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Ride Smart, and Have Fun with your Friends, But . . .

by Anita Dinwiddie

You may have heard about Sandy Horn's accident by now. On a sunny day in late November, she was hit by a car on Hardin Valley Road within the first half-mile of our bike ride. It was a Vol football game day, and we had deliberately waited until kickoff time thinking most of Knoxville would be at the game, and hence less traffic. Fortunately, I was there with her to call for help, and to supply information to the EMT's and Police. I did, however, have to do a lot of nervous scrambling at the accident scene to gather all the information that was needed before I could meet Sandy at the hospital. Hindsight showed I was not prepared for the unexpected.

Here's a list of things to think about before your next ride with your friends.

Sandy's accident happened so fast. The car ran a red light and never saw us until it was too late. I cannot express the sick feeling I had when I turned around and headed back to Sandy's motionless body lying on the pavement. A thousand things were racing through my mind. Knowing where she kept her ID and keys were NOT among those thoughts, but as it turned out, I needed to know that.

Accidents do happen. They may even happen to you or to a close friend. Take a few quick moments with your buddies before you ride to know where they keep their ID, keys, etc. And if you ride alone (and who doesn't?) be sure you carry these things with you and put them in an obvious pocket or pack so the emergency personnel can find them quickly. In the event of an accident, you may not be capable of telling anyone who you are or where to find your information. As bike riders, we are all very vulnerable on the roads. Chances are your rides will come and go without incident. Be prepared for that one in a thousand that does not.

I must add that I was impressed how quickly passersby came to our aid. Two cars stopped immediately to see if I needed a cell phone. An off-duty policeman helped me explain to the 911 operator where we were. An off-duty EMT stopped and asked Sandy so many questions I had to ask if he was a doctor. Complete strangers interrupted their busy days to stay with us, make phone calls, and offer a ride to the car, the hospital, or to stay with the bikes. I had all the help I needed in a helpless situation. Needless to say, I don't want to go through that one again. And I hope no one else has to either. Be careful out there. Ride smart, and ride safe.

(A note from Sandy: Since I am the person Anita was with when this happened, I want to add my thanks (and my mom’s) for her clear-headedness and invaluable assistance in this situation in which I couldn’t help myself. I am recuperating well and hope to be running again soon. I was lucky to have have a good friend and a good helmet to see me through it.)

Handling a Dangerous Situation

by David Stinnett

How often have you seen the following situation during a club ride? You are approaching a sharp curve or nearing the top of a hill on a narrow road. A motorist comes up from behind and without hesitation attempts to overtake. Suddenly, another car rounds the curve or comes over the hill. Brakes are slammed. Cars and bicycles swerve. Motorists are cursing the bikers. Bikers are cursing the drivers. If we are lucky, no one is killed. How can we as bicyclists keep from being run off the road or from being witnesses to a head-on car crash? I have some suggestions that may be of help.

First, the situation that I am describing applies to narrow roads only. I define a narrow road as one that requires the driver to cross the centerline into oncoming traffic in order to pass. When you are in this situation and there is limited sight distance, you must take control and let the driver know it is unsafe to pass. You do this in two ways: lane position and signaling. By positioning yourself properly in the lane, the driver isn’t tempted to squeeze by and run you off the road. As you are approaching a blind curve or hill, merge to the middle of the right lane. If no cars are immediately behind you, take that opportunity to merge to establish your lane position ahead of time. If motorists are already behind you, it may require more care but can be safe if done properly. This requires confidence and good technique. Start by giving an indication of your intentions before merging. This can be done with a quick glance behind you to make eye contact with the driver. This allows the driver to know your are aware of their presence. Remember that you are negotiating for a lane change - don’t expect the driver to automatically understand your needs. Edge over while checking to confirm the driver knows you mean it. By showing clearly that it’s not safe to pass, they are unlikely to try. You may help reinforce this by making the "slow" signal (left arm extended downward). When you finally have good sight distance and no oncoming traffic is present, then move over to the right to indicate that you are no longer blocking their path. I strongly recommend that you do not wave the driver around! Be sure to give a friendly wave and smile as the car passes to acknowledge their cooperation.

If you are riding in a group the same procedure applies. Riders may call "car back" but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should immediately hug the right edge in single file. If you don’t think cars can pass safely, follow the guidelines above. It helps if all of the riders act as a cohesive unit. Don’t give mixed signals to the driver. Another consideration for narrow roads is that if there are quite a few riders, a single file pace could be much harder to pass than a shorter double line. A single pace line makes more sense in a wide lane. Finally, if you block traffic for more than a short time, the law requires you to pull to the side and let the traffic by.

So to summarize, pay attention to the conditions ahead. Ride with confidence and communicate that you know what is going on and are taking control. Don’t let yourself or your friends be a victim of an impatient driver. )


How Far Right is Right?

by Dave Shaw

Reprinted with permission of LAB, Effective Cycling Notebook

Traffic laws in most jurisdictions direct bicyclists to ride "as far to the right as is practicable." So how far right is that? It doesn't mean you have to ride in the gutter and dodge drain grates, glass, and gravel. It does mean you need to ride far enough to the right to allow traffic to pass - if it safe for you to do so. And you get to decide whether or not it's safe.

The Uniform Vehicle Code and many state codes require travelers proceeding at a slower pace than other traffic to keep to the right to facilitate overtaking and promote smooth traffic flow. This is an ordinary courtesy made into law, and it applies to motor vehicle operators, equestrians, and bicyclists.

Because bicycles are narrow vehicles, it is often possible to share a traffic lane with a motor vehicle. However, if the lane is too narrow for you to safely share, ride far enough to the left to fully occupy the lane. (In the right-hand tire track is a good spot.) Overtaking motorists will not be able to squeeze past you and remain in the lane, so they will have to acknowledge that they are passing another vehicle, wait for oncoming traffic to clear, and pull across the center line.

NOTE: Overtaking bicyclists could still share the lane, so don't assume that you own the lane while riding in this blocking position. Always look behind you before moving left or right within the lane.

Here's a general rule: ride just to the right of traffic, except in a narrow lane, when you should ride in the right hand tire track.

In a very wide lane there might be room for you to ride several feet from the curb and still allow room for traffic to pass to your left. There are no good reasons to move right in this situation, and several reasons why you are safer away from the curb. You're more visible, there is more time to react to someone opening a car door or pulling out of a driveway, and there is less trash. You're not holding up traffic in that position, and you're doing yourself some good.

Other conditions besides the width of the lane will make a difference in how far to the right you will want to ride. For example: If there are parked cars or other barriers like a wall near the right edge of the road, move left. Give yourself some room to maneuver and time to react to conditions like a sudden gust of wind or the impatient motorist who tries to squeeze by in the lane.

If you are moving as fast as other traffic, move left into the lane. You won't hold anyone up since you are traveling as fast as they are, and you need extra space around you at high speed. If you are grinding up a hill at little more than a walking pace, move right. At slow speed it's possible to ride safely within a few inches of the edge of the pavement.

At intersections your position in the lane can be a very effective signal to let other drivers know which way you are going. If you are going straight or turning left, move to the center or left side of the lane. Drivers behind you who want to turn right can pull up to your right and make the turn without crossing your path. If you are turning right, keep right and share the lane.