Brake for Safety - or Maybe Not!

by Dave Topham, LAB Cycling Instructor

With the GSW now celebrating its 31st anniversary, we would like to call attention to some of the basic cycling guidelines that have been proven repeatedly over the years. Many rides come and go, thousands of miles are cycled, and most members have a good time - if they are not involved in an accident! Historically, the GSW does not preach safety or the rules of the road for a very good reason: we believe a competent cyclist will be a good cyclist who is automatically a safe and law-abiding member. In an attempt to inform members of some key points required to be a competent cyclist, we offer various workshops, training rides, distribute the "Ten Tips" brochure, have a cyclist education section on our Web site, and direct people to the League of American Bicyclists' Web site that has a wealth of bicycling education information on-line. However, none of this does any good if a person needing help does not attend our sessions, read what is available, or practice what they know. As such, we are taking space in this issue of Pedal Talk to again print the "Ten Tips for Safe Group Riding" as based on the principles of the LAB cycling program. In addition, I wish to recap what has caused some recent accidents, how they could have been avoided, and what the GSW Board is suggesting we do about repeat offenders.

If you have not already done so, please read the "Ten Tips" article. The first three items alone, had they been followed, would have prevented all accidents that have been reported so far this year. "Be Predictable" means far more when cycling in a group than when riding by yourself. At least three accidents this year were caused when someone in a group suddenly applied their brakes with no apparent reason, no signal, without pulling off the road, and without saying a word. Even if not in a pace line (pace line etiquette is more involved than typical group cycling) there will not be enough time for the cyclist in the rear to stop or safely swerve. And because of the "compression factor," usually the rider in the second or third position behind the cyclist who stopped or slowed suddenly is the one who crashes. Just overlapping a rear wheel with a front wheel and one tap will send the rear rider to the ground while the person who braked suddenly usually stays upright. If a group is cycling in a pace line with only a foot or so between the bikes, one sudden braking action or even a missed shift can bring down multiple cyclists. How should someone slow down to stop when riding in a group? Signal (left hand down and facing the rear), shout "stopping," and slow down gradually while steering to the far right edge of the road or into a driveway. Never stop or slow down unexpectedly in a line of traffic. Allow plenty of space between yourself and other cyclists, especially if their riding style appears to be erratic. Yes, this is only common sense, but sometimes common sense is not so common! If there is ever a reason to stop, slow, and/or turn for typical things like picking up a dropped water bottle, taking a drink while riding, or having missed a turn, continue going straight until you can stop or turn in a predicable manner. Remember, you are not alone when you are riding in a group!

The other items in the "Ten Tips" article may be considered more common sense guidelines that make cycling safer and more pleasant for everyone. Courtesy and following the rules of the road are expected of all GSW members and guest riders. If someone is not following a rule, like not dropping from riding two abreast into single file when motor traffic approaches from the rear, by all means shout "Car Back!" as maybe the rider was simply not paying attention. If the rider still does not pull in after a warning or two, and especially if this practice is repeated, feel free to say something to the offending rider. Maybe they just need a "wake up call." If this does not help, please inform any member of the GSW Board of Directors so that action may be taken. We are using shared roadways with motor vehicles and other bicyclists. It is certainly in our own best personal interest and that of the GSW to practice courteous and competent cycling at all times, whether riding in a group or alone. However, group riding demands better cycling skills and constant attention to your surroundings. Just a moment's inattention can result in an accident, and that is not fun.

Bottom line, please use common sense and courtesy at all times while cycling. All of us want to enjoy bicycling and not become an accident victim!

Dave Topham
LCI #39

If you have suggestions for expanding this education section, please contact us.

Safety and Education Coordinator