Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Let's Be Careful Out There
Well, the MS 150 ride occurred this past weekend on May 2nd and 3rd. Cinco de Mayo has come and gone and still no ride report from that other “Wild and Crazy Guy,” John. Yes, he’s a busy guy, and I’m sure he’s plumb tuckered out from 150 miles of riding over 2 days. So we’ll have to wait a little longer for that report. While we wait, I figured I’d post a bicycle related entry.
I read a news blurb from roadbikerider.com over the weekend. “Florida once again leads the U.S. in bicycling fatalities. In federal statistics just released for 2007, 119 cyclists were killed in Florida, 10 more than in second-place California, which has twice the population. Florida had 28% of all cyclist fatalities in the U.S. and a rate of 6.52 cyclists killed per million population, nearly 3 times the national average of 2.31.”
Living in South Florida, there are 3 news stories that you read about once or twice a year: 1) A child drowns in a pool at home or at the beach; 2) A scuba-diver diving without a dive buddy drowns; and 3) A bicyclist is hit and killed by a car. Whenever I read one of these articles, I can't help but think these are avoidable tragedies. Someone should be keeping a better watch out for the kids near water, divers should never dive solo, and drivers should have a better awareness of bicyclists sharing the road.
My first quality road bike was a Fugi S10S road bike. I purchased that bike while in college and put countless miles on it riding all over Gainesville, Florida. After college, I road it all around the Clearwater/Tarpon Springs area with my older brother Jim, who introduced me to road riding and running. Back in Gainesville for law school at the University of Florida, I road that bike all over town again for transportation and exercise. I loved that bike and I loved riding.
When I moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1986, however, I quickly decided against riding a road bike. The main streets in the city that I've lived in for the past 23 years are six lane congestion pipelines filled with SUVs and elderly people of questionable driving skills. I remember trying to go on a solo ride early on and getting frightened to death by the oblivious drivers surrounding me. I got home, put my bike in the garage and let it slowly turn to rust over the next several years. I bought a couple of cruisers for the wife and I to go to the beach with and focused on my running.
A couple of years later, our neighbor Sam, a regular road cyclist who road A1a on weekends, got thrown from his bike when a Canadian tourist pulled out of a condominium parking lot without looking. Sam got pretty banged up and has had back problems ever since. I considered Sam lucky to be alive and swore off serious South Florida riding for several more years.
When Salome saw the local sprint triathlon a couple of years ago and decided she wanted to try the tri, we bought a couple of bottom of the line road bikes and started riding A1a. As we soon discovered, this is the route all Ft. Lauderdale riders take. There was a feeling of safety in numbers. We later stepped up to carbon fiber frames and started riding with other cyclists on a regular basis. Thus, I’ve gotten over my fear of our local drivers, but have heard way too many stories of cars turning into whole groups of riders to let my guard down.
I assume that the majority of drivers neither see us or give us the space we deserve. I also assume that these same drivers will always assume the right of way whether they have it or not. This is not to say I’m a nervous rider, I’m not. I just assume the knucklehead in the car either does not see me or will make a bad judgment call for which only I pay the price. Do I yell at the driver who makes a bonehead move in front of me? No. No need to piss off the guy driving the lethal weapon. I do wave and point at drivers coming out of side streets and parking lots. I also try to make eye contact whenever possible. But there are no guarantees. I’ve heard of too many incidents of riders doing everything right and getting bumped into or worse.
I envy those of you that ride in communities where you can get out to un-congested country roads. Perhaps as we become more populous, the land of open roads is becoming more myth than reality.
May 20 at 7 p.m. local time worldwide is an annual Ride of Silence. The event honors cyclists that have died in accidents with motor vehicles and it seeks to raise awareness of cyclists' right to the road. Participants ride no faster than 12 mph for no longer than an hour, and they maintain silence as in a funeral procession. The movement has grown to include more than 300 rides in the U.S. and 17 other countries. All cyclists who ride the road are welcome. There is no charge. For information, go to http://www.rideofsilence.org. Even if you don’t go on an organized ride on May 20th, think of your fellow cyclists that have died in what are most often avoidable accidents. And as the Sargent on Hill Street Blues used to say: “Let’s be careful out there.”