cycling utah May 1999


Enjoy a safe Utah Bike Month and participate!

BY Rob MacLeod

May is a great bike month in Utah. It is not just that the weather finally settles down so that rides can be planned more than five minute ahead of time. Or that the snow melts enough to ride the high canyons without skiers filling the roads. Or that the governor signs a proclamation declaring May as the official "Bike Month" in Utah. May is a great month because of all the bicycle events happening in Utah. In fact, if you cannot find at least three good reasons to ride more in May, then you may be reading the wrong magazine!

The greatest collection of May bike events is probably the Cycle Salt Lake week, which runs for eight days, from May 14-22. From bike safety rodeos for the kids to the best criterium racing of the season to the largest organized ride in the state, Cycle Salt Lake has it all. The events calendar and the ads in this issue of Cycling Utah will provide all the details of the individual events, so mark your calendars and plan your fun now.

But what does a fun event like Cycle Salt Lake have to do with bike advocacy? Will a bike race help us get more bicycle racks installed in the city? Will riding to work with the mayor under police escort help us become safer cyclists?

The simple answer is "yes!"

First, let's look at a definition of advocacy. My Webster's says: "support for a cause or recommendation of a line of action." If the cause in bicycle advocacy is more widespread use of bikes, then any event that involves riding supports that cause. Joining the mayor and riding a bike to work sends the clear recommendation that bicycles are not (just) toys for adults who cannot grow up, but an efficient, healthy, and viable means of transportation.

Your participation in bike events sends other important messages. To those who put the effort into organizing bike events and pushing bike advocacy, your participating is a vote of confidence and support for their efforts. Bike events are almost always organized and promoted by dedicated volunteers and Cycle Salt Lake is no exception. To the authorities and governments that decide whether or not to encourage cycling, each person at a bike event is more proof that cycling is important. Cycle Salt Lake is a unique opportunity to both have a great time on your bike and to cast your vote in favor of cycling. Beats any election deal I have ever heard of...

Safety has been a recurrent theme in this year's advocacy column and I want to close with some suggestions for enjoying May's events with fun and safety in mind.

The criterium races offer living proof that even at high speeds and in packs, the dangers of cycling are modest. Racing teaches great bike handling skills and safety equipment like gloves and helmets limit the damage when a crash does occur. The fact that most race crashes occur on courses closed to car traffic also supports the argument from last month's column that motor vehicles are not our biggest threat.

The century ride is perhaps the best opportunity to practice safe cycling under a variety of conditions. There is a fine line in an event like this between enjoying the power of numbers and getting tangled in a rolling accident looking for a place to happen. A large group ride offers a rare opportunity to take over at least some minor roads and make motorists wait for us (for a change!) Most drivers respond well, realize the nature of the ride, and give us the breaks we need at intersections or when passing. But we cannot assume this and have to use the same care and self control we use on a solo ride.

Riding in a big group can be both exhilarating and also terrifying. Last year's century was marred by a crash on the Antelope Island causeway that resulted in a life-flight to the emergency room and significant injuries to one rider. It was a classic case of a front wheel touching the back wheel of a rider in front, a situation that leads to instant crash even for skilled cyclists-the victim in this case had over a decade and thousands of miles of riding experience. The only car in sight was coming from the opposite direction.

To enjoy the fun in a group but avoid the pain, there are just a couple of important concepts to keep in mind. The first is never to overlap your front wheel with the rear wheel of the rider in front of you. A sudden move by that rider to avoid a pothole or change course will lead almost inevitably to a crash. So follow only as close as you are comfortable and never so close that you overlap wheels.

The second lesson is to ride as a cooperative group, not competitors. The front riders in any group have the job of setting pace and directing the rest of the group around obstacles. They are the eyes of the train and should point out small obstacles with hand signals. You can learn these signals within minutes by watching a practiced group in action. When the lead riders drop off the front and drift back, the next in line pick up the guide role, but not the pace. Just keep it smooth, steady, and constant and use your common sense to work together. When a group rides well together, there is no more secure and satisfying cycling experience.

So pick your group with care and then stick to the one that works for you. You'll find the miles will drift by more quickly and you'll enjoy the full joy of group riding. For the club riders, this is a fabulous opportunity to be good hosts, teach other cyclists how to enjoy a group ride with safety, and to perhaps pick up some new members. And your courteous, generous behavior will do more good for your sponsors than any number of victories in races.

It's May so vote with your wheels, be an advocate and join in the fun!

Editor's Note: Rob MacLeod is the chair of the Salt Lake City Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, a trustee of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Committee, and former president of the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club. His other job is as a professor in both Bioengineering and Cardiology at the University of Utah.

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