I know what you’re thinking. You think I am going to tell you to go to meetings about bicycling facilities, and write to the city council, the newspaper editor, and … ? Well, I do want you to do all those things, but this column is about something else.
Stop frightening your friends.
Now that the weather is getting warmer we can expect a lot more people to be using the splendid multi-use trails we have in Sonoma County, the bike paths, and the paths through the parks. We should be able to think of all those trail users as pro-environment folks who are friendly towards bicycle riders and bike facilities, but that’s not always the case.
Unfortunately many dog-walkers, joggers, and moms-with-strollers have told me that they have become fearful of bicyclists and resentful when they have been taken by surprise by a silent, fast-moving bike rider who passed very close to them with no warning.
Think what it is like when a motor vehicle overtakes you on the road, roaring past and feeling too close for comfort. When you pass a pedestrian on the trail the effect can be very similar, without even the warning of engine noise (unless you make “brumm, brumm” noises when you ride?).
So, please warn people you are about to pass: a bicycle bell is the most effective device to do that. There are some cute “squeeze toy” squeakers that fasten to bike bars, but the sound is not automatically recognized as “a bicycle is coming.” In addition, a couple of friends tell me those squeakers actually attract wild turkeys, so be careful if you use one.
If you have not yet fitted a bell to your bike, you’re going to have to call out to people, giving them time to react. I like to say, “Good morning (pause) Bicycle” or “Good afternoon, Bicycles” or whatever. That gets their attention before they hear the key “Bike” word. Should you say, “On your left,” or “Passing on your left?” It’s your choice, but remember that a few people will step to the left when they hear that word — be ready for it!
If the trail user steps to the side, or holds their dog securely while you pass, remember to say, “Thank you” just like your Grandmother told you, right? If I’m at the back of a group of riders, I like to add, “I’m the last one” so they can relax for a while after I pass.
Just like on the road, the best bike riders follow the Rules: yield to pedestrians. Bike riders and walkers should yield to horses, giving them plenty of room and if necessary stopping to let the horses pass. Watch your speed through the park and on the trail: in Sonoma County there is a limit of fifteen miles an hour. If you want to go much faster than that you should be in the street. Whatever the signs say, the maximum safe speed is one which lets you stop within the distance you can see. That’s particularly true when descending a narrow trail with a loose surface.
Think for a moment of all the nasty things you’ve said or thought about inconsiderate motor-vehicle drivers: please don’t let those people on the trail say the same thing about bicyclists, and particularly not about you? Thank you. Now get out there and Ride with Confidence.
Martin Clinton is certified as a Cycling Instructor by the League of American Bicyclists. He teaches the class: Street Skills for Cyclists. Check for the next class here.