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Biking into the future

June 25, 2009

To continue celebrating Bike Week, here are a few safety guidelines to help you stay upright on the seat and not horizontal on the road.

by Paul Miller

I use a bicycle for transportation and for exercise, so I’m on the road quite a bit with other traffic, most of which is the four-wheeled kind. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate being mobile and not dead, so I’ve formulated a set of guidelines that help me stay upright and not horizontal.

(Photo below: Vincent Murphy, professor emeritus in chemical and biological engineering, on a tour north of Fort Collins in 2008.)

  • If I’m biking, I wear a helmet. My wife gave me one for my birthday years ago, and it sat in the garage for a while because I thought it looked stupid and kept the wind out of my hair – and we all know that looking cool with windblown hair is an inalienable American right. But eventually I couldn’t ignore the logic: Skulls are fragile as eggshells, particularly when they’re rapped sharply against hard things, so a helmet may well prevent me from becoming a stranger my wife has to feed and clothe for 20 or 30 years.
  • If it moves, I’m watching. I don’t trust anything out there. A dog may bolt in front of my wheels and cartwheel me into oblivion. Wind may toss a piece of sheet metal from a pickup and cleave off an appendage. I used to watch just the drivers of approaching vehicles for antics like bottle-tossing, but one time the passenger in a truck lobbed a 2-foot section of lumber toward me. The wood arched gracefully over the cab, hit the road and skidded about 10 feet before passing safely between my wheels. Now I watch all occupants in cars, whether men, women, young or old. You never know who’s going to play Road Imp.
  • If it makes noise, I listen. Over the years I’ve become almost unconsciously aware of the rhythm and sounds of traffic, especially vehicles coming up from behind me. I ride frequently on fairly remote roads, and sometimes certain vehicles sound as if they’re getting too close, so I prepare for evasive action, such as riding into a ditch. Oddly, the same caution applies for cars that slow down. One time a car passed me at walking speed, the occupants laughing hysterically and glancing in my direction through tears in their eyes. I never did figure out what joke they played on me, if any, but the experience did remind me to sharpen my hindsight.
  • If it’s obscene, I don’t do it. Years ago, I got angry at a driver who cut me off, and I gestured rudely toward him. Darned if he didn’t turn around and try to carpet the road with my hide. I’ve never done that again. (Well, almost never.) Drivers are surrounded with metal and iron and chrome. I’m wrapped in a few ounces of cloth, and it’s not even real, it’s mostly synthetic. RoboBiker I ain’t.
  • If the sign says stop, I stop. Nothing aggravates drivers more than bikers who cavalierly roll through intersections. I’m one of those drivers, and I’d like to rearrange every last scofflaw biker into a pile of protein for my garden. Contrariwise, it’s amazing how much good will is generated when a biker makes a full stop and waits his turn. And come to think of it, that same good will is generated when you wear a helmet. I truly believe drivers give you more leeway and show more regard when they see you’re a serious enough biker to protect your eggshell.
  • If I’m wheeling down the road, I’m happy collecting bugs on my teeth.

        Check out more details on Bike Week activities.