The Breckenridge cyclist collision reminds us of the rules of the road
Big Fat Tire
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I was in my car heading down County Road 450 to the intersection with Highway 9 when I stopped. Traffic was backed up, and, at first, I thought it was due to construction at the old recycling center space. But, it soon became apparent it was due to something going on at the light by the 7-Eleven — I could see emergency vehicle lights.
Obviously something was happening. Cars were pulling out of the line and turning around to go back through town via Wellington. I was about to do the same when a friend came walking by with a grim and shaken look on her face. She told me a young kid had been hit on a bicycle and taken away in a Flight For Life helicopter.
I know this column is supposed to be about mountain biking, but, for the moment, I feel compelled to write about bike and road safety in general. Since I live up French Creek I am very familiar with the intersection: I drive or ride my bike through it daily, usually several times a day. I’ve seen so many close calls here that it didn’t surprise me when my friend told me that someone had been hurt — seriously hurt.
About riding pigs
A couple weeks ago I wrote about what is really important, how we need to keep things like riding bikes for fun in perspective. This intersection isn’t particularly unique — the same scenario plays out at a lot of other places. People aren’t taking safety seriously, whether they are in a car, on a bike, on a skateboard, on foot or riding wild pigs.
Now, I don’t want to come across as the third-grade crossing guard, but we see this way too often. We need to take driving seriously, and we need to take how we interact with traffic when we are on our bikes, or skateboards, or feet or wild pigs seriously. We need to pay attention. We need to be thoughtful. We need to not be in such a hurry. We need to keep the rules in mind.
We need to remember that people can and do get killed.
I spend most of my time on a mountain bike once the trails melt out, but getting to a lot of those trails from my house requires a little bit of pavement time. That means riding through town and dealing with stoplights, stop signs, cars and people. We cyclists have a not-wholly-undeserved reputation for acting like traffic rules don’t apply to us.
I have my own set of bike-slash-urban madness survival rules. None are rocket science or anything that hasn’t been harped on before, but they bear repeating.
When on a bike (or skateboard, feet, anything)
1. Don’t ride with a chip on your shoulder: Playing chicken with cars has a lot of potential to end poorly. Not only can that car kill you at worst, or at least ruin your day, acting like a jerk doesn’t promote harmonious relationships between your tribe and everyone else. Respect the folks you share the public space with.
2. Stop and look (duh): I’m amazed how many people rip through an intersection or cross over a lane with barely a glance. Once again, that car can kill you, and don’t assume the driver sees you.
3. Stop lights and stop signs: Way too often, people just blow through lights and signs with barely a glance. I understand momentum — after all, all we have are our legs for propulsion — but at least do an “Idaho stop,” that is, slow way down to nearly a walking pace and look carefully both ways. Come to a stop if there is traffic present and obey yield rules.
4. Ride defensively: This is similar to “don’t ride with a chip on your shoulder.” Never assume someone sees you, whether it’s a car, another bike, a pedestrian or someone riding a wild pig. Be as visible as possible (lights after dark). Give cars plenty of space. Assume they’re out to get you.
I personally stay as far to the right as safely possible when riding on the road. Some cyclists argue that using the lane is not only legal, but safer, because it forces cars to give you more room. Not to get into an argument — I’m sure that stance has its place in some circumstances — but I wouldn’t try to force cars to do much of anything when the only thing between you and them is air. Just remember: Ultimately, you’re responsible for your own safety.
When in a car
1. Give cyclists some room: I believe the law is at least three feet. Here in Summit County, where cycling is such an engrained part of the community, this isn’t as big an issue as in other places. Just remember: If it’s not safe to pass us giving us the lawful space, wait until it is. That person on a bike is a human being, just like you.
2. Don’t drive with a chip on your shoulder: I don’t know the circumstances behind the accident I mentioned, but I think we all see a lot of people who drive like getting where they’re going as quickly as possible is the most important thing in the world. Bikes have a right to be on the road. Driving aggressively around bikes, or anyone else, probably won’t get you where you’re going any faster — and you might kill someone. Watch for bikes. Respect them.
I worked through most of Breck Bike Week but it sounded like a good time. The Poker Ride had 60-some people and they all seem to have had a great time. Summit Fat Tire Society boardmembers manned the checkpoints and Westy with Mav Sports presented the SFTS board president, Clay Schwark, with a check for $500 that will go back to local trails.
I rode Heinous Hill for the first time this year a couple days ago. Yep, still heinous.
The high alpine is starting to open up. Like a lot of you, I love riding above tree line more than anything else. Just remember it’s still transition time up there. Don’t ride around snow or mud — keep it single and be prepared to turn around for another trip if you’re rutting, widening or braiding the trail.
I’ve been wanting to mention (but keep forgetting) that the fearless leader of Breckenridge Open Space and Trails department, Scott Reid, has been kicked upstairs and will head up the entire recreation department. I’ve worked with Scott for many years and, under his leadership, the expansion of trail and preserved lands in the Upper Blue has been phenomenal. Thank you to Scott for all his hard work, and I wish him well in his next position.
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