The snow is almost gone. It's staying light later into the evening. Folks in the cycling and tri communities are anxious to unplug from their trainers and hit the roads for some meaningful rides. But, even in bicycle-friendly community like the Twin Cities, there are still plenty of opportunities for conflict.
Cyclists and motorists often find themselves at odds. Motorists think that cyclists are invading their turf. Meanwhile, cyclists want to exercise their right to use the roads, but are wary because they aren't wrapped in two tons of steel to protect them in a crash. There are jerks on both sides. I'd pay real money to go for a long ride without someone yelling out their car window at me. At the same time, I can't tell you how many times I've seen cyclists behaving like arrogant wieners.
So, with that in mind, here is a quick list of rules that I think responsible cyclists should follow:
1. Remember Who You Ride For
Whether or not your realize it, when you ride, you are representing more than just yourself. Sure, if you ride with a group or wear a team jersey, you've got them to worry about. I don't want someone to catch me acting like an butt-munch when I'm wearing my kit from the Twin Cities Spoke. But beyond that, you represent everyone else out there who throws on spandex and hops into the saddle. Many drivers cringe every time they see a cyclist on the road dressed like Lance. They see us as a menace. The best thing we can do is represent ourselves well. Bottom Line: If you're going to ride, don't be a douche about it.
2. Don't Turn Off Your Brain
I know that it can be difficult to stay focused at all times, but having a lapse in concentration is one of the easiest ways to end up kissing pavement. My biggest struggles are during long rides out in the country and during group rides. During the long rides, I just get into a zone, where all I'm concentrating on is keeping my legs pumping (and maybe whatever song is playing on the IPod in my head). During group rides, it's a little different. It's really easy to just 'go with the flow' and hope the rider ahead of you has things under control. Of course, if they don't you'll be eating their back wheel in no time. This is also a good way to accidentally drop the slower members of the group. I can't tell you how many times I've been on a club ride where we hit a stop light and have a conversation like this:
Person A: "Hey, where's the new guy"
Person B: "I don't know. The last I saw, he was hanging on my wheel"
Person A: "But you were supposed to ride at the back of the pack to keep everyone together."
Person B: "D'oh"
3. Know Your Route
This is a critical one for me. Please - know where you plan to go before you hit the road. I don't just mean knowing which streets to turn on. Make yourself familiar with what you may encounter. How busy is the traffic? How wide are the shoulders? Will you be riding during rush hour? Is there some place to fill up your water bottle (or empty my bladder) or grab a bite to eat? Which way is the wind blowing, and how will that impact whether I ride clockwise or counter-clockwise loops?
4. File a Flight Plan
This is especially important if you'll be riding alone. Make sure you let someone know where you'll be riding and about what time you'll be back. It's the courteous thing to do to keep your spouse or significant other from worrying to death. Plus, if you have a flat out of cell phone range, you can hope that they'll drive your route and pick up your sad, stranded butt.
If you're riding in a group, make sure that everyone either knows the route or is hooked up with someone who does - before the ride starts. That way, if the plans need to change half-way through the ride, everyone will still be able to get home.
5. Obey The Local Traffic Laws
As a cyclist, you have as much of a right to use the roads as any motorist. However, if you are going to use their roads, you must follow the same laws that they do. What does this mean? Well, for one, if you see a stop sign, then stop. Yeah, it may break up your rhythm. Just look at is as an opportunity to practice your track-stand and your explosiveness off of the start line. Around here, cops are ticketing more and more cyclists for moving violations. I'm not exactly pooping cash, so a $100 ticket for whipping through a stop sign in Wayzata would pretty much ruin my week.
6. Be Predictable
Hold your line. Don't make any sudden swerves or turns. If a driver sees you going straight, they're going to expect you to continue along the same path. The same thing goes when riding in a group. Peeling out unexpectedly may be a good way to get a jump on your opponents during a road race, but it's also a good way to startle a hapless newbie who just wants to build confidence riding in a peleton.
7. Use Hand Signals
Get used to signaling every turn. Left = Left arm straight out. Right = Left arm up at 90-degree angle. Stop = Left arm hanging down with palm facing back. If you're in a group ride, practice signaling for obstacles like potholes, railroad tracks, sand and broken glass. Learn them. Know them. Love them. Use them. Oh, and if you start to consider using the most popular "hand signal", reconsider rule #1.
8. Spread Good Will
The best way to share the road is to play nice with those with whom you are sharing. If a driver makes an effort to be nice, then make eye contact, smile, and give them a little wave. You'll feel good. They'll feel good, and you can sleep better at night knowing that there's one less driver on the road that wants to run you over.
Well, there you have it. It's not too tough. Most of it boils down to treating others the way you'd like to be treated.
I know I haven't posted much recently. I've been mourning the loss of a training partner of mine (don't worry, it's not as serious as it sounds). But, I'll be back tomorrow with a little memorial, and a bit about what I'm doing to move forward.