Close to Home
By Michael Haran
Published Press Democrat 7/8/2012
With the recent spat bicycle/car accidents there has been a lot of commentary about what’s going on. I have been road riding (as in spandex) for about a year. My riding partner, who has ridden across country, is an excellent trainer and I’ve learned a lot from him. I try to ride 100 miles a week and my partner rides about double that. We ride mainly in the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys from Healdsburg to Cloverdale.
First of all it is important to note that almost all of the recent accidents have been caused by rider error the only exception appears to be Professor Norwick who didn’t have a chance because he was killed by someone who appears to have been physically and mentally impaired. Even Michael Torckler, who is a professional rider, was probably going too fast down Pine Flat Road given all that road’s blind turns. Kip Miller, a friend who lives off Pine Flat and who has been warning riders for years to slow down, said to me, “for five years I asked the bikers to slow down and be careful on blind curves, they told to get lost, and most gave me the “bird” and they still use the middle of the road……I hope this is a wakeup call of what could have been worse.”
A lot of “hard-core riders” are into it for the power and speed. Most of us recreational riders average about 12 mph for an overall ride. Pro riders can sprint up to 35 mph for stretches up to 20 miles (amazing!). I know coming down the east side of Canon Road I start squeezing the rear brake handle at about 28 mph. Any faster than that and I can’t see any road hazards that might be lurking in the tree shadows. Pine Flat Road has no center dividing line and, because it’s not used much, has lots of road hazards. Add a steep grade and a distracted driver (drunk or not) and it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
I have found that most motorists are very cautious around riders. I have only been “buzzed” once and “yelled at” once. When a driver slows down to get around me I always give then a “thank-you” wave to acknowledge their consideration. Even though it’s still against the law most drivers will go halfway over the double yellow line to give riders ample room. I find that Latino and women drivers are the most conscientious around riders. It can get a little dicey with semi-truck drivers on our narrow country roads but for the most part they know their rigs and can judge their distances pretty good.
My riding partner has long felt that the little rearview mirrors that attached to rider’s sunglasses should be required by law. It is almost impossible to turn your body far enough to see behind you while riding without losing control of your bike. These little mirrors allow you to see “360” while riding. Also the county should do a study (maybe by one of the county’s cycling coalitions) to identify the most bicycled roads. Because of the bicycling tourist dollars that flow into the county those roads should be a maintenance focus. Most people don’t care about new paving they just want the potholes filled and that goes for motorist as well as bicyclists. In addition, the county should paint a white stripe on the right side of all roads. These stripes give both the bicyclists and motorist a point of reference from which to judge the position of one another especially where there is no shoulder. With Sonoma County’s growing popularity as a cycling destination protecting cyclist should be a high priority.