or at some other illegal and dangerous place) the only reason that I can see for the angst I sometimes experience from these motorists is that they are frustrated because they cannot share the lane with me and have to wait for oncoming traffic to clear before they can pass.
It seems that motorists are aggravated by cyclists presence on the road because of the perceived delay that is caused by having to negotiate their way past a group (or a single) cyclist.
I have in fact timed the delays my group causes at some of the predominant bottle necks that we ride on a regular basis. (I call them bottle necks because these are places where it is difficult for motorists to pass the various groups that I lead – even when we are trying to help them – more on how we help motorists get past our groups later)
The typical delay in the bottle necks ranges from 1 minute 30 seconds up to 5 minutes – which I realize can seem like an eternity as I am a motorists to and have had to wait behind school buses, mail carriers, garbage trucks and farm tractors for this length of time on numerous occasions.  These are both extremes in the bottle necks but I have seen both of the places that this happens take this long once in a while.
I have seen motorists aggravated by delays as short as 5 seconds as well, and this is way more common than seems sensible. (If you are wondering how I know what these intervals are, I have a timer on my bicycle computer (speedometer) that displays in seconds, minutes and hours.
I realize that the average attention span of an adult is supposed to be about 8 seconds so I guess that this is par for the course.
The result is drivers who make potentially dangerous moves on cyclists with no thought to the possible consequences.
I believe that this is in part due to the “Share the Road” signs like this that dot the country side.

Looking at this sign you are givin the impression that it is ok to squeeze by a bicycle in the same lane, even if you have oncoming traffic.  It looks like you are being told to share the lane!   It seems that motorists believe that this mean bicyclists are supposed to squeeze to the right as far as they can to allow motor vehicles to squeeze by and save those precious seconds that they lose slowing down and waiting to pass bicycles.
This is not what Indiana Law says.  It is also AN EXTREMELY UNSAFE DRIVING PRACTICE.
Here is an example of a sign that communicates what the above signs try to communicate without confusing the message
This is why I encourage riders in my groups to do a few things to mitigate this risk.
1.    Ride towards the center of the lane when single file.- yes it’s legal, you are more visible and less likely to end up in an accident because you had the squeeze put on you.

2.    Be aware of traffic coming up behind you and interact with them to help them pass safely

3.    Communicate back to front and front to back about approaching traffic. I require people in my group to yell “Car Back” for traffic approaching from the rear (everyone must repeat this so that we are sure everyone hears – all the way to the front) we all yell “Car Up” when we see oncoming traffic.  Plus “Passing” When being passed.

4.    We interact and work together with vehicles to communicate it is safe or not safe to pass.  If the front rider of the group sees that it is safe to pass, that rider will windmill their arm, signifying come on by.  If the back riders are hearing “Car Up” they place their hand back palm displayed in the universal “Stop” sign, to hold them up until passing is again safe.

5.    If our group is too long to allow passing the entire line at once, we will double up and break up to shorten the distance needed to get past. This is an important concept to understand – a double line of cyclists takes up half the distance on the road and is therefore easier to pass.

6.    When cars pass us, we extend our left hands and wave (all fingers extended) this is not only a friendly gesture that can sometimes diffuse the frustration over a few seconds waiting, but it also keeps vehicles at arm’s length (for me that means a little over 2’) and that generally means a car will give me 3’ instead of 1’
All of this is no guarantee that you will not have conflict between a cyclist and a motor vehicle (there are idiots on both sides of the windshield) but it will mitigate that amount of conflict that you experience as a cyclist or a motorist.
With all the talk that Indiana is not a bicycle friendly state, because we don’t have more bike lanes and greenways (more on that later)  It seems that if we would just respect, educate about and enforce the laws that are already in place, Indiana proves to be one of the most cycling friendly states that I have ridden in.

Until next time, Happy Trails!


Coming up!

More on “Sharing the Road, Not the Lane”
How to clean your water bottles,
Supplement Reviews
The Trouble with Bike Lanes