cycling utah July 1999


Effective Cycling offers summer road survival tips

By Rob MacLeod

With the cycling season at its peak, this month's edition of the Bike Advocate will present the good, the bad, and the ugly of cycling safety. If you appreciate the value of arriving home safely after your rides, this article is for you.

Let's start with the ugly. Just over a month has passed since the horrific accident that saw three local cyclists hit by a drunk driver on Highway 89 near Kayesville. Brook Mickelson is at home now and still recovering in bed from her surgically repaired pelvis and other breaks and scrapes. Brian Carlson is now at LDS Hospital and also beginning his long healing process. For details on their progress, monitor the web page health.html.

If you interesting in seeing this case have a lasting impact on cycling and the treatment of drunk drivers, try and attend the preliminary hearing for the driver, scheduled for July 28 at noon (see the web page for details). Another way to help is to give blood in Brian's name, which you can do anywhere in the state. As the race season starts to wind down, even competitive cyclists can give blood without fear of a temporary drop in performance; the rest of us mere mortals will barely detect the difference in our fitness for more than a day or two.

The ugliness continued in Colorado this month with reports of the death of a former bike racer, Randi Sue Eyre, during a century ride. The culprit here was not a drunk driver, nor a motorist of any sort. This time it was a pothole that caused the crash during a high-speed descent. Just why this very experienced cyclist lost control is unclear, but she landed face-first and subsequently died of massive head injuries despite having a helmet on.

This case might suggest that a helmet provides inadequate and hence unnecessary protection but the facts are that three-quarters of all cycling deaths are caused by head injury and that helmets can dramatically reduce the effects of head impacts. And this brings us to the "bad".

Despite numerous safety messages and a truly amazing assortment of high quality helmets at reasonable prices, there are still many cyclists who do not wear one. When kids ride without helmets, it is at least possible to blame their parents, but lately it seems that many adults have chosen vanity over sanity and ride without a lid. The most foolhardy seem to be the bike racers who do not wear a helmet during training rides, or attach them to their bikes in order to ride to or from the venue and just don them for the race.

As both the surveys and firsthand experience repeatedly show, the rate of head injury during a race is relatively low, whereas most deaths or severe head injuries occur on the open road. And these injuries happen to very fit, smart, experienced riders sometimes for reasons that are out of the control of the victim. The link between riding without a helmet and head injury is like that between smoking and lung cancer; there is no longer any doubt except among those too blinded by naive visions of invulnerability. And heck, if racing and fashion icons like Cippolini can wear a helmet, it must be OK!

Finally it is time to come to the good.

By the time you read this, two other fellow Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Board members and I will be heading to Boise, Idaho for the first ever Effective Cycling (EC) Instructors' clinic ever held in the Intermountain West. We are all excited about the course and if successful, we will more than double the number of qualified EC instructors in the state! We hope to bring the message of Effective Cycling back to Salt Lake and organize bicycle safety clinics and courses. These courses are directed at cyclists of all ability levels and are designed to increase the chances of avoiding accidents in the first place so that the risk of head injury is reduced from the source. If you don't hit anything, for example, a car bumper or the pavement, it is hard to do very much damage.

Of course, no written summary can replace the experience of taking a real lesson, there are still some basic ideas that summarize the EC approach. Thinking about these as you ride around town can provide a strong framework for improving your chances of making it home unscratched.

1. Drive on the right hand side of the road. This should be self-evident, but we all see cyclists groveling along the gutter on the wrong side of the road. These are accidents waiting to happen as drivers will seldom look for a cyclist coming from the wrong direction when they enter or leave the road. In fact, wrong-way cyclists make up 17% of car-bike collision cases, the second most frequent cause! A Salt Lake cyclist recently died after just such a collision on Redwood Road.

2. Yield to traffic when entering a road. All vehicles must yield to other traffic when they enter more important roads, but many cyclists fail to respect this basic rule. Not yielding to cross traffic is the leading cause of car-bike collisions and is completely under the control of cyclists.

3. Yield when changing lanes: Contrary to some opinions, sticking an arm out to signal the intention to move into a lane of cars is not a legal nor a safe practice. Motorists certainly do not expect to simply signal and them change lanes without looking first and cyclists must do the same. Failure to yield properly when changing lanes is the third largest cause of car-bike collisions. Contrary to another cycling myth, it is possible to merge safely with motorized traffic even if the cyclist is moving at much slower speed. The course teaches this skill.

4. Take the proper position at intersections: Two frequent errors on the part of cyclists are to swerve across lanes of traffic before turning and to be pushed to the right-hand turn lane even when planning to proceed straight through an intersection. Cyclists have the right and responsibility to take their proper place at an intersection. To turn left, move into the left-hand turn lane just as the motorized vehicles. To go straight through an intersection, hold to a line in the rightmost straight through lane, even if it means blocking the lane. Again, the practical skills necessary for this are all part of an EC course.

It has been a hard summer on cyclists in Utah with too many accidents and too much stress sharing the road with angry motorists. To be frightened from the road is the worst possible response so take control of your rights and your responsibilities. With some skills, some good judgment, and the kind of training offered by the Effective Cycling program, you too can enjoy some great rides this summer, despite the obstacles.

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