On Cycling: Local bike shops offer safety insights

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As we see longer periods of darkness, we who ride bicycles must acknowledge that to be safe on our bikes we need to be seen and we must be smart about it.

What does this mean? It means we should realize several factors that influence how well — or if — we are seen by anyone while riding our bikes. It means that cyclists must take responsibility for ensuring vehicle drivers see us — to the best of our abilities. 

Let me set the stage: I’d like to applaud the person who discussed cycling safety on page A5 in the Herald’s Opinion section on Monday, Dec. 3.

The contributor’s observation said: Two Three-Canyons bicyclists — (I) narrowly missed hitting you at dusk … (on Sunday, 25 Nov 12) … you were riding two abreast (rather than one behind the other) going south “with no lights or reflectors on your bikes and (you were) wearing dark clothing.”

You need to (realize that) under those conditions (nearly dark, no lights, no reflectors, dark clothing without reflective strips) you are nearly invisible! We read way too often of bicyclists getting hit or killed. Those who ride at night need to be sure they are visible.”

Great observations! I thank the contributor for being spot-on and helping save injury or loss of life of citizens of our Southern Arizona community. He or she illustrated the same point that you’ve heard from me before … Be Seen, Be Vigilant, Be Safe.

On a recent Monday evening I visited the owners of our two awesome bicycle shops in Sierra Vista.

Martin Coll and Mike Baltunis, owners of M&M Cycles offered the following safety-related tips for cyclists to consider. Mike said: Cyclists need to realize that they control some of the factors that affect their own safety. He said: be seen, be safe. Martin chimed in and said today’s bicycle light technologies much improved over traditional battery powered (AA or AAA) headlights or taillights. Today, it is easy to obtain 300 lumen or 600 lumen white headlights (that means very bright, like a motorcycle headlights) and 2-watt taillights that are charged and recharged by plugging them into any computer USB port.

I then visited Sun’N Spokes bike shop and asked co-owner Mark LaPaglia (Steve Serta, co-owner was not available) the same question.

Mark said: Bicyclist need to be smart! Too often they don’t wear helmets, they don’t use lights, they don’t have reflectors and they assume vehicle drivers will see them. We know this isn’t always true.

Of course, we all know that several factors influence bicycle safety and why vehicle drivers do not always see cyclists who share the roads. 

1. They don’t expect to see cyclists on the roads or in intersections.

2. They are concentrating on the road ahead of them, and their peripheral vision is not 20/20 (and this is a normal reality for all of us).

3. They are driving into the sunrise or sunset and it is darn hard to even see the cars in front of them, much less a smaller bicyclist.

4. Cyclists don’t follow the same rules of the road as a car driver does (sometimes they ride on the sidewalks or multi-use paths or the street). (Let me add that by law, cyclists are authorized to share the road, and they are not required to have a vehicle-like license or brake lights or turn signals. According to Arizona Department of Transportation,  bicycles are not vehicles, but bicycles do have legal access to the roads. 

Further, according to ADOT, vehicle drivers are to pass at least 3 feet to the left of all cyclists). 

5. Sometimes cyclists are invisible because they are wearing dark clothing or are not using flashing lights or reflectors or don’t have any reflective material on their clothing.

6. From time-to-time every vehicle driver gets distracted and just doesn’t focus on things outside of the car.

7. Sometimes cyclists get distracted or preoccupied and fail to pay attention too. 

Last Sunday afternoon as I was riding my bike west on Hereford road at noon, I was approached by four vehicles driving at 55 mph. The last one, a pick-up truck, pulled out to pass the other three. I swallowed hard! He saw my 300 lumen white flashing headlight from more than ¼ mile away and decided to not pass those three cars until after they passed me. I thought, “See, it does pay to use a bright flashing headlight even during broad daylight.” Just imagine how effective that head light would be during dusk or at night? Wow!! The same holds true for the brightest tail light I can obtain.

Bottom line: As important as it is for vehicle drivers to see things from a cyclist’s perspective, we cyclists need to HBO — Help a Brother Out, and we need to be smart about being seen. 

Every time I ride I try to remember that vehicle drivers will not see me if I don’t help them to. It’s not paranoia on my part, just reality. To help vehicle drivers the best I can, I wear bright clothing, I always use my bright white headlights (I have two) and use my two-watt bright red flashing tail light (even during the day), I wear reflective leg bands/arm bands and clothing with reflective strips during low-light conditions, I “ALWAYS” wear a helmet, I don’t ride on the sidewalk, I avoid high traffic/small lane routes (like Fry Blvd) as much as possible, I “politely” communicate with vehicle drivers at intersections and clearly signal my intentions to them to be sure they do in fact see me.

Please live by the following motto whenever you are on a bicycle: Be Safe, be Smart, be Seen.

Happy Holidays!

STU CARTERis the founder of the U.S. Air Force cycling team, and a veteran bicyclist, with more than 100,000 miles recorded. He can be reached at cairojoe2003@yahoo.com.

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