2010: Different Year, Same Old Group Rides
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2010: Different Year, Same Old Group Rides
Some things never change. This is evident by the actions of a few individuals who give cyclists a bad name. Most cyclists I know are good riders with good intentions when they go out for a bike ride. They obey traffic laws and are courteous to motorists. Additionally, they follow basic cycling etiquette and view safety as a primary principle when they are out on the roads. We must realize that as cyclist riding on the rode, we are mere "lap dogs" in a world of Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. However, sometimes like a smaller dog, we can be our own worst enemy by trying to act like a big dog and risk getting injuried. Is it worth it?
I've lived all over Jacksonville for the past 20 years and have participated in all the large group rides in the area. There is a common thread that runs through all of these rides, in the front of these groups, the speed get very fast. And when they get fast, safety is often disregarded and courtesy for motorists is neglected. There is often a direct relationship between how fast a cyclist can go and how arrogant they can become in this situation. This arrogance turns into a sense of entitlement and the road become their own. Motorists must wait and yield. If an unexpected motorist happen upon these cyclists and is unaware of the dynamics, trouble can ensue escalating rapidly into a road rage situation. The cyclists try to justify their reckless actions and claim to the road out of a concern for thier own welfare and a disregards for others.
Recently, I was doing my warm up on Ponte Vedra Blvd. heading south to Mickler's from thePonte Vedra Lodge. The morning Lodge group ride was heading north finishing their ride. Generally, at this point, the speed is fast and the cyclist are positioning themselves for the sprint that culminates the ride. At the front of the pack, the cyclists were 4 to 5 abreast with one rider riding across the yellow center line in the opposite lane, They literally were taking up the entire road. However, this is usually the normal behavior in all of the fast group rides, not just this particular ride. Cars were in the back waiting to come around the group but the cyclists were oblivious and made it impossible. The law states in Florida that cyclist may ride two abreast when not impeding traffic. Bob Mionske, cycling attorney and writer for Bicycling magazine recently wrote, "Helping motorist safely pass your group by singling up when you can will go a long way in improving cyclist's-motorist's relations. It's a small courtesy worth extending." (1)
I know a few experienced ride leaders at the beach that often offer up suggestions to try and help control these rides. They regularly takes the responsibility to organize the rides in terms of speed and route. Their intent is to make the rides safer for everyone, cyclist and motorist alike. However, in situations like the one previously mentioned, their opinions are usually disregarded and predetermined ride plans ignored by cyclist who are faster or more popular.
Being a cyclist with over 30 years experience, I must admit that I have broken most of the road rules that I am addressing in this article. I know how the rush of adrenaline can cause one to make bad decisions. Locking on to someone's wheel in a sprint situation will make you ignore everything around you at that moment. However, as a coach, I now have the responsibility to teach my clients and everyone who will listen that this doesn't make it right. My advice is to not follow the example of the ones who choose to disregard safety for personal satisfaction. Being fast doesn't mean you are right. Riders in the position of responsibility should set an example and teach road etiquette, courtesy and safety to all riders. In addition to coaches, bike shop owners and their employees are in a primary position to distribute information regarding bicycle safety and set an example when they are on their bikes. Cyclists will look to you as an example of how to ride and will emulate your actions. You have a prime opportunity to set the standard of safety.
It is often assumed that there is power in numbers when we ride our bicycles on the road, but when the range of talent and the group gets too large, it becomes unsafe. Training is training and racing is racing and the two should not be confused. When the "pack" adopts a racing mentality this sets a bad image when motorist are involved. There is plenty of room in the country to ride hard, but when you head out and come back, everyone needs to be under control and set a good example.
I personally try to acknowledge any act of courtesy by motorists by waving my hand or nodding my head in their direction as a gesture to say "thanks." When you are confronted in situations with motorist, try to make eye contact and wait to see what they will do. Do not assume they see you. The worst situation that can happen on the road is a motorist speeding up to pass you, then turning in front of you. This happened to be about 25 years ago and I hit the side of the car. The motorist never stopped. Now when I'm on my bike, I always expect this when a car is next to me. Pay attention and be alert. Look and listen. Do not listen to an iPod. It is a distraction. You need all your senses to protect you and hearing is very important. And one more thing, always wear a helmet. Always. (See picture at left)
Do the right thing and be an example.
Train hard, train smart.
1. Mionske, B., Two By Two, Bicycling, May, 2010, p 28.